Vining, others introduce universal changing stations bill

Matthew Knowles, a part of the adult-aged population needing changing stations, looks at a universal changing station at Northwestern Mutual Community Park.


MADISON — Wisconsin Assembly Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa put forward with fellow lawmakers Wednesday a bill that, if passed, would install adult-sized changing stations in certain public buildings and create a tax credit for small businesses to install these stations.

Vining is joined by Senators Melissa Agard, D-Madison; Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire; and Assembly Reps. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg; and Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee. Within just hours of the bill being introduced, Vining said, Republican lawmakers had signed on as co-sponsors, making it a bipartisan push.

A similar bill has been passed in Arizona, requiring publicly-funded renovations or new buildings to include adult changing tables in family restrooms. Other states are considering similar efforts.

Vining became aware of the issue at a meeting with constituents from Brookfield resident and mother Sarah Knowles, whose 22year-old son Matthew has cerebral palsy among other complications and needs a wheelchair.

“Sarah’s the one who made me aware of the severity of the issue (and) the importance of the issue,” Vining said. “What the lack of these changing stations means for their family.”

Knowles told The Freeman many changing stations only accommodate a person up to 40 or 50 pounds, but her adult-aged son and others like him still need changing. Without a proper changing station, families have to use the back of a vehicle or a bathroom floor; those options can undermine the individual’s dignity and raise safety and hygiene concerns.

“Sometimes you just don’t go out because it’s too difficult (when) you’re not accommodated,” Knowles said.

Some places in Wisconsin already have accessible changing stations. Fiserv Forum, where the Milwaukee Bucks play, has an adjustable-height adult changing table available to any guests who need it. Northwestern Mutual Community Park, where Summerfest takes place, also has universal changing stations.

Knowles is part of a group called Changing Spaces, which started in 2016 and is based on the United Kingdom movement from about a decade earlier dubbed Changing Places. Both aim to establish universal changing stations as the standard for public places. In the UK, universal changing stations are now part of the national building code. Knowles estimated about 15 states in the US have a Changing Spaces chapter, but resources are available to anyone looking to get involved.

“For years, she hadn’t felt seen or heard; and to me, it felt like a very important common sense issue,” Vining said of her first meeting with Knowles. She said there’s a whole population of people who similarly feel unseen because they aren’t able to fully participate in society. “Since the buildings don’t work for the people, the people aren’t going to the buildings.”

In a statement, Agard said passing the bill is the right thing to do. “In order for families to live, work, and recreate in Wisconsin, we must make sure that our state is accessible to everyone,” she said. “We all deserve the same access to public spaces, and access to bathrooms should not prevent anyone from being able to live their life to the fullest. No person should have to lose their dignity in order to leave their homes no person should have to receive necessary care on an unsanitary floor.”