Kim Boulter has used bathroom floors, angled the back of her van away from onlookers in various parking lots and cleared off conference room tables in order to change her 9-year-old son.
Aiden has developmental disabilities that necessitate him needing protective undergarments that must be changed, and since he was about 3 years old, she has struggled to use weight-limited baby-changing tables typically found in public restrooms.
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“Laying someone on the dirty restroom floor to change them is very undignified, and it’s very unsafe for the caregiver lifting that heavy person,” Boulter said. “It’s undignified to have your loved one exposed in public and not be afforded that same privacy that everyone else enjoys in the restroom.”
She began to realize that it will become even more challenging as Aiden grows older and heavier and goes through puberty. So the Lewis Center mother decided to do something to change the circumstances.
In March, she teamed up with Dayton mother Jennifer Corcoran, and the two began advocating through a national campaign called Changing Spaces for more appropriate, safe and private changing tables for their children and other adults and children who need them.
"Jennifer and I are working hard to try to make our whole state more accessible and more inclusive for individuals with developmental disabilities and medical conditions that need this accommodation," Boulter said.
Changing Spaces Ohio was born through their partnership, and it joined chapters in 14 other states. Its goals include spreading awareness about the lack of appropriate changing facilities for older children and adults and advocating for height-adjustable adult-size changing tables in public restrooms.
No good options
In her advocacy, Boulter has reached out to places her family frequents — such as doctor’s offices, libraries and parks — to educate people on the need for the tables.
She has found that many people don't realize adult changing tables are needed because bathroom habits aren't a frequent topic of discussion, even among those within the disability community.
Because of the necessity of changing her son — and the fact that there are few places where she can do it — her family misses out on many activities, Boulter said. And, as she realized, there are other disabled people, older than Aiden, who have been living at home for years, isolated because they are unable to go out into their community.
“I wanted to go ahead and start this advocacy in the hopes that, as my son gets older, he’ll have more possibilities to be included and to go to places in our city and our state and travel," she said.
Since Boulter began her work, more local places have added or have begun the process to add adult changing tables, she said.
Boulter, who also has reached out to cities and other municipalities about the issue, keeps an updated list of places that have the tables, as well as other resources, such as some table models for purchase, on changingspacescampaign.com/ohio.
She said she hopes more places would add them and eliminate what she calls ‘invisible barriers’ for people like her son to be included in typical daily activities.
Building it into the code
Installing one of the tables isn’t difficult, Boulter said, though they do cost anywhere from $2,800 to $20,000, a barrier Changing Spaces Ohio is hoping to overcome by forming a nonprofit to help fund the tables.
Advocacy also is occurring to make adult changing stables standard in new buildings, Boulter said.
Experts are working to include the requirement in the 2024 International Building Code, a model code developed every three years that is used in all 50 states, Boulter said.
Until it's standard procedure, some local organizations and businesses are being proactive.
The Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities learned of the need for more adult changing tables through Boulter and is in the process of installing one at its administration building, said Jed Morison, superintendent and CEO.
“We thought, ‘Let’s do that, and we can serve as a model for others,'” said Morison, who noted the board has such tables at its school facility but not for public use. “We’re all about community access.”
'We want everybody to have access'
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also is focused on community access, said Karen Schenk, senior director of planning and design. In a family restroom in the zoo's Adventure Cove is a universal changing table, opened in the fall of 2020, and Schenk said she's hoping for the zoo to get more in the future because the park is so large.
The zoo began getting inquiries about adult changing rooms a few years ago, Schenk said, and set to work to figure out how to get one. It was successful due in part to the help of Olivia Brohard, a local girl advocating for the zoo to have the changing table because of her late brother's need.
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"You always feel badly when you discover that you're falling short on what people's needs are," Schenk said. "If we can be a place for everybody to come visit and have a good experience, that's what we want to be."
Places in Central Ohio with adult changing tables, according to Changing Spaces Ohio:The Columbus Zoo and AquariumDelaware County Board of Developmental DisabilitiesFranklin Park ConservatoryNationwide Children's Hospital, 7 locations across the main campus and Dublin Close to Home Ohio State University Speech Language AAC ClinicOhio State University Optometry ClinicWe Rock the Spectrum, Columbus
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Adult changing tables: More sought in Ohio's public restrooms