Public Restrooms Degrade People with Special Needs By Lacking This One Simple Feature

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“I remember the very first time it happened,” recalled an autism mom in a Facebook post. “We were having a lovely family day out at the zoo and Isla needed changing.”

Isla, like many others with special needs, is not toilet trained and wears diapers. So her mother took her to the bathroom, and when her eyes fell on the baby changing station, “the realisation hit [her] like a ton of bricks.”

The changing station provided simply would not work. It was for little babies, not older children like Isla; no way would she fit on it. She might even break it if they tried.

Isla’s mother had no other choice. With a sick feeling in her stomach, she laid a blanket on the dirty bathroom floor and rested her precious little girl on it. “I had to change our beautiful daughter on the floor, just inches from the toilet,” she said.

Adobe Stock/Viktoriya-Shvydkova

Adobe Stock/Viktoriya Shvydkova

Situations like this are all too common for parents and caretakers of those with special needs. For any number of reasons, those with disabilities may need to wear diapers. But what happens when these individuals need to be changed in public? What happens when these older children and adults are too big for traditional baby changing tables?

It’s a huge yet largely invisible problem. The fact that older children and adults do not have diaper-changing spaces in public places violates their innate sense of human dignity. What if the rest of us had to sit on a filthy, public floor in order to take care of one of our most basic human needs? If that were the case, there would be a huge public outcry.

But perhaps since these individuals are already brushed aside in society as it is, or perhaps because diaper-changing is not a very glamorous issue to be talking about, parents and caretakers who are faced with this situation often find themselves screaming into the void when they advocate for a solution.

And I don’t know about you, but that makes me angry.

Adobe Stock/celiafoto

Adobe Stock/celiafoto

In order to compensate for the lack of public changing spaces, many caretakers will…

  • Change the person on the dirty, germ-ridden bathroom floor
  • Change the person in the car—in view of the public eye
  • Only go out in public for short periods of time
  • Restrict fluid intake
  • Leave the premises

It’s either that or force the person to sit in their own waste. No matter how you look at it, the options are degrading and dehumanizing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Adobe Stock/mjowra

Adobe Stock/mjowra

If the restrooms of public venues were to be installed with height-adjustable changing tables for older children and adults, this would be a huge relief for caregivers and those with special needs alike.

Does this sound like an awesome idea to you? Would you like to help us make it happen? Click the button below to sign our petition on this very issue!

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A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.