Before I discovered I’m Autistic, I thought that maybe I was OCD (the idea of being Autistic didn’t even exist!). That’s because I like everything in its place, I’m very clean, and I wash my hands – a lot. More than 20 times a day because I like them to feel clean, and because I’m a bit of a germaphobe (if having a bit of mysophobia is even possible).
But being Autistic (not OCD) also explains my compulsion for cleanliness and order. And I decided long ago that there isn’t anything wrong with being vigilant when it comes to reducing the spread of germs and bacteria.
Which makes me wonder about toilet doors and why they all open inwards.
The design of public bathrooms is all wrong
As an unabashed hand washer, it bothers me (like it makes me pause every single time) that I go to all that trouble only to then have to grab hold of a door handle crawling with goodness knows what and pull it towards me to exit the bathroom.
If I’m lucky, someone else will be exiting, or entering, at the same time as me and I can shoot my leg between the door and the door frame before it fully closes and lever it open with my foot or shoulder.
I get that the inward-opening door is a safety consideration – no one wants a toilet door to hit them in the face as they’re walking by – but one would have thought that if governments were genuinely concerned about hygiene, as they clearly were at the height of COVID, then they would have jettisoned the inward-opening door in favour of something more…‘contactless’.
In fact, as long as my particular cubicle is secure (I always check the ‘vacant/engaged’ latch is working!) and not too “messy”, I don’t see why an external door is still a prerequisite.
Surely, if we can build bridges and tunnel underwater to build roads and program algorithms that tell us what to think and feel, we can position bathrooms in such a way that they provide privacy, reduce the risk of potential odour ‘bombs’, and eliminate the need to remember to carry a piece of paper towel from the sink, or, in bathrooms not equipped with towelling, “grab a napkin on your way to the restroom,” as someone on the internet professing to have studied physics and computer science kindly suggests. (Really, they needed to tell me they have a physics and computer science degree in order to educate the casual ‘state-of-toilet-doors’ reader about the benefits of “grabbing a napkin”?)
Fortunately for those of us for whom the inward-opening door is a sensory nightmare, I have noticed that some public bathrooms in larger shopping complexes and malls are now on to this and don’t have external doors at all these days.
You can just walk freely in and out of the bathroom itself without the need to touch anything after drying your hands. Godsend!
Bathroom hygiene still isn’t our strong suit
If you think I’m making too big a deal about this, consider that Autistic people often experience more sensory input issues than the average person, and experience them more profoundly, resulting in dysregulation and meltdowns that can last for minutes, hours, or even days.
Contributing to my very valid concerns about door handles, are my own observations that when visiting the public bathroom, most men (I’ll let others provide insights into how other genders are going with this one, given my limited experience in bathrooms other than male) still have a long way to go when it comes to perfecting the finer points of handwashing.
Some seem blind to the existence of sinks and running water completely. While others approach the protruding porcelain and spout merely to adjust or ‘fondle’ their hair in the mirror.
Yet more men will gather up the curiosity to turn on the tap in front of them, but then only waft their hands in the direction of the running water for a second or so before making a hasty exit.
It is a rare sight indeed to clock eyes on a fellow homo sapien who goes to the lengths of turning on the tap, soaping up, and giving their hands a bloody good scrub beneath the water.
In fairness, finding actual soap in the myriad dispenses dotted around the bathroom can be problematic. During COVID times, the typically pink goo drizzled like so much tomato sauce over a meat pie at the footy. But it seems now to have long since evaporated, along with our all-too-short memories on the virtues of getting our hands wet and soapy.
But what it all amounts to is that the handle on the inward-facing door is, unfortunately, the last place everyone touches.
I long for a world without external doors in public bathrooms
In a world more heavily populated by Autistic people with sensory sensitivities, or at least your run of the mill germaphobe, I like to think these inward-opening doors would have been outlawed long before COVID.
We have the ingenuity – what we need now is to raise awareness. So join me in spreading the word about these germ-breading door handles. You might just be doing yourself, or someone you care about, a huge favour.
(I’d like to think that automatic taps and soap dispenses with sensors would also be standard features in public bathrooms one day. But let’s focus on one issue at a time here, shall we? 😊)
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