Christine Stuart photo
Jennifer Jaff, executive director of the Advocacy of Patients with Chronic Illness Inc. (Christine Stuart photo)

When Jennifer Jaff’s client was denied access to a bathroom in a retail store, the result was embarrassing not only for her client but for the employees at the store as well. That’s because her client has Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory bowel syndrome that causes swelling and the frequent emptying of the intestines in the form of diarrhea.

Jaff, executive director for the Advocacy of Patients with Chronic Illness, Inc., was at the Capitol Friday speaking in favor of a bill that would provide access to employee restrooms in retail stores to people suffering from gastrointestinal disorders. The bill Jaff supports exists in six other states including Illinois, Tennessee, Colorado, and Minnesota.

The bill would give those living with ostomies, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome access to retailers employee bathrooms.

“It’s not just about the patient.” Jaff, who also suffers from Crohn’s disease herself, said. “It benefits the retail establishments. It’s embarrassing to the person and employees. It’s also unsanitary.”

Jaff said the bill isn’t a burden for retailers. The bill grants stores immunity from liability so the retailer cannot be sued if the person gets sick. Also a person can only use the employee restroom if there are at least three people working at the store, so employees don’t have to worry about the person stealing or being alone in the back because there will be other people working in the store.

The bill floated around last session, but was raised this year with the help of Rep. Joseph J. Taborsak, D-Danbury.

“I feel pretty good the bill will make it out of committee,” Taborsak said.

He said the Retailers Association testified on the bill and are concerned that they would have to improve their employee bathrooms to reach ADA approval. Although the bill states that the retailer would have to do no such thing, the issue is going to be looked into, he said.

Jaff is not confident that the bill will get passed because of the opposition.

She doesn’t understand why they wouldn’t agree to such a law because it’s not burdensome to the store, its actually going to help them.

“They want our business,” Jaff said.

There are 16,000 people in Connecticut living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, according to Jaff, who said the number probably doubles when counting those who live with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She said it’s fairly common to get denied access to an employee restroom at a retail store.

She is aware that she can’t go to every retailer in Connecticut, so she is going to try and reach as many retailers as she can by going through the legislature.

“It’s a real issue effecting real people,” Rep. Linda A.Orange, D-Colchester, said. Orange supports the bill and is aware how many people it effects, especially the youth population. “Many young people stay at home, as opposed to going out because they know they might need a bathroom.”

If the bill were to get passed it would ease some of the worries for those facing gastrointestinal disorders.

“I would go to more retailers if I knew I could use the bathroom,” Jaff said who frequently shops online because of her bathroom anxiety.