Mom Advocates for Inclusive and Accessible Restrooms

I am a dedicated wife and mother of three children and a passionate activist for individuals and families impacted by disabilities. My eight-year-old son, Ethan, has autism and sensory processing disorder along with a chronic medical condition. He loves to play outside with his twin brother and older sister and he has the biggest dinosaur collection you will ever see!

Mom Advocates for Inclusive and Accessible Restrooms

We love to go out into the community as a family which includes going to the park, attending sensory-friendly events, the movies, and supporting each other at sporting events such as Miracle League, flag football, and cheerleading. Sadly, our community outings often have to be cut short as Ethan requires assistance in the restroom and most do not accommodate his needs.

Ethan is too large for baby changing tables, and we are left changing him on a beach towel on cold, dirty restroom floors or in the back of the car in a busy parking lot. These options are undignified and inhumane. More times than not, our family must go home feeling upset and defeated.

As a result, my husband, Jesse, and I feel isolated because we can’t enjoy time out as a family for long periods. Ethan is forced home early sometimes because he gets overwhelmed and overstimulated by the world around him, so heading home because of lack of bathroom accommodations is especially frustrating.

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I was inspired to share Ethan’s struggle on Love Hope & Autism, a Facebook page I developed in honor of my son to create autism awareness and share resources with other families. I also created a petition asking for signatures from people who support the need for adult changing tables.

With more than 15,000 signatures, I quickly realized how many families with special needs would benefit from larger changing tables including those affected by spina bifida, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s, MS, and the elderly.

After doing some research, I learned about the Changing Spaces Campaign, a nationwide movement that consists of parents and caregivers advocating for adult changing tables in family restrooms. Changing Spaces was created after hearing about Changing Places in the United Kingdom.

The UK have been diligent over the past 10 years and currently have over 1,000 accessible restrooms with adult changing tables and hoyer lifts. Unfortunately, we are not having the same luck in the United States as some consider the lift a potential liability. The lift is still being discussed, especially for new projects/buildings, but the main focus is on the height adjustable adult-sized changing table.

I am now the coordinator for the Changing Spaces Pennsylvania chapter, and I continue to advocate and work with local organizations to install adult-sized changing tables. I am also currently working with state legislators to get a bill passed for Pennsylvania which will require certain places (airports, sports arenas, museums, highway rest stops, and more) to have at least one height adjustable adult-sized changing table in a family restroom.

My goal is not only to get the changing table bill passed in Pennsylvania but to spread awareness. I want to see communities become more inclusive and accessible as every person deserves privacy and dignity. Children and adults who are differently abled deserve better. The adult-sized tables will allow them to be active out in the community and enjoying time with their families for longer periods of time.

This article was featured in Issue 89 – Solutions for Today and Tomorrow with ASD

Christina Abernethy

A dedicated wife and mother of three from Sewickley, Christina Abernethy has evolved as a passionate activist for individuals and families impacted by disabilities. With her own family being touched by multiple diagnoses including autism, she has coordinated events for local and national charitable organizations to fund research, support services and even service dogs for families like hers. She has served on a local walk committee, participated in a local gala, coached a special needs cheerleading team, and has won awards for successful fundraising endeavors including those for “Team Bubba” created in honor of her son with autism. Christina has focused on public speaking, legislative advocacy and providing compassionate support to other parents and caregivers. She is the founder of Love, Hope and Autism and is proud to be the new coordinator for Changing Spaces Pennsylvania, a movement to build accessible restrooms with adult sized changing tables across communities to promote inclusion. She is working side by side with Representative Dan Miller to pass a bill in PA that would require such facilities in hospitals, airports, museums, rest stops, malls and more. For her efforts, she won the ACHIEVA Award Of Excellence in Family Supports in 2018. Christina now speaks to groups across the lifespan about embracing and understanding people with autism, ranging from young elementary school children to college students to healthcare professionals, and most recently at Avonworth Primary Center, Robert Morris University and UPMC St. Margaret. She has also organized sensory friendly events for families and children such as Sensory Friendly Dinosaur Time at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Christina is committed to spreading a message of heightened awareness of multiple conditions, increasing acceptance of differences and ultimately inspiring hope