I actually dread that moment when my daughter lifts her butt from her chair uncomfortably, or grabs at her pants, indicating that she needs to be changed. I don’t dread it because it’s a nasty job, or diapers gross me out, though there are times when these things might be true. I dread it because it is extremely rare that there is a bathroom able to meet our needs; where changing a diaper is not difficult or uncomfortable for at least one of us.

You can probably guess that as the mother of a special needs child, there are many challenges about being in public.  There are the places where a child yelling at the top of her voice are frowned upon; the library, church, a school assembly.  Places that aren’t accessible because they are simply too old to be accessible (predating the Americans with Disabilities Act); the church where my son’s Cub Scout meetings are held in the basement or the basement banquet room of one place where the only bathroom was upstairs at the other end of the main restaurant with tables too close to navigate.  There are places that claim to be accessible, but aren’t really; stores with clothing racks too close together to allow a wheelchair, or underwater enclosures at the zoo that require steps down to get right up to the glass (these enclosures are older than ADA laws I believe, and let me say our zoo’s newest enclosure does have a ramp down to the glass).  And there are public restrooms.  Now, to the ordinary observer with no special needs you might say, I’ve seen restrooms that are accessible; they have handicapped stalls and lower, longer sinks.  And yes, this is true, but even these bathrooms are not always really accessible, and I will explain why.

Let’s just begin by saying that those built-in, fold-down changing tables have a maximum weight of 50 lbs.  They are made for infants and maybe toddlers.  When they say 50 lbs. maximum, they mean a chubby toddler, not a 49 lb.  almost 7-year-old who is twice as long as the table.  These tables, while well-meaning, are a hazard to a child who almost scoots herself off the table trying to lift her butt.  And some of them, with an over thirty pound child already start to sag.

In the event that there isn’t a changing table at all, changing on the floor of the handicapped stall is sometimes an option.  This requires you bring along something to lay on, and hunch over your child on the floor.  Also that you lower your child to the floor, and pick her back up to put her in her chair.  Not an easy feat when your child weighs almost 50 lbs, and can not lift her own weight.  Plus there is the added challenge of not allowing a child with a mind of her own (and strength almost greater than yours) to roll over and crawl away, on a germ-filled floor.

Then there are the handicapped stalls that are not even large enough to change a diaper in.  These make me scratch my head.  How, if my daughter ever did learn to use the toilet (probably when she is much bigger), will I assist her, if there isn’t even room for her to fit in the stall with her chair alone?

These things all came to me again yesterday, when a horrible bathroom reared its ugly head.  We won tickets to a sporting event, and were nicely accommodated with seats in the “handicapped” section.  The handicapped section was wonderful.  There was a ramp to an elevated area, with a beautiful view, and nice heavy metal folding chairs so an assistant or parent could sit with the person in the wheelchair.  I was very impressed.  Until we had to go to the bathroom.  After our seating arrangements, maybe I was expecting more, but I was sorely disappointed by the accessibility.

The bathroom was square-shaped, with two rows of stalls back to back in the middle.  There was a narrow corridor around the stalls.  So narrow, in fact, that Lizzie’s brakes caught against the wall twice, causing us to jam up, without much room for me to unlock her brakes and get unjammed.  The handicapped stalls were located one directly in the middle of each set of stalls, without much room to maneuver into them, and if you did, the chair would be directly in front of its user, not a convenient position by any means.  The stall was also not big enough for me, Lizzie, and her chair if I were to change her on the floor.  Actually, I tried to pull Lizzie into the handicapped stall with me after I had changed her, and found that her chair was where my legs needed to go, and I still couldn’t close the door.  If I left her chair outside the stall, while changing her,  it would kill traffic flow, and still not allow me room to change her on the floor.  Needless to say, this bathroom was a nightmare for the disabled.  I ended up changing Lizzie (who luckily was in a good mood) on one of those fold down changing tables, which wasn’t long enough, and she was very uncomfortable on.  Of course, this required me to block both sinks for other patrons, one with Lizzie’s chair (simply because there was NO WHERE else to put it), and one with the changing table.  I will be writing a letter to the stadium to let them know of our disappointment.  What really surprised me is that this bathroom was located directly across from our seats in the handicapped accessible section, making me wonder if they thought it was accessible.

This is what a truly accessible bathroom should have.  At least one handicapped stall that is large enough to accommodate the wheelchair, it’s user, and an aide (because some handicapped people need help to maneuver).  The door to this stall should be able to swing all the way open, and have room to maneuver a chair around.  The stall should also allow for the chair to be in a position to transfer across.  The corridors in these bathrooms should be large enough that a wheelchair (and my daughter’s chair is pretty narrow), can navigate without getting jammed up.  It would also be nice if instead of these little fold down tables that some kind of counter or bench be provided for those who need to be changed.  This bench ideally would be in a separate area (stall, or at least partition), but not necessarily, I’ll take what I can get.

I’m sure it will be many years, if ever, until these accommodations are found in most establishments.  I dream of those days.  I make note of when I find a good washroom and make sure to patronize these locations, because if they are considerate enough to accommodate our needs it makes taking my daughter out in public a pleasure.  I do not wish to keep my daughter at home all the time.  We want to be out and about without limitations, like other families.  Like that children’s book says, “Everybody Poops.”  We just want to be able to take care of that while we’re away from home, just like everyone else.

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