Where Do We Go?

Keep Washing Your Hands – But Where?

It’s Time for a 2020 Civilian Conservation Corps to Rebuild Our Nation’s Public Restrooms

By ARA Vice President, Kathryn H. Anthony, Ph. D.


The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of public health and safety, especially the need to wear a mask, keep at least six feet apart whenever possible, and wash your hands several times a day for at least 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” – twice. While using our private bathrooms in the comfort of our own homes, it is easy to sing a happy song. But now that the nation has reopened, where else can we wash our hands? Our re-emergence during this pandemic shines a spotlight on a problem that has been swept under the rug for too long: our nation’s public restrooms.

Ten years ago I testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about an issue “near and dear to the hearts and bladders of women and children all across the United States, one that is long overdue:” the prevalent problem of long lines for ladies’ rooms and the need for greater potty parity, equal speed of access for toilets for males and females. I argued then, as I do today, that for millions of people around the world, boys and girls, men and women of all ages, especially pregnant and menstruating women, and whether you are Democrat, Republican, or Green, using public restrooms is no laughing matter.

The average person uses a toilet about six to eight times a day, as many as 2,920 times per year. By age 80 we will have taken 200,000 trips to the toilet and spent two years of our life in restrooms.

At the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, the vast majority of shops, restaurants, and hotels whose toilets we have been accustomed to using while on the go were closed. Finding restrooms became near impossible. Yet well before this pandemic, public restrooms in the US have long presented pressing public health problems. (To read the full article, click here.)

Kathryn H. Anthony, Ph.D., is ACSA Distinguished Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the author of five books including Defined by Design: The Surprising Power of Hidden Gender, Age, and Body Bias in Everyday Products and Places (Prometheus Books 2017), and over 100 publications. She currently serves as Vice President of the American Restroom Association.

Published July 5, 2020
(C) 2020, American Restroom Association and Kathryn Anthony, All Rights Reserved




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