Designers have been trying to create more gender-inclusive restrooms for decades, but certain challenges have prevented their becoming the standard in commercial and institutional buildings.
It’s not because facility owners don’t want them; rather, the problem has been in developing a genuinely inclusive restroom design that makes all users feel safe and comfortable. Thanks to a recent study, facility owners now have more qualitative data.
A recent article in the online trade publication FacilitiesNet focuses on the future of inclusive restroom design through the lens of an IA Interior Architects survey (gated content) that asked 1,500 U.S. workers their opinions on restroom code, space, cost, and comfort and how to accommodate a diverse set of requirements best.
The Evolution of Inclusive Restroom Building Codes
The 2000s saw an increase in advocacy for all-gender restroom options. Thanks to that advocacy, in 2021 the International Building Code and International Plumbing Code were amended to support these options.
The changes included requiring single-stall restrooms be available to everyone, not segregated by sex. The new code also allows for multi-stall, all-gender facilities that include shared sink areas and private stalls for each toilet.
That first change is an easy adjustment and requires only a change in signage and the addition of a few accessories, such as trash bins and sanitary product dispensers.
The second change often has building owners stumped regarding space and cost analysis. It has been shown that space is a non-issue as an inclusive restroom can fit into the same footprint as a traditional multi-user design.
Given the potential need for additional materials, fixtures, and plumbing, switching to an inclusive restroom can add to building and renovation costs. Yet facility owners must consider the cost of alienating visitors and workers.
Giving People the Restroom They Want
Many people have long felt uncomfortable in traditional multi-stall restrooms because they lack auditory and visual privacy due to wide gaps and flimsy structures. The IA Interior Architects survey found this especially true for transgender and gender-diverse individuals who have the added stress of people observing which restroom they choose.
For these reasons, many trans people opt not to use public restrooms at all, instead limiting trips to the bathroom—thus risking UTIs and other health complications—rather than perform the complicated calculus of which public bathroom is safest to use.
Today, more and more people are comfortable with the idea of all-gender shared restrooms with private toilet stalls and shared hand washing facilities, with the 25–34 age group being the most comfortable. Over half of all people surveyed felt comfortable with or neutral toward all-gender restrooms, and even more were comfortable sharing hand washing facilities. Transgender or gender-diverse individuals, as well as those who identified with the LGBTQ+ community, were more comfortable than those who did not identify as such.
Privacy-for-All, co-located, single-user restrooms are becoming more common in Europe. With this design, each person gets their own private restroom, including a toilet and sink.
Most people expressed feeling comfortable with this option, especially younger generations. This design was also preferred by members of the LGBTQ+ community, transgender or gender-diverse people, and non-binary respondents.
Regarding restroom signage, building owners and managers have some wiggle room. FacilitiesNet recommends removing binary restroom signage (“Men’s,” “Women’s”) and creating a more inclusive approach. For example, visual pictograms of toilets and inclusive language, such as “restroom,” identify the facilities equally well while making gender-diverse users feel welcome and safe. Another common, easily implemented way to convert existing restrooms to inclusive spaces is to identify the restrooms by the fixtures they contain—e.g., “Restroom with Urinal” or “Restroom without Urinal,” with pictographs to match.
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