Council Wants Restrooms at Businesses Open to Disabled

Times Staff Writer

A former reserve police officer, now confined to a wheelchair and suffering from multiple sclerosis, repeatedly endured humiliation in public for being refused access to restrooms in places of business where he was a customer.

The former officer appeared last year before the city’s Advisory Council on Disability and testified that after businesses ignored his urgent pleas, he had several “accidents” because he lacked control over his bowels.

In about a month, under an ordinance believed to be the first of its kind in California, such treatment of people with temporary or permanent disabilities will be outlawed in Los Angeles.


The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to require all businesses that allow their clients or employees to use their restrooms to also make them available to people with temporary or permanent disabilities, regardless of whether they are patrons.

‘Excited About This’

“I’m very excited about this,” said Nadia Powers, one of the drafters of the new law. “Los Angeles is a very large city and there are a lot of disabled people and (the ordinance) puts the burden on everyone and that’s the fairest way.

“I know with myself. I have one eye damaged very bad with glaucoma. I have to stop often and put medication in my eye.”

Powers, former head of the advisory council, said she was “appalled” to learn last year that the former reserve officer was denied the use of restrooms when he needed them. She said it was largely the problems he encountered that prompted the council to push for corrective legislation.

“It’s a very basic human need to use a restroom,” she said. “In a civilized society, what are you going to do? Go behind a bush?”

The new law, still needing Mayor Tom Bradley’s signature, would ensure that if a restroom is available to a business’ patrons or employees, it must also be open to people with a physical handicap, “regardless of whether that person is a customer, client, employee or paid entrant.”


The ordinance does not require businesses to open their employee restrooms if other restroom facilities on the premises are available. The only exception to this provision is if the employee restroom has been modified or built to accommodate the handicapped.

No Modifications Required

The new law also does not require businesses to make any special modifications to their existing restrooms to accommodate wheelchairs nor does it require opening restrooms to other members of the public. There was no visible opposition from the business community to the new law.

In an effort to spare people the embarrassment of proving they are entitled to use the business restrooms, the ordinance also provides that anyone who states they have a disability must be given access.

Powers said the new ordinance is “a long time coming” and noted that other city laws govern such things as smoking and fire safety. She said she hopes Los Angeles County will expand its own law adopted last year that requires all new gas stations in the unincorporated areas within 660 feet of a highway to have public restrooms.