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Two-Potty System: Miami International Airport's Mysterious Dueling Toilets

New Times' artist conception (with apologies to all parties involved)
New Times' artist conception (with apologies to all parties involved) Screenshot via Twitter; Rodin via public domain
At first glance, the restrooms in Terminal E at Miami International Airport appear unremarkable: teal and beige industrial tile flooring, sterile lighting, dull-pink walls — not at all unusual for an airport lavatory. 

But when you open the door to certain stalls, you might be confronted by a perplexing sight: not one toilet, but two, positioned directly opposite one another as if to invite a joint session.

In a viral tweet that made the rounds last week, a baffled MIA traveler confessed that she engaged in a "deep internal debate about which one to use."

That was enough to spur New Times to (pardon the expression) get to the bottom of it.

(Yes, we pestered the tweeter. We also nodded sagely to ourselves when she said she had no further insight to offer.)

What's up with the dueling commodes?

We shared the tweet with Miami International Airport spokesperson, Greg Chin, who volunteered that the airport has three bathrooms with that configuration.

"Each of those bathrooms has a door with a lock so they can only be used by one person or one set of people at a time," Chin offered.

Eric Solares, a marketing manager at Dade Construction Corp., which specializes in large-scale commercial projects, says the bathroom was likely designed for accessibility. This configuration, he suggests, could allow people who use wheelchairs to choose whichever side makes it easier for them.

"It is a part of a handicapped restroom in which people in wheelchairs usually have a side that they prefer to transfer to based upon which side of their body is stronger," Solares imparts.

That led us to call on Matthew Dietz, clinical director of the Disability Advocacy and Inclusion Law Clinic at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad College of Law, who asserts that the design has "good intentions" but was "not completely well-thought-out."

Dietz says the two-toilet setup doesn't necessarily make the bathroom more accommodating than modern accessibility stalls or family restrooms. He notes that a wheelchair user might not be able to move from wheelchair to toilet and toilet to wheelchair from the same side. In such instances, both toilets are too close to one wall to accommodate a wheelchair on that side.

"You don't have to have two toilets," Dietz says. "Unless you're trying to teach your baby how to be potty-trained," he adds. "It may help for that."

That led us back to Chin, who explained that the dual-toilet stalls were built "before 1970" and use an old design.

He says the Miami-Dade Aviation Department is planning a renovation of all 447 restrooms in the airport, and that the renovations will include removing the second toilet in these stalls to conform with current standards.

Chin says he doesn't have records that go far back enough in time to verify that the bathrooms were indeed designed for disability access.

Numerous calls and emails from New Times to Jessica Marin Urrea, the airport's disability program coordinator, yielded the suggestion that we direct our inquiries to Chin.

If the mysterious potties were indeed designed for accessibility, they're one of the airport's many unique features to accommodate travelers with disabilities.

MIA boasts charging stations for wheelchairs in six concourses and pre-security areas, free assistance for visually impaired travelers through the Aira phone app, and calming rooms for individuals with autism or other conditions that might make them sensitive to the commotion and sensory overload from airport travel.
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Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein

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