The more than 16,000 Connecticut residents who have chronic inflammatory bowel conditions will have access to employee-only restrooms starting on Oct. 1.

On June 18 Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed a bill, granting people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or a medical condition that requires use of an ostomy device access to private restrooms in retail stores.

In order to enter these restrooms, people must present a doctor’s note confirming their inflammatory bowel disease.

“But what’s important is that there should not be a long protracted conversation about whether you’re eligible to use the bathroom, because by the time you’re done having that conversation, it’s too late,” Jennifer Jaff, executive director of the Advocacy of Patients with Chronic Illness Inc., said.

Mary Clavette of Newton said the bill would greatly benefit her 22-year-old daughter who suffers from Crohn’s disease.

“This bill will allow many individuals who suffer from Crohn’s, Colitis and many other inflammatory bowel diseases the ability to travel with less stress from bathroom anxiety, knowing that they will have a bathroom available to them, if needed, anywhere any time,” Clavette said at a Pubic Health Committee public hearing in February.

The bill also states there must be at least three employees present, so someone can monitor the consumer. According to Jaff, retailers would not be hurt by this new bill.

“There are almost identical legislation [that] already exists in Illinois, Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Tennessee and Colorado. The experience in those states has been that there has not been any undue burden on retailers,” Jaff said. “What this has done is sort of raise the consciousness of retailers, so that patients can get access to sanitary facilities when they need them.”

Jaff, who herself has Crohn’s disease, worked with Rep. Joseph Taborsak, D-Danbury, since early this year to pass the bill.

“He was our champion through the entire process,” Jaff said of Taborsak.

Jaff said Taborsak has no personal connection to these types of diseases, but he was compelled to help out after listening to constituents who live with chronic inflammatory bowel conditions coupled with bathroom anxiety. Jaff said the representative actually joined the Public Health Committee to make this bill a top priority.

“When I say he was our champion, I give him 100 percent of the credit,” she said.

Jaff said she was gratified the bill had passed, but if it is not properly enforced, it should go back to the legislature. Once the bill goes into effect if a retailer denies a customer access to a bathroom then they may receive an infraction.

July 10, 2009