Spreading the Word: Advocating for Adult Changing Tables in Public Spaces

Spreading the Word: Advocating for Adult Changing Tables in Public Spaces

You’re out to dinner with your family for a birthday celebration when your 10-year-old son says he needs to use the restroom. For most, this wouldn’t be an issue—but your son has muscular dystrophy and “using the restroom” means you need to change his diaper. You peek in the nearby bathroom and confirm your assumption: it’s stalls, not family-style, and there’s no adult changing table, so you would have to change your son on the floor, essentially in public. You stick around until you can get the check, and head home early. 

This is your normal. While family outings are possible for many others on a daily basis, the lack of accessible facilities at malls, restaurants, concert halls, and other public spaces often keeps your family at home or cuts your plans short. Even if there is a private, wheelchair-accessible restroom where you’re headed, it’s unlikely that it has an adult changing table (a height-adjustable changing table for older children and adults), forcing you to change your son in unsanitary conditions. Sometimes you resort to changing him in the trunk of your car, but weather and passersby can make that equally unpleasant.

The solution should be simple: make adult changing tables more accessible in public spaces. Some states have approved legislation requiring them in certain venues, but in others, the issue hasn’t been approached. The good news is that people are starting to talk about it, inspiring caregivers like you to take action. 

Spreading Awareness of the Need for Adult Changing Tables

If you’re a caregiver who deals with this issue on a daily basis, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone. Not only because you’re in the minority, but because there seems to be a lack of awareness about the need for adult changing tables. Sure, it’s an awkward subject—but it’s also one that wouldn’t cross the minds of most people who aren’t dealing with it every day. The question is, how can we make this important to people who don’t face the same challenges?

Luckily, there are groups and individuals out there who are spreading the word. Universal Changing Places, a grassroots movement inspired by the United Kingdom-based Changing Places UK, was started by Sabrina Kimball of Florida, whose son has developmental disabilities. Kimball has been fighting for legislation requiring height-adjustable adult changing tables in public restrooms, and as a result of her work, the Florida Department of Transportation has incorporated changing tables in their building program and similar plans are in the works in Alabama.

Another group inspired by Changing Places, Changing Spaces is a parent-led advocacy group that promotes inclusion and raises awareness about the need for adult changing tables and lifts for people with disabilities. Several state chapters of the group have been behind efforts pushing for legislation, with some success. 

The Lack of Adult Changing Tables is a Community Issue

Coordinator of Changing Spaces’ Pennsylvania chapter, Christina Abernethy, has been spreading awareness of the issue by sharing personal stories on her blog, Love, Hope & Autism. Abernethy is the mother of three, including an 8-year-old boy, Ethan, who has autism. Like many older children and adults with a range of physical and mental conditions, Ethan needs toileting assistance, which is a huge challenge without access to adult changing tables. This firsthand experience motivated Abernethy to seek solutions and advocate for change—significantly, by working with Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Miller on a bill that would require certain public venues (airports, rest stops, hospitals, malls, movie theaters, to name a few) to have at least one height-adjustable, adult-sized changing table. 

In an episode of the LOMAH Special Needs Podcast last year, Abernethy spoke of when she first discovered adult-sized changing tables: “I just thought, these are out there, why aren’t we adding these into family restrooms? I mean, if you take the baby changing table out and put in an adult-sized changing table, you accommodate everybody from infants, toddlers, to someone our son’s size to a 300-pound man.” 

But the issue goes beyond practicality. Abernethy is referring to her efforts as a “community inclusion campaign.” Making adult changing tables more available means that families and caretakers of people with disabilities can have the choice to go out and enjoy community spaces, if they know where resources are located. “When people know there’s accessible things for their family member with a disability or chronic health issue, that makes life just a little bit better,” she says on the podcast. 

Legislation on Adult Changing Tables 

One thing we know is true: change only happens when people speak up. And it’s starting in the US, little by little. Here are just some of the states that have taken action.

California is the first state that approved legislation relating to adult changing tables back in 2015. It requires that all “commercial places of public amusement” built after January 1, 2020 include and maintain at least one adult changing station for people with disabilities, and that any businesses renovated after January 1, 2025 must include an adult changing station in their plans. 

Just last May, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey approved legislation requiring new or renovated government restrooms to have adult-accessible changing tables. 

In Michigan, a House bill introduced this January would require adult changing tables in movie theaters, concert halls and other venues that attract large crowds. 

And a bill that recently passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives, named “Max’s Law,” mandates the installation of variable-height adult changing tables in publicly funded buildings. 

What You Can Do

Are there laws relating to adult changing tables in your area? If so, has your state or county followed through? Consider where there is room for change. If there is a need, start a conversation with your local representatives. 

There is always strength in numbers—join an advocacy group like Changing Spaces or Universal Changing Places, or form your own group of locals who share your concern. Social media is a great, free way to spread the word about your efforts. Determine what, specifically, you want to accomplish and the steps you need to take to get there. While it might seem like no one is listening, you’ll be surprised to see how your audience grows once you take the very first step: sharing your story.

Learn more about the adult changing tables available through Patient Safety USA.

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