When Glen Atwell was elected to Stonnington City Council (Vic) as a councillor in 2016, Stonnington didn’t have a single, accredited Changing Places.
By the end of his term in 2020, two were up and running, with another four on the way.
Glen was – in large part – a huge reason as to why a Changing Places exists in Chadstone Shopping Centre (the biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere) today.
“I came onto the council as a Malvern East resident who lived about a kilometre from Chadstone.
“Our daughter Ivy has significant disability and care needs, and as close as it was, Chadstone’s lack of Changing Places made it a tough place for us to go.
“Once Ivy outgrew the baby change tables, it really limited our options. And that was a shame because going to Chadstone was a perfect weatherproof activity.”
So, Glen got to work. Leveraging his role as councillor, he advocated at council and community meetings and engaged directly with Chadstone through planning processes until he could finally get the ball rolling.
The results, Glen says, speak for themselves.
“Chadstone did an outstanding job of its Changing Places. It’s a beautiful example of Universal Design, well-positioned, close to public transport and close to lots of disabled car parks.”
While many facility owners understand the necessity of Changing Places – countless others see them as optional addendums. He explains what helped kickstart his advocacy journey.
“I think it was just one of those circumstances where generating a public conversation was enough for me.
“There was an awareness raised that took Changing Places from something nice to have, to something necessary so people with disability, and their families and carers, can remain connected to their local community.”
For others trying to advocate for Changing Places in their areas, Glen offers the following sage advice.
“Getting to local councillors and using the elected representatives as a mechanism to draw attention to the conversation is a useful place to start. Where possible, attend and ask questions at public council meetings. Keep it at the front of mind of council officers and staff.. And remember, when you think you’re becoming repetitive, that’s usually when other people are only just starting to get the message – persistence pays.
“When it comes to private development as opportunities for Changing Places, developers want to create an environment that ticks as many boxes as possible. I encourage councillors and council officers to look at how they can use their planning schemes to encourage Changing Places to be included in applications from the outset.”
On top of connecting directly with local councils and representatives, he stressed the importance of local and national news and media.
“In some of those communities where things might be going a little bit more slowly, that’s where you’ll usually find a strong local newspaper.
“Having that relationship with a lot of journalists, as I developed, to work with us to create a bit of a public voice was so important, as well.”
While Glen’s Stonnington Council days are behind him, his currentrole at Deakin University shows no signs of slowing his advocacy journey. On the contrary, with the number of Changing Places facilities across Deakin campuses steadily rising, he stresses the critical role tertiary institutions play in the conversation on accessibility.
“As universities start rolling out more and more Changing Places facilities, it opens up more opportunities for people who require them.
“It also puts more pressure back on the private sector to ensure their workspaces are just as accessible and inclusive.
“I’m proud that Deakin, and the broader Victorian university sector, has set the example, to make Changing Places be seen as an essential design feature, and not a luxury.”
While Changing Places situated in tertiary institutions such as Deakin directly support students with high support needs, Glen also stresses their significance for the wider community.
“They’re positioned to be used by the university community as much as the surrounding community, too, which is another important part of Changing Places, I think, which is to make sure that they’re externally facing so you’re not dependent on business hours or dependent on concierge or reception desk being open.
“For example, people are arranging coffee catch-ups at University cafes because they know they are close to a Changing Places.
Not too long ago, things looked quite different at Deakin, Glen reflects.
“When I started at Deakin in 2013, if you were on wheels, you couldn’t safely get from one side of the Burwood campus to the other.
“In recent years, there’s been a complete transformation when it comes to creating an inclusive civic experience for staff, students and visitors.
“Once [facility owners] decide to invest in a Changing Places and invest in accessible facilities, the word gets around.”
These words, Glen explains, creates a ripple effect across sectors.
“If you have a Council or a collective that is known for prioritising and seeing these sorts of facilities as important pieces of public infrastructure, I think you’re then more likely to see private developers reading the room and including Changing Places in their facilities.”
Glen understands, as we do, that investing in a Changing Places is a win-win. A decision that communities and businesses alike, benefit from.
“When you have a Changing Places, you engage a market that mightn’t have been there previously because you can give people that need those facilities the confidence to come along and engage.
“Even if you go somewhere and you don’t use them, the confidence of knowing one is there can be the difference between leaving the house or staying home for some people. They’re just critical.”
“It’s a win/win.”
Glen remains optimistic about the future for Changing Places, noting the importance of empathetic leadership in local councils and across all sectors of society.
“I hope that one day we get to a point where certain developments, in a planning sense, are required to have Changing Places as they are to have accessible bathrooms.
“I think we’ll get there, but between now and then, proactive leadership at those sorts of places will help.”