Blind folks and old folks have something in common: they prefer their own bathrooms. One exception is the airplane lavatory. It’s very efficient for a blind person. Everything you need is nailed down – soap pump to the left of the sink, paper towels to the right, trash shoot below the paper towels. And all within reach.
Going out and about in public is something we all need to do from time to time, say, to take in a movie, travel to Boise or hit the pool hall. Generally, unfamiliar bathrooms can be tricky for blind folks.
First off, if you’re a blind guy out with your girlfriend or wife, which bathroom do you choose? Today, many large theaters and buildings have a family restroom. No-brainer here. In you go. But, in loo (mandatory pun!) of the family bathroom, you usually have a choice of either the men’s room or women’s room.
I have found that most men don’t care if a woman is in their restroom. However, if your female companion is wary of entering the men’s john, she’ll plant you inside the door where you promptly announce: “I’m a blind dude. Can someone guide me to the urinal?” Guys are usually happy to do so, then lead you to the sink, Johnny-on-the-spot with the paper towels, and then offer a helping hand to the exit.
I actually prefer entering the women’s bathroom with my girlfriend – it’s easier to navigate when you’re with somebody familiar. Of course, there are times when a lady inside the restroom protests my presence there. To stem the ‘outrage,’ I usually ask her where she studied Criminology and then congratulate her on recognizing me as a nefarious rascal.
If you wind up alone in an unfamiliar restroom, say in a restaurant or office, there are seven steps to follow before you get down to business: you must first locate 1) the toilet, 2) the flusher, 3) the toilet paper, 4) the sink, 5) the soap, 6) the paper towels and 7) the trashcan. (Oops – the eighth step is remembering your way out.) If you’re in a hotel room, add the bath towels, the floor mat, the shampoo and then work your way to the bed, the thermostat, outlets for your adaptors, the room phone, the TV remote on/off and volume/channel buttons, the do-not-disturb sign and where to unplug the clock radio which was set to go off at 4:30 a.m. by the previous guest.
Flushers keep it interesting. In the airplane lav, the 4-inch square flush panel is a relatively easy target to tap with the toe of your sneaker while you’re washing up. The joystick or handle flushers on your standard commodes are a matter of which side their situated on. The newer toilets with the push buttons are a little trickier – especially when there’s two buttons.
Automatic flushers can be problematic. While standing in relief mode, you search for the flush handle with your other hand. Finding none, you back away hoping to hear that familiar ‘click-whoosh’ sound. Similarly, the auto sink and soap dispenser can be a bit frustrating, especially when one doesn’t work or you can’t find the sweet spot for engaging the auto-response mechanism. (I am told this often isn’t easy even for sighted folks.) You cup your hands under the water spigot. Nothing. So you search for the water handles or push on the soap nozzle, and nothing. You unwittingly repeat this process several times – similar to the way you retrace the same steps 18 times at home when you can’t find your wallet or keys. Finally, it dawns on you to work your way to the next sink where you repeat the dance and hopefully wash up. You also figure out it’s an automatic towel dispenser as a little paper towel finally comes buzzing out after frisking the entire metal box for its nonexistent lever.
Of course, none of these strategies are perfect. Once, I was in a high school bathroom and (as I always do) first measured the target urinal to center myself for optimum aim. Starting with my palms together about waist high, I slowly widen them until the backs of my hands touch the outer edges of the porcelain. This helps to measure the width of the urinal for proper centering. As I was emptying my bladder, I slightly moved my feet and heard the faint splashing of a shallow puddle of water beneath my sneakers. Yep. I had positioned myself in front of the wall between two urinals.
Steve Gladstone, The Blind Dude