Sanitation: it’s an issue that’s more important at this time than ever before. It’s been almost a year since the start of the pandemic, and if you’re like most of us, you’re trying your best to be cautious about spending time in public spaces. Once in a while, you do have to use a public restroom, which can be particularly nerve-wracking if you’re a mother with a baby—but you always make sure to bring sanitary wipes and thoroughly clean the baby changing station before you use it. 

Now imagine that instead of a baby, you’re responsible for changing a child or adult. What would you do? 

People with toileting needs forced to stay home or accept unsanitary bathroom experience

For many caregivers of people with disabilities or incontinence, the answer is to simply not go out. While many of us say we’re “in quarantine,” we’re still taking necessary trips to the grocery store and running errands, going to doctor’s appointments and even getting haircuts. We’re staying as safe as we can while doing the things that keep us sane during this stressful time. 

People who require toileting assistance and their caregivers, too, need to run errands and take trips out of the house. However, if they need to make a trip to the bathroom while in public, they run into an all-too-familiar problem: most often, there is no changing table that can accommodate the weight of an older child or adult. As a result, they are forced to change their family member on the restroom floor. 

Sanitation and health risks of changing on the floor

How clean is a public family restroom floor? While it might look recently swept and free of debris, you’ll never see the bacteria or viruses tracked in by patrons before you. Even the cleanest restroom isn’t mopped between each use. For caregivers, this means changing their loved one—an older child, teenager or adult—on a floor that likely contains dirt and bacteria from people’s shoes, and particles of urine and fecal matter from flushing toilets. Yuck.

Laying a cloth down can’t do much to protect either party from catching nearby bacteria and viruses (imagine how dirty that cloth will be after using it), which poses significant health risks at any time—but especially during a pandemic. Aside from sanitation, the changing process is unsafe for caregivers who risk back strain and other injuries, dehumanizing for the person being changed, and an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. 

Adult changing tables: a necessary solution

We could improve the lives of people who need toileting assistance and their caregivers if adult changing tables were more available, in all or even a limited number of public spaces. Essentially a larger version of a baby changing station, adult changing tables are designed to hold the weight of children and most adults. They contribute to a more sanitary process, as they are installed on the wall of a restroom and can easily be wiped clean before and after use. Many of these products also have antimicrobial coatings, providing additional protection against certain bacteria and viruses.

Adult changing tables are also safer for caregivers, allowing them to conduct the changing process while standing at the ergonomically correct height. In general, the availability of these changing tables would help make an already challenging process more comfortable and dignified. The best part is, they prevent people who need toileting assistance from having to be changed on a dirty restroom floor—something that no child or adult should ever have to endure.