Feature Article - May 2008
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All in the Family

Ensuring Locker Rooms & Restrooms Are Fit for Everyone

By Stacy St. Clair

A Growing Family

The success of family locker rooms and bathrooms comes as no surprise to the American Restroom Association (ARA), which has long advocated their inclusion. The organization advocates such amenities—which they refer to as "companion care facilities"—because they help a wide variety of people: parents with small children, patrons with disabled relatives and elderly people who need spousal assistance.

They also address parents' uneasiness with the idea of sending their children into a locker room by themselves. No matter how different we wish the world could be, there's no denying that leaving a child alone in a locker room could lead to a terrible problem. Conversely, bringing a child of the opposite gender into a locker room could also make other patrons uncomfortable or create inappropriate interactions.

Family restrooms are so important to the ARA, the group constantly receives phone calls from people asking for "toilet mapping," a tool that shows travelers where they can find family restrooms or locker rooms across the United States. Unfortunately, the association doesn't have such a map, but it no doubt would fill a demand, according to Bob Brubaker, the association's program manager. No one likes to be confined to their house, but they need to have options if they decide to go out and enjoy themselves.

"The number of family restrooms is clearly growing," Brubaker said. "There are groups of people who are very concerned about privacy. They have problems using public toilets. A private, companion care facility is a good answer for them."

At the Westlake Recreation Center in suburban Cleveland, seniors have embraced the family locker rooms since the facility opened nearly a decade ago. The center features one large space with eight separate dressing-room-type spaces. Some of the rooms are shower areas with benches, while others have toilets. A few are handicap-accessible areas where patrons can just roll in with their wheelchairs and take showers.

The family area has become extremely popular with elderly patrons, who like the extra space and amenities such as handicap-accessible showers. One couple used the facilities for two weeks while their home bathroom was being remodeled. The man, who was wheelchair-bound, found it a convenient alternative to using the men's locker room.

"Many of our seniors use these locker rooms for the privacy factor," said Ann Hollows, the center's assistant manager. "It's a great option for them."

Facility managers have received some complaints from patrons about unruly children inside the family locker room. The center has addressed the concerns by prohibiting kids from entering the area unless they are accompanied by an adult.

At the Cleveland County YMCA in Norman, Okla., recreation managers are enjoying similar success with their new family locker room. After a 1996 renovation, the facility now has five locker rooms: one for adult women, one for adult men, one for young men ages 8 to 17, one for young girls ages 8 to 17 and one for families with children younger than 8.

The family area accommodates up to six broods at a time, and everything inside was designed with parents in mind. The door to the adjacent pool area, for example, requires patrons to punch in a key code before it can be opened. Such a security measure prevents little ones from running into the natatorium without their parents' knowledge.

"We've thought of everything," said Heather Cook, the marketing and public relations coordinator for the Cleveland County YMCA. "It helps families and it enhances the value of the YMCA membership for people."

Patrons consider the facilities so comfortable and conveniently located, some try to use them even when they don't have children with them. Their popularity fulfills a prophecy Cook made when the plans were first announced several years ago. She told patrons the facilities would change the way they thought about recreation—and she was right.

"Our members have been tickled with the results," she said. "It's important for families to get together and do things. We've made it so much easier for them to do that."