Why You Need a “Can’t Wait” Card
Last updated: March 2023
Have you heard of the "Can't Wait" card? It basically states you have a serious medical condition that requires you to use a bathroom urgently. Having one is helpful in establishments where restrooms are not available to the public.1
The Restroom Access Act, aka Ally’s Law
The Restroom Access Act was first passed in 2005 in Illinois. This made it the first of several states to require business establishments without public restrooms to provide access to a restroom if a customer suffers from a medical condition that requires them immediate access to a restroom. These conditions include inflammatory bowel eisease (IBD) and IBS.2
The Illinois law compels businesses to allow persons with certain medical conditions to use "employee only" restrooms, so long as there are three or more employees working at the time.2
The law is also called Ally's Law after Allyson Bain, who has Crohn's disease, an autoimmune disease that causes acute inflammation to the lining of the digestive tract. Crohn's disease results in symptoms such as severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, and extreme fatigue.3,4
In 2004, at 14 years old, Ally was denied access to an employee-only restroom while out shopping with her mother, leading to an embarrassing accident. Knowing she was not the only one who had experienced an accident in public due to inaccessibly to a restroom, Ally set out to make change.4
How does the Restroom Access Act work?
In March 2023, 20 other states had followed Illinois in passing similar legislation. If you disclose your medical condition and/or present a "Can't Wait" card to a retail establishment and are still denied access to a restroom, it is possible the establishment could be fined.2,4
The law defines a retail establishment as a “place of business open to the general public for the sale of goods or services.” The law, however, does not apply to gas stations, with “a structure of 800 square feet or less, that has an employee toilet facility located within the structure.”2
If you are denied access to a restroom and have a covered condition under state law, get in touch with your local police department and ask if they can issue a citation to the business. If local law enforcement does not enforce the law, contact local and state elected officials. You will need to review the law to confirm the enforcing agency.2
You also have the option of talking to a lawyer for more information and advice, or a local news station to get the word out about the importance of adhering to the law. If you live in a state without a Restroom Access Act, consider working with state lawmakers to get a law passed. Currently there isn't a federal version of the Restroom Access Act, but more states are working to pass similar acts.4
It is important to note that some states may require you to present some type of documentation from your doctor verifying a covered medical condition under the Restroom Access Act. However, many businesses might be accommodating once you show your “Can’t Wait” card.4
How do you get your “Can’t Wait” card?
There are many IBD organizations, like the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) that widely use the concept and may provide these cards. You can also check with your doctor's office, as they may offer similar cards or have more information on obtaining them.5
Why you should get a “Can’t Wait” card
Being out and about can pose a problem when you are suffering from IBS. It may restrict your ability to perform day-to-day activities and have a social life. But you shouldn’t have to stay home.
Having a “Can’t Wait” card may reduce the chances of an embarrassing accidents or having to explain or prove a medical condition requiring immediate restroom access. The "Can't Wait" card is as small as a credit card and fits in your wallet. That small card could make your life easier. And although the card does not guarantee access to a restroom, most places are happy to help and as noted, some state laws require businesses to do so.1
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