What the heck is a ‘Family Restroom?’

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Several years ago, a desperate mom posted this question to the Yahoo! answers forum:Family Restrooms should be equipped for everyone

Where/how can I change my disabled 10 yr old diaper in public? Too big for typical changing table? I have a 10 yr old daughter with CP in a wheelchair. When we are out and about in public there is no place to change her diaper. She is too big for the typical changing tables. And even though we have a mat we could lay her on, there is usually no space on the floor big enough, without making it too “public” and embarrassing for her. Any solutions?

After receiving a number of responses, she amended her question:

Additional details: I know there are larger handicapped stalls. Actually, they are made for people who are in wheelchairs or walkers that can lift themselves to the toilet. You have to imagine enough space for me and the chair. Then enough space to lift a 55 lb child out and lay her on the floor. Then sit on the floor myself and change her, etc … It is not as simple as “that is what the handicap stalls are for.”

The answers she got missed the mark widely, no doubt in large part because the general public doesn’t understand the problem. It’s hard to fully comprehend the issues unless you’re living them. Here’s a couple:

  • A lot of wheelchair users can’t transfer from their chairs unassisted. They need more than space for their wheelchair.
  • As this girl gets older and bigger, solutions like a mat on the public restroom floor, as unappealing as that is even now, will become completely impractical.
  • They may need diapering, not toileting, facilities.
  • Check out this video from Changing Places, an international organization working to address the problem:

Handicapped stalls in public restrooms accommodate the wheelchair. Not the person. Someone using a wheelchair may need to lay down for diapering, usually with the help of a personal aide or attendant. The current standard for wheelchair access to public restrooms doesn’t come close to addressing the full scope of needs. So what’s the answer?

The family, or universal, restroom. Also known as single-stall restrooms. You may have begun to see them in airports, museums, and hotel lobbies — usually adjacent to the traditional ‘Mens’ and and ‘Womens’ — a separate facility which accommodates changing a baby, breastfeeding, parents attending children of the opposite sex, and more extensive incontinence requirements.

Here’s the rub — or one of them anyway. They are rarely equipped to handle the spectrum of needs for people using wheelchairs. They should include height adjustable changing tables large enough to accommodate adults, height adjusting sinks, perhaps even mechanical hoists.

My hope is that all public venues, from movie theaters and shopping malls to stadiums and recreation facilities, will step up and provide not only a family restroom but the proper equipment for anyone who needs them. The 2003 International Building Code, adopted by several states, requires family restrooms in new construction and substantial renovation. Forward thinkers in Ontario, Canada recently updated the building code to include broader accommodation, including adult change tables.

Families today are varied, multi-generational, mobile, and social. Let’s make sure everyone is included wherever they want to go.