Accessibility concerns with campus washrooms

Locations of gender-neutral restroom could expand

The University of Winnipeg has been adapting its campus to address the needs of gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals in the past few years. However, accessibility to gender-neutral washrooms is still an issue.

“We’re always striving to meet the needs of all students on campus, so we want to have the physical resources (washrooms) available on campus to meet everyone’s needs,” Inga Johnson Mychasiw, director of student support services, explains.

There are currently nine single-stall gender-neutral washrooms in existence on campus, which can be found using the accessibility map available on uwinnipeg.ca.

“A person who identifies with any gender can use them without worrying about being in a room with anyone who may not be okay with them being there,” Mychasiw explains.

Nearly all the gender-neutral washrooms are accessible with a wheelchair. Mychasiw explains that since both GNC individuals and people with a physical disability tend to require a private washroom, this shared model is the best option, given the volume of use and the resources available on campus.

Cat Lemay identifies as genderqueer. Most of her experience using gender-neutral washrooms occurred at bars and clubs and consisted of multiple stalls in the same room.

“Most of the people using them were very open and okay with it. I’m not sure why it should be a problem in an everyday school kind of setting,” Lemay says. She reflects that clubs are also a setting where people don’t have to maintain professional relations and are away from the pressure of being accepted by peers.

As an added precaution, the GNC washrooms located in the AnX building have code locks, while certain others require access cards.

“The washrooms are often in high-traffic areas that the public can access, and we want to make sure that they are available for students,” Mychasiw says.

Access to these washrooms can be gained by requesting the card or the code through student services or accessibility services.

Most of the gender-neutral washrooms are located on the first and second floors, which can be inconvenient.

“I’d like to see one in the library. This would be helpful, especially for students that are studying there at night and don’t want to leave their possessions unattended,” UWSA president Laura Garinger says.

Garinger says that while there certainly aren’t enough gender-neutral washrooms, she’s concerned about the visibility of those in existence. While people are familiar with the signage, gender-neutral washrooms are not indicated by ceiling signs, like their gendered counterparts.

“It’s hard when people are trying to find something familiar that they associate with a washroom they can use,” Garinger says.

Because of the limited space on campus, GNC individuals would benefit from the expansion by having multi-stall washrooms.

“I know it’s something I’m ready for. I hope everyone else is ready too,” Lemay says.

“We’re open to hearing feedback, and we’re always looking to improve,” Mychasiw says. “Everyone has the right to feel comfortable in the washrooms they use.”

Published in Volume 72, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 28, 2017)

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