Changing Spaces for People With Disabilities: Where to Find Them?

Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 to make public places more accessible to all people with disabilities. In the USA, about 8 million disabled people over age five need help with daily self-care. In the ensuing years, there have been additions to accessibility, including wheelchair-accessible public restrooms and baby changing stations.

Key takeaways:

However, one issue has been overlooked until recently — public changing spaces with adult-size tables for people with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to prohibit discrimination based on disability. According to Title II of the ADA, state and local government and public transit must provide equal access to all services, programs, and activities for people with disabilities. Title III of the ADA states that for businesses open to the public, people with disabilities should have equal access to goods or services. For example, the ADA requires that public restrooms have handicapped-accessible bathroom stalls and sinks. While this is a positive step, it omits many of the disabled community from public life who require changing tables.

Disabled children, adolescents, and adults — over the height and weight limits of baby changing tables — requiring help with toileting cannot use regular handicapped-accessible bathrooms. Instead, there must be a choice to stay home from public spaces, be laid down on a restroom floor to be changed by their caregiver, or leave the public place or event as soon as they need the restroom to be changed inside a vehicle or return home.

Universal changing spaces have height-adjustable, adult-size changing tables that accommodate everyone. These are necessary for public areas such as restaurants, hotels, venues, movie theaters, and zoos so that disabled individuals can have equal opportunities to engage in activities and travel.

All disabled Americans deserve a safe, private, and dignified changing space.

Universal changing spaces in the USA

Several states are working to include this population segment in community activities and public spaces. According to the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC), California, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have enacted legislation for universal changing spaces in public spaces and accommodations. In addition, a few other states have introduced legislation to be considered by state lawmakers.

In Iowa, legislation for universal changing spaces was introduced in 2020, but did not become law. However, when the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) heard about the proposed legislation, they decided to implement the ideas in all Iowa rest areas. They retrofitted existing restrooms and will add a universal changing space to every future rest area. In an article on the Iowa DOT website, the Director of the Design Bureau, Mike Kennerly, was quoted as saying,

Before the legislation came up, we had not even conceived of this issue. However, once we heard the plight of these families, we knew right away that providing these accommodations was the right thing to do.

Mike Kennerly, the Director of the Design Bureau

Kennerly met with an advocacy group to hear their stories and begin planning for change. “It hit me right in the face that we need to make changes so that these families have a place to take care of their loved ones’ most basic of needs.” This story shows that getting the word out about universally changing spaces can have a positive impact, even without changes in state law.

In addition to Iowa DOT, some U.S. airports are making travel more accessible and easier for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Airports in the USA with changing spaces

A September 2022 story for WheelchairTravel.org by John Morris reported USA airports that have at least one adult changing station. WheelchairTravel.org provides information and resources for wheelchair and disability-friendly domestic and international travel.

USA airports with adult changing stations:

  • ATL — Hartfield-Jackson International Airport Atlanta;
  • AUS — Austin-Bergstrom International Airport;
  • BNA — Nashville International Airport;
  • BWI — Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport;
  • CVG — Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport;
  • DEN — Denver International Airport;
  • LAX — Los Angeles International Airport;
  • MCO — Orlando International Airport;
  • MKE — Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport;
  • MSP — Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport;
  • MSY — New Orleans International Airport;
  • OKC — Will Rogers World Airport;
  • ORD — Chicago O’Hare International Airport;
  • PHX — Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport;
  • PHL — Philadelphia International Airport;
  • PIT — Pittsburgh International Airport;
  • SAT – San Antonio International Airport;
  • SEA — Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Airports adding adult changing tables are planned in the near future:

  • HOU — Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport;
  • FSD — Sioux Falls Regional Airport.

These positive improvements by USA airports are encouraging. However, the need for changing spaces has yet to reach everywhere. That is why a USA volunteer advocacy group formed Changing Spaces Campaign.

Changing Spaces Campaign

Volunteers created the Changing Spaces Campaign in 2016 to advocate for accessible restrooms with universal changing tables and bring awareness to the need in public areas. The Changing Spaces Campaign network of advocates believes everyone deserves a safe, private, and dignified changing space.

With a stated mission “To promote community inclusion, access, and equality for individuals with disabilities who cannot safely utilize standard handicapped accessible restrooms,” the Changing Spaces Campaign provides information about current legislation, the International Building Code (which is a model code for states), and installing changing tables.

There are active Changing Spaces Campaign chapters in 17 states and a standing invitation for other states to join.



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