30 Jan 2017

Girl taking toilet petition to Parliament

6:59 pm on 30 January 2017

A Wainuiomata school girl is seeking a law change to make workplace toilets accessible to certain groups where there are no public restrooms.

Nicole Thornton, 12, who has Crohn's Disease, will present a petition on the topic at Parliament tomorrow.

Twenty thousand New Zealanders have chronic, incurable inflammatory bowel disease, which often comes with diarrohea and abdominal pain.

Over summer, Nicole and other young people on a tour of Parliament discussed with their tour guide, who had Crohn's, a law in the United States that requires firms to allow toilet access to those with Crohn's, and pregnant women and users of ostomy bags.

Nicole said it is a huge having Crohn's, and easy access to a toilet when required is vital.

"It's a huge, huge thing for Crohn's and Colitis, it's a necessity. You need to feel safe and secure, and that would be something that would make us feel safe and secure, if we had toilets."

Nicole Thornton with her doctor Richard Stein and father Kerry Thornton.

Nicole Thornton with her doctor, Richard Stein, and father, Kerry. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Nicole says during summer a year ago, those on the annual Camp Purple Live, funded, organised and run by Crohn's and Colitis New Zealand, made I Can't Wait cards which could be handed to others, avoiding the need for sensitive discussion when in a hurry.

The cards didn't work as well as they'd hoped.

"Every single time you had to explain why you had Crohn's and you don't have time to explain, you do not have time. If you'd just be able to show a card and they would let you through you would make it in time, instead of explaining and it would be too late."

She said an online petition backed by 57 children and young people at the camp, their caregivers and others, has received almost 3000 signatures in just over a week.

Tomorrow she will present it to her local MP, Trevor Mallard, seeking a law change forcing retailers to allow access to their employee restrooms where there are no public restrooms.

"It's not a great thing to have Crohn's. You have to take the most of it and try to use it as an advantage, like what we're doing now, making it a law."

Nicole's doctor, Lower Hutt gastroenterologist Richard Stein, said 20,000 New Zealanders have Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis, a quarter of whom are diagnosed in childhood.

"It's the norm for them... for a lot of people who have these diseases to carry a change of clothes with them. They plan the day around where the toilets are located. A lot of them simply won't go downtown just for the fear of having an accident."

Nicole's father, Kerry Thornton, said he believed the average Kiwi business would not turn anyone in need away.

"But then having said a lot of the company policies now don't like people using their staff toilets for different reasons. The IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] sufferers, their reason is very genuine so if they walk into a business at any age, doesn't matter who, if they've got the card that says they're allowed to by law, it would just make life so much easier for them."

Brian Poole, the past chairman and a trustee of Crohn's and Colitis New Zealand, said a map they produced showing the locations of all public toilets nationwide was not enough.

"You can access a public toilet or find a public toilet anywhere in New Zealand. That's quite different to finding a toilet that's owned by a business, and that's the next layer or next sector that we want to move into, because Crohn's people are entitled to live a normal life."

And that's what Nicole Thornton wants, after she gives Hutt South MP Mr Mallard the petition tomorrow.

"I'm going to have to get my sister to do my hair. I can't wait to meet him, he seems really nice."

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