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The 2003 International Building Code requires that all new construction and substantial renovation for public restrooms include a family, or unisex, bathroom. Most new, large venues such as malls, airports, and sports arenas, now include at least one type unisex bathroom in addition to men's and women's public restrooms. But not all states have adopted the codes. Planning construction or renovation? Check your local public restroom regulations.
Consider a unisex bathroom if you own a small business and don't want to take the time to clean two bathrooms. A single, unisex bathroom with one toilet, sink, hand dryer, and soap dispenser should serve a small business well. If the unisex bathroom is one room without separate stalls, it can include both a urinal and a toilet. A key benefit to a unisex bathroom is that there is only one pubic restroom to clean, and that's especially important if you, the small business owner, or your employees are the ones who clean it.
When designing or retrofitting a public restroom in a venue used by families, such as a park or sports complex, a unisex bathroom, also known as a family bathroom, will win you points for customer service. Fathers are escorting children to public places, such as malls and playgrounds, more than in the past, and both fathers and mothers are often uncomfortable taking their opposite-sex child into the restroom with them, but parents don't want to leave the child alone outside while they use a restroom. Alternatively, if the child needs to use the restroom, a mom might be concerned about letting a 7-year-old son into the men's room alone. A unisex restroom solves the problem and provides peace of mind for parents.
If you operate a business or office that serves elderly persons, consider installing a family restroom or unisex bathroom. Elderly persons may be accompanied by opposite-sex partners or adult children and they may need assistance in using a public restroom. A unisex option, perhaps in addition to standard men's and women's restrooms, lets a woman help her elderly father without having to use a strictly men's restroom, for example, and your business gets credit for knowing your audience.
P.S. Don't forget the handicap grab bars for the toilets, which also help elderly persons.
At the risk of seeming obvious, if you are a business owner who is retrofitting a public restroom that accommodates several people and turning it into a unisex bathroom, don't forget to remove the urinals if the facility has multiple stalls. Or, keep the urinals but put stall walls around them.
You'll eliminate the potential for embarrassment on the part of your customers of both genders.
If you have a business with a single public restroom that serves as a unisex bathroom, check the locks regularly to make sure that the locks to both the outside door and to each interior stall (if there is one) are in working order. Walking in on someone unexpectedly is awkward enough for people of the same gender.
The trend towards “family restrooms” and unisex bathrooms has inspired the development of wall-mounted safety seats in public restrooms, so parents can use the facilities more easily. Such seats let an adult traveling alone with a small child, or more than one small child, to use sinks, toilets, and dryers more effectively.
Own a small business? Want to keep the bathroom unisex? Be sure to buy a sign that has both the male and female logo on it to avoid customer confusion. Unisex signs are available from most restroom sign suppliers. In addition, if the unisex bathroom also has baby-changing facilities and is meant to cater to families, let customers know. Signs that say “family restroom” with a family-friendly logo and a baby-changing logo are available as well.
If a unisex bathroom is big enough to accommodate several stalls, be sure that the linside lighting is adequate with no dark corners so that all restroom users feel safe. If the facility is outdoors, such as near a soccer field or park, plenty of lighting at and around the doorways, not just inside the unisex bathroom, is essential for safety.
Since the recommended installation heights for sinks, toilets, and hand dryers vary between men and women, consider installing some of each if the unisex bathroom has room for multiple stalls, sinks, and hand dryers. An architectural trend known as “universal design” refers to creating public spaces to accommodate people of all ages and mobility levels.
In part because the Americans with Disabilities Act requires unisex bathrooms to include sinks and facilities of varying heights, and the building industry has responded by creating “multi-height lavatory systems” that combine sinks of different heights in the same fixture for easier installation. Ask your bathroom fixture supplier for details.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|