Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Public restrooms

In D.C. I saw a few advances in public restrooms that make good sense in a time of flu viruses and the threat of further epidemics. First, sanitizing gel is available in many public places, which is a great idea. Hospitals have been doing this for years, and more public places should. Even better, the dispensers are touchless, which I hadn't seen before, but once you see it it's obvious.

The other one was more surprising. More simple and more clever in a way. The public restrooms in a few places could be operated in part with your foot. The toilet flush was a foot pedal; and on the inside of the restroom door was a sort of "hook" you could easily tuck your toe under to pull the door open without touching it. So you could go in and do your business and leave without having to touch any surface that anyone else had touched.

What is particularly nice about this is once you see it you think, why didn't we always do it that way? After all, the door hook probably costs a few dollars, and can be retrofitted onto virtually any bathroom door. The flush pedal is probably a little more expensive and more tricky to retrofit, but it wouldn't cost any more than a handle if it were designed in. (Even the automatic-flush toilets, which probably cost a lot more than manual, still need a manual control.)

There are a few other things you do in a public restroom that might not be so easy to make foot-operable, and unless you can eliminate all the hand-touches you still depend on people washing their hands to prevent them infecting other people. But even if you only eliminate some of the chances for the person before you (who didn't wash his hands) to infect you, that's a good step, particularly if you did it by installing a $5 gadget that will last for years and took minutes to install.

(And yet for all this, restroom stalls still almost never have coathooks anymore, and half of them don't close properly. Are those things so hard?)

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