Friday, October 30, 2009

Restrooms for Severely Disabled at O'Hare Airport? Do they exist?

We continue to be excited about Dear Son's upcoming Make a Wish trip to Disney World. I spent some time yesterday planning for the trip however there is one issue I can't get resolved. I've written before about my concern for our plane ride to Orlando. My biggest concern is that I will need a place to change his diaper before boarding the plane. We will be boarding an early flight and leaving our home at 5:15 a.m. for the airport. Prior to that, I will have to give Dear Son his formula via his feeding tube and his seizure medications. At some point, I will have to change his diaper prior to boarding the plane. Once I change his diaper, then he should be able to make it on the plane ride without going to the bathroom. I will be bringing changing type pads to set on the seat so if he does have an accident, that the airplane seat won't get wet. My problem is this: no one can tell me where I can change him.

We are leaving from O'Hare International Airport, the busiest airport in the United States. I contacted United Airlines today and explained the situation, that I have an 18 year old male, who is severely disabled and I need a place to lie him down to change him. I was told that "there isn't any such room like that to change his diaper and that he "must" use a restroom." That was unacceptable. Dear Son can't use a restroom because he is disabled. He can't stand up and I use a hoyer lift to lift him up. He can't sit up well enough to even sit on a toilet, let alone let me know when he needs to go. He is not toilet trained. A typical handicapped bathroom is not adequate. I need to lie him down to change him. Ideally, I'd like a large restroom with a bench in it to lie him down on. Something like a family restroom. I am looking for a cot to lie him down, someplace with some privacy to change him. This should not be an issue in 2009 nor an issue for the world's busiest airport.

I asked to speak to her supervisor. I got a young man who told me that, "there should be someplace there to change him" however when pressed, he didn't know where that was. I asked him to check for me and he contacted the agent at O'Hare who said that they don't have a "specific area" but that there were bathrooms for disabled. I said that we can not use a handicapped bathroom since he needed to lie down and he said to, "just check when we get there". I explained that I needed to check now since I can't wait until the last minute. He had no other answers.

Prior to this call, I had tried to find answers on United's website. There were none. I tried to submit a question however it only accepts questions for "past" flights and the form won't allow questions on future trips or anything else as it requires you to input flight information from past trips to submit the question. They recommend you contact United at their 800-864-8331 for questions relating to upcoming trips, which is what I did. That isn't a great system however because you can't speak with anyone from customer relations, you can only speak with a reservations agent no matter what you say in the automated prompt menu.

I googled contact information for United Airlines and found an on-line form to submit an e-mail question and did that today. It came back as undeliverable with a failure message.

This is 2009. Dear Son just needs to go to the bathroom like anyone else does before his Make a Wish Trip. Some people have suggested not feeding him so he won't go the bathroom however how mean is that-taking him on a Make a Wish trip and then not being able to feed him so he won't urinate? That doesn't make any sense and no I'd never do that. I've written before on the restroom issue facing the disabled. We tried to go to a movie a while back and had to leave in the middle of the movie because there wasn't a place to change him.

Ideally, what we really need at airports and the like is simply, a family washroom large enough to get in a wheelchair and with a bench of some kind to lie him on, I could change him. I know that this washroom would be used by fathers who take their daughters in to be changed, mothers of kids in diapers, disabled children and the like. This isn't a new issue however. The Great Reporter wrote an article back in 2007 talking about accessibility and family restrooms for the disabled. You can see that article here. They state,

"Family restrooms have started appearing in more public buildings. Will these restrooms one day lead to the elimination of gender-specific bathrooms? Most states now require family restrooms, places where parents or caretakers can accompany members of the opposite sex who need help in the bathroom, in any new facilities, especially stadiums and parks."

They even reference O'Hare Airport as having family washrooms in Terminals 2 and 3 however those restrooms do not have a place to lie down Dear Son. If anyone has used this airport and knows of a place to change him, it would be appreciated. If you have any contact information, other than the main number for United, it would be appreciated. I checked with the Make a Wish Organization and they said that I'd have to contact United because they didn't get an answer. Please understand we are very appreciative of our Make a Wish Trip and just need to use a bathroom like anyone else. You can imagine that our fellow passengers would appreciate it if we can change him prior to boarding the plane as well.
Note: Dear Son is seventeen years old and suffers from a progressive neurological disease, seizures and severe mental retardation as a result of a random mutation of the ARX gene.
FYI: Since my previous post, I did get an answer to the ear popping issue with the changing altitude. Since Dear Son can't swallow or yawn to pop his ears, the neurologist suggested giving him an antihistamine a few hours prior to our flight to help with this issue.


Michelle said...


that is United's medical division. I am on the phone with them now.

Mellie needs to hear from you at 800-825-6331 ask for her by name, she will connect you with simone, who will help you. She is there till 2:30 eastern. Hurry.

We provide urgent care services and occupational medicine for the O’Hare Airport community - travelers, or airport employees who need or want a physician’s care.
O’Hare International Airport
Terminal 2, Upper level, Airside

Contact InformationPhone:
(773) 894-5100
Fax: (773) 894-5107


The Travelers Aid Office at O'Hare is located in Terminal 2 across from the Children's Museum and provides information, directions, and special assistance to both foreign and domestic travelers. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Information booths are also available at various locations.

To reach them by phone or for more information, please call 773-894-2427.


Wheelchair assistance is available from your airline. Please contact your airline customer service, directly, in advance to make special arrangements. All outside sidewalks have sloping curb cuts for easy wheelchair access. Additionally, O'Hare's terminals have extra-wide automatic entry doors on both the upper and lower levels. Throughout the airport facility, restrooms, elevators, signage, telephones, restaurants, drinking fountains, and diaper changing facilities are in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Michelle said... heres a map too, if it helps

Dream Mom said...

Thanks, Michelle. I am calling them now.

Anonymous said...

Let us know. To get a person (whether they will be helpful or not is another story), try this on the number you posted:

Press 0; say "agent," say "yes"; say "domestic" or "international" as appropriate.

Speak "Agent" each time your are prompted the make a selection. The recording will eventually ask if you want to speak to an agent. At that point, press the "#" key until it gives up and transfers you.

Also, maybe try the Dept of Transportation or Airport Authority or whatever.

Dream Mom said...

Michelle-I called Millie and got an answer. There is a Medical Center at Terminal 2 where I can change him at-they normally do NOT do this however they made an exception. They open at 7 a.m. and we have an 8 a.m. flight so hopefully we can get back to our gate on time. Thank you for your help.

FYI- I did contact the TSA Office at O'Hare and sent them an e-mail prior to your comment but haven't heard back. Your information was helpful though and I appreciate having this issue resolved.

I'll contact GKTW when I get to Orlando to see if they have a place to change him there-Millie was unable to provide a contact for the Orlando airport since it was much smaller.

Thanks again.

Dream Mom said...

Anonymous-Thanks for your help. I did speak with an agent and I wrote on the post what I was told. I also got their name and the supervisor's number (I didn't post that on the blog though.)

I also contacted the TSA office via e-mail.

While United and information posted on O'Hare's official website state they have accomodations for people with disablilities, they aren't referring to places to lie them down. I went through all of the TSA links for Medical and Disabled people, all of the links at O'Hare and combed through United's website.

Michelle's information was helpful and I now have a place to change him.

Thanks again for your comment. I appreciate it.

Becca said...

How about fixing M up with a Texas (condom) catheter for the journey? It is worn just like a condom so non-invasive and is connected by tube to a bag typically worn strapped to the leg. A lot of guys who aren't able to control their bladder use them. I'd probably leave a continence pad on underneath, just in case.

The lack of full-access toilets is an international disgrace. The campaign to put it right in the UK can be read about here. I also require a hoist and changing bench to take care of my toileting needs, it's infuriating.

Anonymous said...

I work with elders, and some who are quite disabled travel from New England to Florida and back in winter...if there are toileting transfer issues, often an adult incontinence brief is used - the most absorbent one available, such as 'overnight', and an additional absorbent liner inside...along with padding to protect the seat, as you mentioned. not sure if this is a workable/acceptable alternative for you....but thought i'd pass it along anyway.....good luck!!!
you're right, it should NOT be this difficult to get information about what is/is not available, and there ought be more truly accessible/useful toilet facilities!

Dream Mom said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Dear Son already wears an incontinence diaper with the maximum protection and an insert. We'll also use pads to lie down on the airplane seats. We will need to change him prior to the plane though and then we shouldn't have issues on the plane. That is our main concern.

cptofthehouse said...

I am appalled and sorry that you are having to deal with this issue. They should have a cot that could be set up in the family restroom for changes.

I know someone who has a wheelchair that can be just about fully inclined for diaper changes.

Want to also share with you that I saw a Halloween parade with a child in a wheel chair dressed as a Rubic's cube. Thought about you and your creative wheelchair costumes!

Kristin@Bouelvard Interior Design said...

I'm glad Michelle was able to help. Have a great trip!

Anonymous said...

I would not bother with the airline but rather pursue this issue with the airport. Surely the airport has a small room that could be used for this purpose.

That way you can get a contact name for someone on the ground in Chicago should you have trouble at the airport.

Anonymous said...

The posters at FlyerTalk ( know the layout of pretty much every airport in the world, intimately. They might be a good resource for questions about O'Hare and the airport in Orlando. They also have a forum for disabled travelers.

ELizabeth said...

I'm enraged that no one you originally spoke with at UA would OWN the item until they found someone who could provide a solution.

canucker said...

I was going to suggest an external catheter/leg bag for the plane ride, but see that Becca beat me to it. :-)

You could test out the "system" a couple of days before (say when DS is at school) to see if it is workable for him.

We used this for Joe when we were going on extended car trips and it did work well to keep him dry.

steve the plumber said...

Accessibility, Lack of Bathrooms for the Disabled, Make a Wish

Thanks for sharing said...

You might want to also try We created this site due to frustrations like these. We also welcome any additions to the database as well as any comments on the ones that we already have listed.

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