No Place to Change
Updated: Dec 11, 2022
When my son was five years old, he had a doctor's appointment at a clinic around thirty minutes from our home. You might be thinking- an eye exam, for a 5 year old? Well that sounds like fun! And yes, the appointment was challenging, but not for the reasons you may expect. I hoped my son would stay still and allow the doctor to shine a light into his eyes, and that we would get through the exam without a major meltdown. But, that wasn't my main concern. My thoughts were mostly dominated by one question: where will I change his diaper? Because of my son's medical condition- spastic quadraplegic cerebral palsy - he needs to use diapers, and will for the rest of his life. At five years old, he had already passed the weight limit for baby changing tables.
I loaded him into our minivan and set off for the thirty minute ride to the clinic, located inside a busy university medical campus. We navigated the confusing streets of the campus and found a parking spot on the street right outside the clinic. As soon as I paid the parking meter I had a choice to make. Should I go ahead and change my son here, in the trunk of our van? There were construction workers working nearby, graduate students passing by on foot and many other cars driving past. I did not want to expose my son in such a busy place. We went inside, hoping to find a better option.
Would you feel comfortable addressing your personal restroom needs here?
The clinic itself was located in an old brick building built in the 1960s, with only a men's and women's restroom. At this point, my son was still small enough to come into the women's restroom with me without being questioned. As he gets older, I know this will not always be the case.
The women's restroom was large, but old. The only changing surfaces available were the baby changing table and the dirty restroom floor. I could not bear the thought of laying my precious boy on the germ-ridden restroom floor. So, I lifted him out of his wheelchair onto the baby changing table. The table began to bend backward under his weight. I knew I would have to be quick. I balanced on my left foot and pushed my right knee under the changing table, hoping to keep it from collapsing and sending my boy falling onto the hard restroom floor. Another woman saw me struggling and offered to help. She supported the changing table while I finished the diaper change. By the time I had him fully dressed again my heart was pounding and I had broken into a nervous sweat. The entire change, I was terrified he would fall to the floor. I lifted him back into his wheelchair and promised never to change him on another baby changing table again.
In the years following, the challenge of finding a safe, dignified and private place to change my son's undergarments has become magnified. He has grown bigger and heavier, and will soon go through puberty. Without universal changing tables- tables that are large enough for an adult and adjust in height- we face a future that holds several bad options each time we leave home. One: Change our son in inappropriate places that do not offer him privacy, dignity or safety, or Two: do not leave home at all, and become isolated. This is not a future I choose to accept.
If you agree that this is unacceptable to deny individuals the basic right of a place to address restroom needs, please take action. Share information about universal changing tables with your local library, community center, theme park, or museum. These are places everyone should have a right to go, stay for as long as they like, and enjoy being a part of their community.
Be well and keep advocating!
Advocate, The Changing Spaces Campaign