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Toilet pass gives priority access to public washrooms

Nearly 48,000 people in Finland had Inflammatory Bowel Disease in 2017, up from 30,000 in 2007.

Image: Yle / Mari Latva-Karjanmaa

As bowel disease diagnoses rise in Finland, one patients’ association is pushing a special pass that allows holders a fast track to toilet facilities at participating organisations and businesses.

More than 20,000 people in Finland carry a "Toilet card" with them, either in physical or digital form as an app. The card or app can be used to bypass long lines for washrooms at festivals or to access the facilities at business places.

It also allows holders free access to toilets where users usually have to pay a fee. However all of this depends on staff knowing about the pass, or if businesses have registered to be a part of the toilet card programme.

People suffering with conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) sometimes have to use the toilet dozens of times a day. As a result they have little time to find the nearest washroom, let alone queue for a turn to use it.

However some festival organisers, municipalities and companies have agreed to accept the toilet card as part of their accessibility programmes. Information about participating organisations can be found on the website of the Crohn and Colitis association (in Finnish).

Story continues after photo.

Kännykässä auki vessapassi-sovellus.
A mobile version of the pass is also available. Image: Raila Paavola / Yle

In theory, the pass can be used everywhere, but cardholders know for sure they will have immediate access to a toilet wherever they see a sticker declaring, "We accept toilet cards" (Meillä käy Vessapassi).

So far in 2020 there are 250 businesses that have registered as part of the quick access programme, according to Crohn and Colitis association executive director Ulla Suvanto. She added that the pass and related programme were launched back in 2012 and that there is still work to be done to build awareness.

Now the organisation, which owns the rights to the pass, wants companies involved in the programme to encourage others to join. New members only need to have a toilet -- no other accessibility features are required.

Marjo Stenberg, a Kokkola nurse working with Inflammatory Bowel Disease patients commended the programme. However she lamented the fact that there according to the Crohn and Colitis website there are only three participating firms in her municipality.

Suvanto noted that regional differences in membership in the toilet card scheme are largely due to the number of active volunteers it has and whether or not local media have been harnessed to disseminate information about the scheme.

English-language pass available

The Crohn and Colitis association has been gathering data about the experiences of pass holders who attended festivals in 2019.

Last year, 36 festivals and seven other events had signed up to support the scheme, including public markets, Boy Scout events and Ed Sheeran concerts. The association said that it found that there was room for improvement.

"Not all of the employees at some festivals were aware of the toilet pass or how it was supposed to work," Suvanto said.

The organisation said that based on the feedback it has received, it will provide more detailed guidance to participants in 2020.

For the most part though, the association said that it had received positive feedback about the programme. Many pass holders said that it gave them the opportunity to get out and about with some peace of mind.

There is also an English-language version mobile pass provided to members of the association, something that it hopes will make it easier for them to travel abroad.

"Negative feedback has mainly been disappointment that the pass is not recognized everywhere. Some people are also shy about using it," Suvanto explained.

Increase in bowel diseases in Finland

More than 50,000 people in Finland have been diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and as many as 2,000 new diagnoses are made every year. Typical symptoms include diarrhoea, bloody stool and stomach pains.

Apart from IBD, other bowel diseases such as microscopic colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are on the rise in Finland.

"Bowel diseases typically present at the ages of 15 to 35. There is another peak in the 60s. The number of children with the ailment has also been increasing in recent years," Suvanto pointed out.

Medical expense reimbursement data from benefits agency Kela indicate that in 2017 about 47,800 people were living with IBD, up from 30,000 in 2007.

In addition to the Crohn and Colitis association, other partners in the toilet pass programme include the gynaecological patients’ association Korento, the Colorectal Cancer Association Colores, Neuroliitto, the organisation for muscular sclerosis and rare neurological diseases, the Cancer Society of Finland and the Finnish Scleroderma Association.

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