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Adult-size changing tables are something the general public has no clue is necessary until they find themselves in need of the space. Being unaware doesn’t make you a terrible person. I was unaware until the first time I put my 5-year-old daughter with multiple disabilities onto a baby changing table in a public restroom and saw it start to buckle underneath her weight. At that point, it became a glaring need. What were we going to do? The need felt heavy.

Our church family was the first to see the need and fill it. I shared our situation with friends at church. Within a few months, church leaders were asking, “What do you need?” “Send us links,” and “Where do you want it?” The glorious adult-sized changing table appeared.

I remember my kids and our pastor’s wife all sitting on it together for pictures. What a relief to know our family could continue to be in community together at church. We could be there for the entire Sunday morning service, Bible studies, and activities and even stay over for a meeting after without needing to go home . . .

All because of that adult-size changing table.

The kids could attend and I could serve at Vacation Bible School . . . because of that table. We could invite other friends from my daughter’s class at school who also needed a changing space . . . because of that table. 

RELATED: Having a Child With Special Needs Means We Can’t Go To Church Anymore

In other settings, like shopping areas, parks and playgrounds, public swimming pools, restaurants, and rest areas, the challenge remained. We were so excited that our new Target had a family bathroom until we got there and saw the baby changing table. That was one of the first places I spread out a blanket on the floor to change my daughter. I cried lifting her from her wheelchair and holding her as I got down onto my knees and laid her on the blanket on the dirty bathroom floor. 

Our family loves to travel, but long trips have become rare because of the lack of adult changing spaces. Most families just hop off the interstate when their child needs to use the restroom and pull into the nearest gas station or fast-food restaurant. This convenience is simply not available to people like my daughter.

Do you travel with a folding massage table and look for large empty parking lots to unload, set up, and create your own private changing space? This is one method we have used to make traveling possible. I have longed for the day when we can roll into a rest area in any state and she can access a changing space and toilet and have these basic needs met like everyone else.  

As my daughter has grown, I have realized a larger table mounted on the wall still doesn’t work for everyone. It’s one of those things I didn’t know until I experienced the challenge. Just because I can lift my 90-pound daughter onto the table right now doesn’t mean I will be able to do that forever. A big table on the wall doesn’t help an adult who needs to sit on it first instead of being lifted onto it. Adjustable height tables have the most universal design–meaning they can be used by everyone.  They can be lowered for transfers from wheelchairs or for an adult to sit down on and then raised for support from the caregiver.

The need is growing.

Adult changing spaces serve not only those who are born with disabilities but our senior adult population who may develop a need for a changing space with room for a caregiver to support them as they age.  

RELATED: New San Antonio Water Park Includes Features for Kids with Disabilities

It was big news for families like mine when Tennessee’s legislature this year passed $1 million in funding for adult-size, adjustable-height changing tables. Our Department of Transportation has committed to installing adult-size tables in every rest stop and welcome center over the next several years. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has made a similar commitment to install them in all state parks.

This all happened because families like mine shared our stories, over and over, with policymakers, with reporters, and with community and local business leaders. I am proud that Tennessee is leading the way on this issue, but it’s my hope that many other states will start having similar policy discussions. 

I wasn’t part of the fight to make baby changing tables standard in public restrooms, but I assume there was a similar effort. Now, we expect to see them everywhere and are angry when we don’t. The need for the adult changing space is no different. These tables will accommodate babies too, but also give privacy and dignity to adults who need them and their caregivers. 

If you’re interested in learning more and getting involved, visit ChangingSpacesCampaign.org.

Originally published on Tennessean.com

Alison Bynum

Alison Bynum lives in Smyrna, Tennessee with her husband Brad and daughters Norah and Charlotte. She is a Governor-appointed member of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities for the Mid-Cumberland district. She is a graduate of the Council’s Partners in Policymaking® Leadership Institute. Alison works as a caregiver for her daughter with multiple disabilities and complex medical needs and recently began pursuing a degree in health sciences with the desire to provide medical care within the broader disability community.

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