• Danielle Bostick

Winchester Needs a Human Rights Advisory Board

Recently, the City of Winchester announced that it would not be opening the splash pad this summer OR the accessible, ADA-compliant public restrooms on the pedestrian mall. The decision was blamed on the Covid pandemic, but since the city received funds to pay for costs associated with Covid, continued access to safe, clean, ADA-compliant bathrooms is not just possible, it is the ethical decision.

When I posted about this on Facebook, someone affiliated with the Democratic party and the mayor's campaign compared opening these accessible bathrooms to giving away free fentanyl. The insensitivity of an opioid joke aside (which is hard to ignore), is it that dangerous to open accessible bathrooms? Concern about Covid in a public restroom seems misplaced, especially since students will be using communal bathrooms in August. A few weeks ago, there was an article suggesting that feces could aerosolize when a toilet is flushed, causing a potential risk for the transmission of Covid. Urine does not present the same problem. And, it is unknown if this kind of post-flush aerosol can cause the transmission of Covid. In the case of Winchester's ADA bathrooms, the potential risk of aerosolized droplets after a flush, is irrelevant. The accessible bathrooms are single-stall, so other people are not present in the bathroom after a flush. These bathrooms are also touchless. Lights turn on, toilet paper dispenses, toilets flush, and faucets turn on automatically. Any risk of surface transmission is easily mitigated through proper hand-hygiene. And, that particular risk is no greater than the risk posed from surfaces in any other public space or bathroom inside of private businesses. There is no reason visitors to the mall who need an accessible bathroom should find themselves without options. And, there is no reason that private businesses should be come de facto public restrooms since the City has chosen not to provide accessible facilities. How does this tie in to a Human Rights Advisory Board? Decisions like these do not affect all citizens and visitors equally. Should visitors to the pedestrian mall who use wheelchairs have to go from business-to-business looking for an accessible restroom? That is an unnecessary burden. I-- and others-- have suggested a Human Rights Commission or Advisory Board over the last few years. Yet over the last four years, there has been no serious discussion of such an entity in the context of providing a better quality of life for our citizens. If we have boards that look at problems through the lenses of real estate, money, tourism, business, and investments, we should have a board that provides recommendations to the city through the lens of human dignity.

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