A couple of years ago I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. It was also one of the strangest. I was invited to present a paper at the World Toilet Organization’s annual summit in Beijing. I’m willing to bet that you probably didn’t know such an organization existed, but it does, and actually in quite full force. I presented a paper on the state of public toilets in the USA before about 600 delegates from 17 different countries. To my knowledge I was the first delegate from the United States on their platform, as this began as a largely Asian organization. However, the World Toilet Organization (or the WTO as they call themselves) has been spreading across the globe ever since. In fact, I was featured in an interview at this conference on the Peter Jennings’ World News Tonight show. The World Toilet Organization’s 2006 summit takes place this week in Moscow.
What exactly does the WTO do? Well, for all the jokes that this meeting might attract, in my opinion it’s actually a pretty neat thing. The organization’s website (www.worldtoilet.org) says they communicate “the need for better toilet standards in both the developed and developing economies of the world.” Many countries now have their own toilet organization; including a developing nonprofit in the USA called the North American Restroom Association (www.americanrestroom.org) who say they are “America’s advocate for the availability of clean, safe, well designed public restrooms.”
Like me, certainly you’ve also experienced having to go, but not having anywhere to go. All too often I walk down the city streets of Chicago and see signs in the windows of merchant after merchant proclaiming “no public restroom”. It wouldn’t be hard to walk for miles without coming across a public bathroom. Certainly anyone with overactive bladder or incontinence has been nervous to be in public out of reach of a toilet. The North American Restroom Association can share countless stories of customers, both children and adults, left to wet themselves in public after being denied access to a store restroom. Do we not live in a more civilized society than this?
Whenever friends or associates learn that I’ve been to China they inevitably ask what brought me there. I never hesitate to tell them about the World Toilet Organization’s summit. Sadly I’ve learned that advocating for toilet rights isn’t understood by all. Many people see it as a waste of time and effort. The truly able-bodied person who has never experienced losing control of their bladder or bowel often doesn’t see the need for available public toilets. However, with up to 33 million Americans living with incontinence this certainly must be an issue that a considerable number of us care about. How much easier would it be to visit parks and other public venues with clean, safe, well-designed restrooms? Could shopping be fun again if all merchants allowed free and easy access to their toilets? What more could you do if America’s cities adopted Beijing’s policy that public toilets always be within an eight minute walk?
I’ve always been quick to sign-up as an advocate for an issue I truly believe in. Sometimes my plate gets a little over-loaded, and we all have to choose which battles to fight. But think for a moment how life might be different if you never again had to worry about reaching a toilet “in time”. Is that an issue worth fighting for? If it has the potential to change your life, you just might want to think about it. Visit www.americanrestroom.org for more info.
Published On: September 07, 2006