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Life On The Highway: Accessibility In Rural States

Montana is a beautiful state comprised of people from all walks of life. One may feel drawn here due to the beautiful scenery, outdoor recreation, open space, and relatively low cost of living.

Changing Spaces Montana Chapter leader Amber Fortier and her family.

One thing this state is lacking, however, is accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 250,549 adults in Montana live with disability (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023). This equals approximately 1 in 4 Montanans. Looking deeper, 10% of these people have trouble with mobility, 13% have impacted cognition, 6% struggle to live independently, and 3% struggle with self-care.

Why does this matter?

Disability is one thing that NO ONE is immune to experiencing. Whether one is born with a disability or acquires one later in life, The Faces and Facts of Disability page from the Social Security Association describes that 1 in 4 adults will become disabled before reaching retirement age (, 2019).

Lack of accessible spaces and adult changing tables force individuals to stay home and miss out on things that bring them joy. This can include daily living skills, grocery shopping, events in the community and activities with their families. Sometimes this can also prevent individuals from receiving appropriate healthcare.

Looking specifically at access to healthcare, it means families are forced to travel. One chooses between receiving “frontier medical intervention” and being flown or driven to areas more equipped to handle the complexity of medical care that goes along with a disability. Driving to receive care is part of many families’ lives here in Montana. We drive to bigger cities within our state or travel longer distances to more specialized hospitals surrounding us. Sometimes families are forced to drive hours just for routine care. We drive long distances for surgeries, procedures, imaging and more.

We also drive far away from home for accessible recreational activities. Access to community events and activities is shown to improve one’s quality of life- this is true when living with or without a disability.

Can you imagine not being able to assist your loved one with toileting and self-care when seeking health care or when out in the community? This is a huge barrier.

To date, Montana does not have any height adjustable adult changing tables to help accommodate families as they travel.

What are we currently doing, you ask?

We are changing our loved ones on public restroom floors or in the back of our vehicles in public view. This is lacking the human dignity, privacy and safety they deserve. We are also subjected to comments from the public as we are forced to handle changing in unsafe, unsanitary, and sometimes humiliating conditions.

Why does this matter?

Not having access to a safe and dignified changing space is impacting access to healthcare, social events and being an active participant in society. It’s impacting our degree of happiness and interaction with others we care about. Disability is a state of human existence that many of us will experience at one point in our lives.

A simple way to increase access to life participation is adding a safe changing environment for individuals and their caregivers. This issue may impact you right now or you may be a person who is not currently impacted. Based on statistics, you or your loved one have a 1 in 4 chance of needing access to some sort of universally designed item in your lifetime. That’s why it’s so important that we help educate and advocate for inclusion and accessibility.

Why not start with making restrooms more accessible for ALL people?

Written by: Amber Fortier, Chapter Leader, Changing Spaces Montana


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 12). Disability & Health U.S. State Profile Data: Montana. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Crocker, M., Hutchinson, C., Mpundu-Kaambwa, C. et al. Assessing the relative importance of key quality of life dimensions for people with and without a disability: an empirical ranking comparison study. Health Qual Life Outcomes 19, 264 (2021).

Facts | The Faces and Facts of Disability | Social Security Administration. (2019).

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