Ally Bain: 10 Years of Fighting for Restroom Access

In 2001, after several months of misdiagnoses, a pediatric gastroenterologist diagnosed me with Crohn’s disease. At the time, I had no idea what that meant. And, for the next couple of years, my only reminder of having Crohn’s disease was a doctor appointment every so often, some pills I had to take in the morning and night, and an abdominal pain here and there. Several years after I was diagnosed, I had an experience that would forever change my life; it would forever change my perspective, my aspirations, and my purpose.

When I was 14 years old, I suddenly felt a sharp pain while my mother and I were shopping at a large retail store. I was in the midst of a flare and I knew I had a matter of minutes to find a restroom. After a store employee said that the store did not have any public restrooms, we asked that the employee page the store manager. I begged the store manager to let me use the employee-only restroom. Despite admitting that he knew about Crohn’s disease, he claimed he was making a “managerial decision” and repeatedly denied me restroom access, causing me to have an accident in the store. Being denied restroom access is something that no one should ever have to experience. Walking out of the store, my mother promised this would never happen to me or anyone else again.

I knew who to call: my local state representative, Representative Kathleen Ryg, whom I had met while on an eighth grade class field trip to the Illinois capitol just a couple months before. Within months, Representative Ryg and I were working together to draft a bill stating that anyone with a medical emergency must be allowed access to an employee-only restroom. I had the privilege to testify in support of the bill, which passed unanimously through the committee, Illinois House, and Illinois Senate, becoming law in August 2005.

It is hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the Illinois Restroom Access Act, or “Ally’s Law,” became law in Illinois and the first of its kind in the nation. Restroom access legislation is now law in 16 states—Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. The success of its passage in these states is largely due to individuals using their voices and sharing their stories to advocate for the cause. Others have expressed interest in its passage in many states, and I have enjoyed working with them on this endeavor as well.

In addition to helping other states enact similar laws, I have participated in a variety of Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) events, including Take Steps and IBD Day on the Hill. I also served as a member of the National Council of College Leaders (formerly called the National Youth Leadership Council). This October, I will be attending CCFA Illinois Chapter’s Annual Gala and am extremely honored to be the patient honoree at this year’s Gala.

Working to get the Restroom Access Act passed in Illinois taught me the importance of speaking out and advocating for a cause. My experience with getting the legislation passed also encouraged me to attend law school. I am now a third-year student at Northwestern University School of Law. I spent this past summer interning in the Civil Rights Division and Disability Rights Section at the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. After I graduate, I plan to devote my career to advocating on behalf of those with chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel diseases.

Help pass similar legislation around the country. Sign up to become a CCFA advocate and learn how you can make a difference in the lives of the 1.6 million Americans living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.