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Why We Need Changing Places for Older Children

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As I squatted and struggled in yet another strange corner of a restaurant trying to discreetly change my developmentally delayed son’s diaper, I wondered why no one was outraged on my behalf. Then I wondered if anyone could actually see me. I know I am not invisible, but I am forgotten.

I am the mom of a child who still requires diapers and I want to know if this is really the best we can do for parents and their children with disabilities? I’m not sure why there isn’t a good bathroom changing option for bigger kids, but I do know I am not the only caregiver who feels strongly about this topic. Bathrooms and changing spaces keep parents from being able to bring their kids to many places. It is one more obstacle parents face in the fight for inclusion for our children.

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I am generally able to take my son back to my mini van and change him when we are out in public, so public changing spaces haven’t been my biggest struggle. Unfortunately, my van was totaled recently and there is no room to change a big kid in my rental car. I know this change has precipitated my struggle to this boiling point because I now have no options when I am out with my son. My son is medically complex and has a rare genetic and metabolic disorder. Thus, it’s imperative that he stay healthy so that he can stay out of the hospital. This makes the dark hallways, weird corners, and awkward spaces where I’m forced to change him even more painful because they are never the cleanest. Not only is it embarrassing to be guided to the darkest corner of a place to change your child, but it’s also hard work to change a diaper in that environment. It took me 20 full minutes to change my son after finding the spot, doing the deed, returning him to his chair, and then going back to dispose of the diaper and wash my hands. I got several dirty looks and not one offer for help or even an encouraging smile.

This is not uncommon and this is one of the reasons we try to avoid places without accessibility to big kid changing spaces. I don’t want to force my son to sit in a wet or dirty diaper because I don’t have a safe place to take care of him, but this has absolutely happened. But, I am not writing this for you to feel sorry for me. In fact, I want you to feel informed and empowered to be an advocate for better public changing spaces. I want you to know better so you can help me do better!

I have no idea when or if my son will be toilet trained. I am less concerned about rushing that aspect of his development and more concerned about the state of our society when not one person bats an eye at the mom forced to change her child’s diaper in a dehumanizing way. Does this mean that the people in the restaurant I’m eating beside don’t think my son can understand so it doesn’t matter? Or they just simply don’t care because it doesn’t affect them? Maybe people just don’t know of this struggle because parents and their children with disabilities are forced to live in the shadows.

So I am writing this to inform everyone that public changing spaces are a problem. I want you to help the next mom you see this in this situation by showing her that she is not forgotten. It’s that easy to be an advocate for better changing spaces, and being aware is the first step to making change!

Originally published: July 17, 2019
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