By Daniel J. Vance


  A reader of this column in the Desert Advocate of suburban Phoenix, Arizona, has opened my eyes to a great need. In an email, Julie Rodriguez, Public Information Officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, said that her airport has installed an "adult changing station" in one of their family restrooms to meet the needs of people with disabilities. It's a private location for people to change clothing or disposable undergarments (adult diapers). I have heard of no other like it except in hospitals.

  Rodriguez put me in touch with a user of the new "adult changing station," someone reluctant to give her real name. For this column only she will be "Betty," 45, the mother of "John," 23, who has spinal muscular atrophy.

  "There is a huge need for this everywhere, not just in an airport," said Betty over the telephone from her Philadelphia home. "There are many people with disabilities, especially the elderly, who have weak upper-body strength and aren't able to use a [regular handicapped] toilet. They need to lie down, get [their adult diapers] changed, and most get back into a wheelchair. Right now those people have no place where that can be done."

  The adult changing station in Phoenix has grab bars and a 30- by 60-inch padded changing table. Using it, among others, are people with Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, quadriplegia and those having experienced a stroke.

  Betty when traveling or shopping usually changes her son's diaper inside their lift van in a parking lot. When outside the van, they look for a bench, any bench. Often, the only one available is in public view. She said that most handicapped bathrooms today were designed for people having the upper body strength to move themselves from a wheelchair to a toilet.

  But her son, like millions of Americans, doesn't have that upper-body strength. In his case, he uses an electric wheelchair. Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic disease of certain spinal cord cells affecting voluntary muscles involved in walking, head and neck control, and crawling. One live birth in 6,000 is affected.

  Said Betty, "I wish these adult changing stations (like in Phoenix) were everywhere, even at highway rest areas, malls, restaurants and sports arenas. I think every place that has a public bathroom should have an adult changing bench for people to lie down and take care of personal needs."

  For more, see www.danieljvance.com