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by Abigail Van Buren

Unisex Rest Rooms Are Hard for Disabled to Find

DEAR ABBY: I don't know where the Rev. Virginia Anderson has been the last 10 years or so. She claims the problem of rest rooms where spouses of people with handicaps are allowed in to help them has never been addressed. I assure you it has. I travel all over the United States and Canada, and many cities have men's rest rooms, women's rest rooms and family rest rooms in their shopping complexes. The malls in my home state of Minnesota have them.

Another thing, Abby: In your answer you said, "By the age of 6 or 7, your grandson should be able to use a public rest room without assistance." That may be so, but young children are defenseless against being molested. Predators are looking for children that age who are alone. By the time the opposite sex parent finds out, it's too late. Please think again. I wouldn't even allow a 6- or 7-year-old child to go into a rest room alone in a small town. -- INTERESTED BYSTANDER

DEAR INTERESTED BYSTANDER: I will respond to your letter in two parts. First, I apologize for saying that by the age of 6 or 7 a child should be able to use a public rest room without being accompanied by an adult. I didn't consider the possibility that the child could be in danger of being molested.

As to the first part of your letter about rest rooms that are accessible to handicapped people, please read on for a sample of the mail I've received on that subject:

DEAR ABBY: I am disabled, and my husband is my primary care provider. When we go out for an entire day, or travel by air, there generally comes a point when I have to use the rest room. I can't do it without him, so 99 percent of the time we're faced with the question, "Men's or women's?" (Baltimore/Washington International Airport is a glowing exception.) We usually choose the men's room on the theory that a woman in the men's room is less threatening than vice versa.

It's an uncomfortable experience for us, as well as the people we meet in the rest room, but I'll be darned if I'll give up having a life because people choose to remain clueless about the needs of the disabled. I'm sure there are other people, however, who remain at home rather than face this situation. Wheelchair-accessible, unisex rest rooms in public places would enable these people to go out and enjoy the world again. -- CAROLYN CLARK, STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.

DEAR CAROLYN: Although handicapped-accessible rest rooms have been mandated in many places, they are often located in gender-specific rest rooms, which makes them difficult to use if there is a caregiver of the opposite sex involved. I think the idea of unisex family rest rooms is an excellent one. Read on for a letter I'm sure you'll find of interest:

DEAR ABBY: I have been working diligently on getting legislation passed to force all public facilities in the state of Florida to have accessible gender-neutral rest room facilities.

State Rep. Suzanne Jacobs of Delray Beach, Fla., agrees with me, and is planning to introduce a bill in the Florida House next session to mandate such facilities.

U.S. Congressman Mark Foley has also agreed to support the bill, and I have received positive responses from other state and federal officials.

Any support you and your readers can give toward this worthy cause would be greatly appreciated. -- FRED KROLL, BOYNTON BEACH, FLA.

DEAR FRED: I'm certain your letter will be of interest not only to individuals who have the need for gender-neutral rest room facilities, but also to the many advocacy groups that have formed around the country for people with disabilities. Good luck! Please let me know when the legislation is passed.

Everybody has a problem. What's yours? Get it off your chest by writing to Dear Abby, P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069. For a personal reply, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

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