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Parents of kids with disabilities push for accessible restrooms

Chris Serres, Star Tribune on

Published in Parenting News

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tram Nguyen has used restroom floors, the grass at city parks and the back of her van to change her 7-year-old daughter's diapers.

Her daughter, Sadie, who was born with a chromosomal abnormality that limits her mobility, has outgrown the infant changing tables in most public restrooms.

"It's disgusting and undignified to have to lay your daughter on a bathroom floor," said Nguyen, a former retail executive and stay-at-home mother from Minneapolis. "My daughter needs to get out in the community, and not having a safe, private place to change her diapers is a major obstacle."

Nguyen has joined a burgeoning campaign to make public restrooms more accessible to larger children and adults who have difficulty using toilets because of their disabilities. They are calling on the Minnesota Legislature to enact a proposed law that would require adult-size changing tables in public restrooms — a change that would help reduce the isolation that often comes with living with a disability.

The campaign is being led by a group of Minnesota mothers of children with disabilities who are fed up with hunting for sanitary ways to change their kids. The dearth of accessible restrooms means they are often pushed to the margins of public spaces — forced to change and clean their children on floors, cars or behind trees at highway rest stops. When winter comes, many stay home because it's too difficult to find clean, private changing stations.

These mothers have launched a Facebook group, called Changing Spaces Minnesota, that helps people with disabilities navigate the often-maddening search for accessible restrooms, and alerts them to places with adult-size changing tables. They are also reaching out to public institutions — including hospitals, libraries, parks and stadiums — to encourage them to install the tables. Fewer than two dozen buildings statewide have them, they estimate.


Their longer-term goal is to get height-adjustable, adult changing tables in every public restroom in the state. They say that would benefit a broad swath of older and disabled Minnesotans who have difficulty using standard toilets.

"This is about human dignity," Sarah St. Louis, an architectural project manager from Shorewood, who has an 11-year-old son, Ezra, with physical and cognitive disabilities brought on by a traumatic brain injury at 20 months old. "Tomorrow, you could experience your half-naked body being put on a dirty public restroom floor to be changed because you never thought that having a sanitary, safe, adult-sized changing table was worth it or needed."

Their efforts have reignited a broader discussion about equal access for people with disabilities.

Julie McDonnell, a schoolteacher from Bloomington, has a 5-year-old daughter, Macy, with significant developmental delays caused by a rare chromosomal abnormality. At nearly 40 pounds, Macy is already too heavy for the ubiquitous baby changing tables in public restrooms. When they go to her older son's soccer games or other public places, McDonnell said she has no choice but to change Macy on the floor of their wheelchair-accessible van.


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