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American Sign Language: "bathroom"

The sign for "bathroom" is made by forming the dominant hand into the letter "t."  The palm side is facing away from you. Shake your hand side to side a couple times. Some people use a twisting movement instead of the side to side shake.  Either is fine.



"How many bathrooms do you have in your house?"


A frequent question in households with children and/or developmentally disabled folks is, "Do you need to go to the bathroom?"  This can be signed easily by simply doing the sign for bathroom while at the same time tilting your head forward a bit and raising your eyebrows.

 "Do you need to go to the bathroom?"

Note: You might be wondering why the sign "BATHROOM" uses a "T" handshape.  It is probably because this sign can also be interpreted to mean "toilet."  Most of the time though the sign should be interpreted as "bathroom."

Also see: RESTROOM



Question: An ASL instructor writes:
Hi Dr. Bill!
I studied ASL throughout my bachelor's degree in ███████ and work for ███████████ in which I recently became the sign language orientation instructor for my department. During my most recent class, a new staff member who had studied ASL in high school mentioned she had been taught a new sign for BATHROOM: instead of shaking a T handshape, she was taught to shake a B handshape. I looked it up via because I know that you are quick to add any variation and different dialects you come across. Have you seen this variation before?
(Name and some details redacted to protect privacy)
Hello █████!
Shaking a "B" for bathroom is not at all representative of the signing being done by socially active native Deaf skilled ASL signers in the American Deaf Community.
Your email is literally, no joking, the first time I've ever encountered even the mention of such a thing. I have never seen a shaken-B "bathroom" on the hand of a Deaf person in my entire life.
Calling a sign "new" or a "variation" doesn't justify its adoption. At best it might be considered Signed English and as such would likely be eschewed by the general Deaf Community.
My vote is a solid no.
Warm regards,
- Bill
William G. Vicars Ed.D.
Fri, Mar 5, 2021
Comments, questions, suggestions welcomed. However, even if dozens of people start claiming they have "seen" that version done by "someone" -- doesn't at all change the fact that the vast, vast, majority of the Deaf Community in 2021 does *not* initialize the sign for "bathroom" with a "B" and that if someone teaches that version it means they are out of touch with the current signing done by the majority of the native adult Deaf Community.


A member of the Lifeprint-ASLU Facebook group writes:
"I was corrected by an elder Deaf man at our (Deaf) church for using the "t" asking my toddler if she needed to go. He considers "r" the polite mixed-company expression.
As he is born deaf and I am a hearing parent, I just thanked him for letting me know."
(Name removed for privacy)

Thank you for sharing that!
RESTROOM is definitely part of ASL lexicon. All ASL interpreters should recognize the restroom sign.
The tidbit about the older Deaf person "correcting" the use of BATHROOM to instead be signed as RESTROOM in "polite mixed company" is a very precious bit of Deaf culture.

1. The direction of the advice was from Deaf to Hearing.

2. The advice-giver was older and from a previous generation.

3. The environment (a church) was a place of reverence and decorum.

Interestingly, churches and office buildings tend to have restrooms (without a bathtub) whereas houses and apartments tend to have bathrooms (with a bathtub).

On some level the "mixed company" aspect of the advice (by the older Deaf person many have to do with a subconscious (or even conscious) awareness that the bathrooms in public / shared spaces generally don't have bathtubs.

I am not advocating here for or against the use of RESTROOM -- I'm simply savoring a small historical / cultural gem and mentioning that skilled terps should know the sign so they can recognize it when they see it.

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