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Why We Need Adult Changing Tables in Public Spaces

You’re on an hours-long trip to visit family across the state, and your baby needs to be changed. The process isn’t without its challenges, but you know that at least you’ll be able to find a changing station at most rest stops and major food chains. If all else fails, you can always change your baby in the trunk of your car—it’s not preferable, of course, but she is small and it’s manageable.

Now imagine the same scenario with a passenger who has special needs, specifically, an older child or adult who requires toileting assistance. More likely than not, upon pulling over at a rest stop or restaurant, you will be forced to change them on the restroom floor. Perhaps, well aware of this possibility—and the unsanitary, let alone uncomfortable, conditions it presents—you lay out a pad and change your loved one in the trunk of your car.

A problematic process

While your trunk is more sanitary, it is open and public, and people passing by can make you and your loved one feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. For the person who requires assistance, it’s dehumanizing regardless of the option you choose. 

For caretakers, there are few ways to avoid these issues. But perhaps they could be more manageable if there was equal awareness surrounding changing needs for older children and adults, as well as infants, in public spaces.

Spreading awareness about adult changing tables

Changing tables for adults with disabilities do exist, and many museums, attractions, public venues and airports are now installing them in their restrooms. But they are still difficult to find, and much less common than baby changing stations, making outings with loved ones who need assistance extremely challenging.

Just as mothers should never worry about finding a baby changing station, caretakers shouldn’t have to worry about finding a sanitary space to change an adult or older child with special needs, whether they are taking a road trip or simply going out to dinner with family. And individuals who have special needs shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about receiving assistance with this very normal task.

What is an adult changing table and how is it different from a baby changing station?

Baby changing station and an adult changing table.

Also called nursing benches or nursing change tables, adult changing tables are a special type of equipment for older children and adults who require toileting and dressing assistance. People who use them might have physical disabilities or medical conditions like Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, paraplegia, muscular dystrophy or are on the autism spectrum.

Because special needs changing tables are intended for children and adults, they can accommodate more weight than baby changing stations. While most adult-sized changing tables can support up to 300 pounds, there are also bariatric changing tables available that can hold up to 1,000 pounds.

Similar to the role that baby changing tables serve for mothers, adult changing tables provide a comfortable, safe and secure space for caregivers to help a person with special needs. Using a changing table allows caregivers to provide toileting assistance at a more level position, rather than bending down and risking back strain or other injuries. In addition to being helpful for home care, these adult changing tables are often used by nurses and other aides at schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

How you can make a difference

A tip: contact your municipal office to ask where the nearest public adult changing tables are located in your municipality. If they don’t have an answer—or your town lacks adult changing tables altogether—then it’s an issue that should be addressed. Write to your local officials. If you don’t receive a satisfactory response, start a petition and bring an article to town meeting.

Changing a child or adult is already difficult and uncomfortable in public. Without having the proper resources, caretakers are forced to change their loved ones with special needs on the floor, which is unsanitary, undignified and potentially dangerous for the caretaker. Advocating for greater availability of adult changing tables, as well as information on where to find them, could increase public awareness of this issue and lead to positive change—so that caretakers and people with special needs can enjoy outings (and road trips, even!) with family, worry-free, just like everyone else.