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Ohio is investing in adult changing stations; here’s why that matters

Two women stand beside a young man in a wheelchair and smile next to a bright blue table with educational materials on it.
Jennifer Corcoran
Jennifer Corcoran is advocating for universal changing stations throughout the state. It's impacted her family's ability to be included in the community.

For a long time, Jennifer Corcoran and her son, Matthew, stopped going out into their community.

Corcoran said it was just too difficult for them. Matthew is 22-years-old and has developmental disabilities that necessitate continence care. But, Corcoran often found it difficult to find a spot in the Dayton area to provide that care. She often had to do it in the back of her van, or, worse, on the ground.

“It just doesn't allow for dignity,” Corcoran said. “It’s not sanitary, it's not safe.”

But she wanted Matthew to be able to be included in the community. So she began advocating for universal changing tables – which can fit all ages, not just infants.

That advocacy, along with many others’, is finally paying off. The latest state budget includes funds to help expand the number of these tables around the state.

Gaining traction

Although Corcoran began her advocacy work in 2014, she said it wasn’t until just the last couple of years that people started listening and making adult changing tables a priority. .

The budget was one win. Another came from the Ohio Department of Transportation this year. The department announced it would put 28 universal changing stations in rest stops across the state. The Ohio State Fair had a changing station for the first time this summer. And, Montgomery County is even using American Rescue Plan Act dollars to put in changing tables across southwest Ohio.

“We've turned a corner,” she said. “It used to be we would go out and talk about these tables and people would listen, but nothing would happen. Now people are reaching out to us daily.”

A young man in a red shirt sits in a wheelchair next to an adult-sized changing table.
Jennifer Corcoran
Universal changing tables have made spaces more accessible for people like Matthew Corcoran, who require continence care.

The recent momentum is partially thanks to more education efforts, said Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services superintendent Pamela Combs. She said the stories of families like Corcoran’s have been shared across the state, and now more counties are looking at ways of purchasing them.

“Restroom facilities are just a basic human need,” Combs said. “This goes such a long way to make integration possible, and our world is such a better place when everyone can participate.”

Putting in a changing station

Corcoran acknowledges the cost of universal changing stations. Their installation can run anywhere from $2,800 to $20,000, according to Corcoran.

It depends on what kind of table – whether it's portable or attached to the wall, static or height-adjustable, installed in a new restroom or added in a remodel. Retrofitting bathrooms to include them is a much more difficult process than a new installation, Corcoran said.

The design of the changing table matters, too, Corcoran said. She advocates that businesses not just opt for a bigger table, but also include side rails and space around the station for transferring a person on and off the table.

“Having the proper information is essential, because it doesn't do anybody any good to put in a table that doesn't work for people,” Corcoran said.

“This goes such a long way to make integration possible, and our world is such a better place when everyone can participate.”
Pamela Combs, superintendent of Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services

Whatever the cost may be, Corcoran said it’s worth it to ensure people like her son, Matthew, are included in their communities.

There are more than 50 universal changing tables across the state, according toa map of locations by Inspired Access Foundation. And with the upcoming projects and funding, Corcoran said she believes Ohio will be one of the states leading the movement in accessible restrooms.

“We just need to keep pushing, we just need to keep educating,” she said.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.