Almost four years ago, Christina Ingoglia and her husband David Nykodym had a daughter named Lilly, who was diagnosed with Mowat-Wilson Syndrome. The condition causes delayed development, so Lilly is nonverbal and has yet to learn to walk. That makes potty training difficult and diapers necessary.
Lilly now weighs 30 pounds and has also outgrown baby changing tables. For her parents, that makes traveling especially difficult. “We just found it brutal to find a place where she had some privacy and we had room to do what we needed to do to help her bathroom,” Ingoglia says. “A wide stall in a restroom that’s gender specific is just not going to help us anymore.”
Then one day the couple was driving around and following directions on navigation app Waze when inspiration struck: “I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could crowdsource information to make a map that says where there are restrooms for people like us?'” recalls Ingoglia, who is an English professor.
Nykodym, who is a GIS analyst for the state of Missouri, agreed and decided to build it. The result is called MoDE’s Restroom Map, a web-based app that that allows people to plot the addresses of gender-neutral or single occupancy public restrooms on a map so that others can plan trips around them. Missouri Disability Empowerment (MoDE), a nonprofit organization that was formalized this June and is classified a 501c4 so that it can engage in campaign-related advocacy work, has supported the effort. Ingoglia is MoDE’s vice president.
The app went live with Missouri-specific destinations in August and expanded nationally in September. It is designed on Esri’s Crowdsource Reporter, a mapping platform hosted on ArcGIS, and allows users to add geographic markers that appear in different shapes and colors depending on the type of facility. There’s Unisex (orange dot), Family (blue diamond), Family with Adult Sized Changing Table (green star), and Other (yellow dot) for some spot that might have equally important but non-standard benefits.
So far, the public has designated 260 spots around the country. To expand the list, Ingoglia is in early discussions with several state public transportation departments to add their own rest-stop information. She sees the app as a valuable resource to her family and many other constituencies that might need more privacy or security in the restroom.
As people plot more points, she hopes that activity will increase. Then the map can work two ways, both highlighting important spaces for those who need them, and potentially motivating people who don’t see enough options in their own area to advocate for new ones. “We think we’ve coined the term restroom desert,” she adds. “Because there are whole swathes of the country where people can’t participate civically, or go to a house of worship, or even go shopping with a person who has special needs in the restroom area because there’s nowhere to change them properly.”
Eventually, MoDE hopes that the concept proves effective enough that big tech companies like the one that inspired her might step in and really accelerate growth. “So in a way we’re trying to build this thing, prove that there’s a need, advocate, and meanwhile, if we can put ourselves out of business, that will be great. We’re hoping that an app like Waze or Apple Maps will just integrate a button that shows this information, and that could also be potentially crowdsourced.”