BROOKFIELD, Wisconsin – Many people in Wisconsin want to be able to take loved ones with special needs to more places without having to worry about finding a place to change them.
A Brookfield mother, who often has to change her son on the floor of a public restroom or in the back of the family van, helped craft a proposal to the Wisconsin legislature that would put more tables at adult diaper in public places and businesses.
When it comes to leaving home, the law could make a big difference to the Knowles family. From places they can go to how long they can stay.
Matthew Knowles is 22 years old and suffers from cerebral palsy.
“He has a retarded intellectual development,” said Sarah Knowles, his mother. “It’s non-verbal. He relies on someone to take care of most of his needs.
Matthew Knowles uses a wheelchair but can support a weight. Even so, Sarah Knowles said they couldn’t leave the house for long periods of time as there were so few places to change it.
“The outings are very difficult and we have to do a lot of planning,” said Sarah Knowles. “We have blankets. What we do is move the front seats forward, we move the middle seats back, and unfortunately we often have to lay Matthew across the car.
This isn’t an option during Wisconsin’s freezing winters, so whether or not a place has a table to change Matthew Knowles often decides where the family goes.
“It gives us the freedom to stay a whole day,” said Sarah Knowles. “It gives us the choice to leave. Currently we are probably only driving maybe 30 minutes because the travel time adds to the time so if we can only be out for three hours and we go somewhere that takes an hour to get there then we only have one hour in real time. place, and just not worth going there sometimes.
Sarah Knowles knows about half a dozen adult changing tables in the Milwaukee area. Most of them were installed through advocacy efforts, which she has been dedicating herself since 2016. However, State Representative Robyn Vining D-Wauwatosa doesn’t think it should be.
“Sarah came to one of my first office hours in Wauwatosa, when I was first elected, and told me she had this concern,” Vining said.
Vining’s proposal would create a tax credit for small businesses that decide to install a locker room for adults and demand them in certain newly constructed and renovated public buildings.
“So we’re talking about 40,000 square feet,” Vining said. “We’re talking about 3,000 or more people in a day. We know if buildings don’t work for people, then people don’t go to buildings, and so we have things like museums or Summerfest, the outdoors, recreation, parks, and we we need spaces where people can be changed, which is both a public health issue and a human dignity issue.
This is something parents like Sarah Knowles wish more people understood.
“Just because Matthew and others like him are disabled doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a safe, private and dignified place to support themselves,” said Sarah Knowles. “I don’t think we should be expected to be in our house all the time. He deserves to be able to go out.
Sarah Knowles hopes that more places will soon be accessible to everyone.
A universal changing table bill was first introduced in late 2019, but was not given a public hearing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vining is hoping his bill will go through the committee process in November.