New changing station options in Iowa rest areas are a game changer for families

IMG_0063Kristin Haar and her family want to have the freedom to travel from place to place like any other family. However, Kristin’s daughter Bronwyn has multiple disabilities due to FOXG1 Syndrome. These disabilities can make the most basic of tasks, like using a restroom in a public place, extremely difficult. “Our family has to carefully plan each outing or trip based on where we might be able to change Bronwyn,” explains Haar. “You don’t realize how life-limiting it can be to not have a place to take care of your loved one’s restroom needs.”

While many restrooms have accommodations for those in a wheelchair, the designs assume that the person using the facilities can take care of themselves. Many persons with disabilities need the assistance of someone else and extra support to fully attend to their sanitary needs.

“We have been forced to use unsanitary public restroom floors or use our van as a changing space which lacks privacy and is not feasible in winter months,” explains Haar. “Bronwyn deserves to have her privacy protected and be able to use the restroom while remaining clean, warm, and safe like anyone else. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the huge limitations meeting a basic need like restroom use can cause until you’re faced with caring for someone with special needs.”  

Last year legislation was proposed that would have required Iowa DOT rest areas to include adult changing stations in rest areas to assist families caring for older children and adults with special sanitary needs. While the bill did not become law, the Iowa DOT knew that we needed to move forward with ideas presented in the legislation. With the guidance of advocacy groups, we are now working to resolve the issue of the availability of a dignified and respectful way to meet the basic sanitary needs of families like the Haars at Iowa’s modern rest areas.

Director of the Design Bureau, Mike Kennerly, said, “Before the legislation came up, we had not even conceived of this issue. However, once we heard the plight of these families, we knew right away that providing these accommodations was the right thing to do.” 

Kennerly had the opportunity to meet with an advocacy group to hear their stories and begin planning for change. “I was able to talk to these families about their struggles. I very quickly moved from my initial idea that ‘this is the right thing to do’ to ‘we have to do this.” I left that meeting with tears in my eyes knowing that something most people take for granted can be so difficult for some,” he said. “It hit me right in the face that we need to make changes so that these families have a place to take care of their loved ones most basic of needs.”

With the full support of Iowa DOT management, Kennerly tasked Steve McMenamin, Iowa DOT rest area administrator; Seana Godbold, Iowa DOT chief landscape architect; and our rest area consultant team at Snyder & Associates and CRW Architecture, to retrofit the family restrooms in existing modern rest area buildings and plan for adequate space in family restrooms in future rest area buildings. The new area will provide space for discreet and sanitary care for families with older children and adults who need additional assistance using rest area facilities.

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Haar said, “These adult-size changing stations will really open up Iowa to persons with disabilities who want to travel. I can tell you these adult-size changing stations will make a huge difference in many lives, ours included.” 

I think it's wonderful that you have provided these facilities. As a physical therapist, I saw time and again how this was needed in the community, and helped to get one installed at my church during a renovation, and at the local indoor pool changing room. Thank you so much for taking care of this need!

This will be a godsend for anyone caring for an adult with special needs for restroom use. Or helping anyone who needs the assistance of another person with their personal needs. Thank you Iowa!

What a wonderful accomplishment, not only for people with disabilities, but also for their caregivers! Bravo, Iowa DOT!

That is great news, not just for Iowans, but also for those from out of state with disabled family members. I live in Wisconsin and look forward to a time when all states routinely accommodate those that need a safe, private place to change!

Thank you so much for taking the proactive steps of building better, more accessible restrooms. Having access to a safe, private, dignified changing spaces is an equity issue, one that impacts loved ones in my family. Thank you for doing this and providing more equitable access for my mom and my son. The Iowa DOT has proven itself a champion for those with disabilities.

Kristen said it well when she said "life-limiting". Recently traveling across Iowa with my mom who has similar needs, we've found ourselves in the exact same situation. Even limiting fluid intake to ease the burden of not having accessible bathrooms along the way. It's amazing to learn that DOT is leaning in to do the right thing and not waiting for the legislature to say it's time. On behalf of those who would be positively impacted by your efforts; thank you!

Thank you! This is an excellent change. Iowa has always had the best rest areas; clean, comfortable, pretty area and nice paths for walking. Adding these accessible bathrooms shows how devoted our Iowa DOT is to making everyone safe and comfortable. Thank you!

Congratulations! Such progress. Well done, Iowa DOT, and best wishes to Kristin and family and others with special needs.

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