Have you ever looked at the floor of a public restroom? I mean really studied it? Even if they mop twice a day as they’re supposed to, it’s not pretty, you guys. Wet spots. Sticky spots. Bits of toilet paper and hair. Don’t think about it too hard or you’ll vomit.
Last weekend, on Mother’s Day, I had to lay my child down on the public restroom floor.
It wasn’t the first time. It won’t be the last.
“Why in the heck would she do that?” you may be asking. “It’s so nasty and wrong, maybe even dangerous.” You may be angry with me. Sad. Disappointed.
Good. That’s what I am, too.
I did it because I had no choice. My son, who is now six years old, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was a baby. He lost literally half his brain to that tumor and is now non-verbal, in a wheelchair and diapers and is g-tube fed. Still, we try to live our lives. We bring him everywhere with us. He’s small for his age, so up until now we have been getting away with treating him like a big baby; carrying him through the places that aren’t accessible. And that included last weekend. It was Mother’s Day. And we were celebrating it with two of my other favorite mothers – my mom and my sister – and their families. I wasn’t going to leave my son at home.
The trouble came when he did the inevitable: he pooped in his diaper. I was holding him in my lap, since there was no room at the table for his wheelchair, so at least I knew right away. No problem, I thought, I’ll take him to the baby changer in the restroom. Yes, he’s too heavy for that, and it’s probably dangerous, but I have learned to kind of brace my thigh against the table so that his weight doesn’t stress the hinges, breaking the table and dropping him to the floor. But it didn’t matter, because there was no baby changer.
Shit. I knew we were in trouble. The car was too far away, and it was raining, and it was too small to change him in anyway. There was no other restroom nearby (at least that I knew of) that would have an adult-size changing table for him. I couldn’t just bring him out to the sidewalk or a bench. Besides, it was likely we’d need some running water, hand soap and paper towels, if you know what I mean. As an added bonus, the pressure was on. Everyone was hungry and waiting for us. You know, Mother’s Day. It’s a day just for me…yay!
So I went fast. You know, the five second rule, only with my disabled, medically fragile child and the linoleum that strangers have peed on. I tried to be clean. I put the seat covers on the floor under his back and legs, and put an extra diaper under his head. I’m a very experienced diaper changer, able to get all the poop off without it going up his back or getting on his pants (most of the time!) so it went well overall. There was one moment where he noticed the plunger right behind the toilet and reached for it, but I stopped him, and we got the job done.
I was breathing hard and he was starting to gripe about the whole thing, but I managed to get him up, sit him on the edge of the counter and wash both our hands in the sink. I carried him back out to the table, where everyone was waiting expectantly and sat down with him on my lap and a vague sense of accomplishment.
Then I burst into tears.
I really did. I couldn’t help it. My family looked surprised, then concerned, then confused. Only my husband (who had stayed back because, guess what, the restroom was not family or unisex, either) knew why I was losing it right there at the table.
This isn’t the life I wanted for my little boy.
My son, and every person who is disabled, elderly or otherwise needs special restrooms, is entitled to a safe, clean, dignified place to use the toilet, change a diaper or clean themselves up.
These places are very few and far between. And so now, as my son gets bigger, his father and I will have to start making choices. Do we hope wherever we are going will have accessible restrooms or do we just stay home? I’m scared. His life is already so challenging and lonely. At what point is it just too hard to take care of my disabled child in public and it becomes easier to just keep him home, or leave him behind? At what point does his quality of life suffer because he can’t take a shit like everyone else?
And you guys, most of you who are reading this, had no idea this was a problem. I didn’t know either, until we were in it. And, no, I’m not mad at the restaurant. They were a small business. It probably didn’t even occur to them that their restroom could be a problem, because they likely never saw anyone who needed a changing table. I think most of the population who needs a changing table – disabled adults, elderly, etc – are smarter than me and are just not going in there. Okay, I’m surprised there was nowhere to change the babies, but that’s another discussion for another day.
Furthermore, they met ADA standards. The standards, though helpful, are not enough. One in five people have some kind of disability, be it physical, visual, auditory or cognitive. Many people benefit from the single family restrooms that are all the rage, so we need to encourage that trend. And, we want to take it one step further and add an adult sized changing table and a couple other adaptations so that ALL our loved ones can go out and experience the world.
I’m part of a little group that will soon be huge. Or at least do huge things. We call ourselves the Colorado Accessibility Project and we’re going to do it. We’re going to help pass laws that say that certain public businesses are required to have these facilities and work to help others that are not required add them anyway. I’m talking about State and Government offices, Rest Areas, State and Local Parks, Shopping Centers, Civic Centers, Stadiums, Arenas, Theaters, Museums, Amusement Parks, Hospitals, Airports, Bus and Train Stations…you the get idea.
It sounds like a big project, doesn’t it? Yes, it does sound like a lot of work to get an entire state (Colorado!) to install these facilities where the people can use them. Well, guess what? The entire countries of Australia and the United Kingdom (that’s England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) have a system of public caregiver/family restrooms with adult changing tables and they have for years! If they can do it, we can do it.
You can help.
Help my son and all the people out there have a safe, dignified, comfortable place to fulfill a basic human need. Disabled rights are human rights. Here are some things you can do:
1- First off, help spread the word. Most people who have not had a loved one in this position do not know the need even exists. Share this article or the links below. Talk to your friends and family, especially if they own businesses or are in government. Let them know millions of disabled, elderly, medically-challenged people are stuck at home and want to join the world.
2- When the time comes, VOTE! Our group is working with a Colorado Representative right now to get a bill proposed. And before you think Colorado is weird for doing this, know that several other states have already started the same process: Florida, Iowa, Tennessee, Arizona, California and probably more by the time this posts.
3- Educate yourself. Search through the social medias with hashtags like #changingspaces, #adultsizechangingtables and #getoffthefloor (you’ll likely get some unrelated posts about basketball and cleaning up Legos, but just keep sifting through them!). I’m going to add some links to the bottom of this article, so you can click right on them and read about the who, what, where and why.
4- Join us. Maybe you have a loved one who could use these restrooms, maybe someone sent you this article because they thought it might hit your heart, or maybe you’re just a kind person with some time. If you are any of those and you want to directly help us, you can find us on the Facebook Group Colorado Accessibility Project. It’s a private group so be prepared to tell us why you got the bug in your butt, too!
Thanks for reading my disgusting story about changing my son’s diaper on the nasty public restroom floor. It’s not unique, and it’s not fair, but DAMN, it doesn’t have to be this way!
Next time you’re at the bar with your friends, or the museum with your family, and you’re resting comfortably on that chilly porcelain seat, think of me and my sweet little boy. Be thankful you don’t have to lay down on the restroom floor to clean yourself up, and think of how you can help those who live with challenges every day.
They deserve to go out and live their best lives too.
Please send me your own stories, questions, comments (only kindness here, please!)
Want to learn more about Cameron and his Adventures? Click here for Cam’s blog: Cam’s High Five and subscribe if you like it!
Here are the links I promised!
Colorado Accessibility Project (if you want to join us!)
PLEASE submit a comment or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!!