Rebecca and Sarah’s story

One sunny weekend, Rebecca and her fourteen-year-old daughter Sarah were on their way to Mildura from their home in Ballarat.

Somewhere along the way, as we all would, Sarah needed to use a bathroom.

But Sarah has a rare chromosome syndrome, which has led to profound physical and intellectual disability, she uses a wheelchair and is incontinent.

That meant, on that drive from Ballarat to Mildura, she and her family were faced with a challenge. Like many times in Sarah’s life, a lack of access led to ingenuity.

“We’re driving through Ouyen, and there’s a medical clinic. I thought, surely they’d have somewhere we can change her,” recalls Rebecca, Sarah’s mother.

Sure enough, after stopping in and asking at reception if there was anywhere they could use, the staff were more than happy to oblige. They quickly cleaned and prepared a room, Sarah and Rebecca used it, and then they were on their way.

Stories like Rebecca and Sarah’s aren’t uncommon. When people are living with profound or severe disability, standard accessible toilets often aren’t enough. They need a facility like Changing Places that can safely and comfortably meet their needs.

But, while momentum is growing and there are now more than 150 Changing Places around the country – it’s just not enough. With a conservatively estimated 1.4 million Australians living with profound and severe disability – the contrast between these numbers is stark.

A lack of access means people, like Rebecca and Sarah, are forced to improvise more than they should. The family refuse to lay their daughter down on the dirty floor of a regular accessible toilet, which means they need to instead limit their travel to places where they know a Changing Places facility will be available, or to improvise in other ways – like asking at a medical centre.

“It can be really difficult to find safe and dignified places. When you’re forced to use these other avenues… it’s not fair to her, It’s not fair to us, It’s just not okay,” says Rebecca.

“We’re always just trying to find somewhere we can change Sarah that’s clean and comfortable. Changing Places facilities mean we can do that properly.”

When the family know a Changing Places facility will be available, it’s a game-changer. Rebecca says they make their travel and day trip destination decisions based on the availability of adequate facilities, like Changing Places. These places are where they spend their time and importantly, their money.

“We will not spend our family travel dollars somewhere we can’t attend to Sarah’s needs with dignity, so we choose our destinations accordingly,” says Rebecca.

A lack of widely available facilities, however, leads Rebecca to liken their experience to that of Melbourne’s recent lockdown, where people were forced to stay home.

“After we’ve all been locked down, people can start to appreciate what it’s like. We need these facilities, otherwise we’re just headed into lockdown mark three. We’re locked in,” says Rebecca.

“Once people realise what it’s like I don’t think it’s a hard sell. The problem is that we’re not seen and we’re not heard. We’re not waving our arms around saying look at us, because we don’t want this to be a visible thing.”

“I just want people to understand that everyone deserves dignity. No one expects you to lie on the floor of a public toilet – so why should my daughter?”

Having access to safe, accessible and dignified bathrooms is not a nice to have – it’s a fundamental human right.

If you’re thinking about installing a Changing Places in your business, local council or community facility, find out more about getting started here.