MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsinites who want to visit our state Capitol with a loved one with special needs won't need to worry about finding a place to change them.
A universal changing station will be installed later this year, and the move could spur more solutions across the state.
It's a step in the right direction for the Knowles family of Brookfield, who has been aspiring for more accessibility for a long time.
We first introduced you to Matthew and his mom, Sarah Knowles, last November when they shared their story of how a lack of adult-sized changing tables can make leaving the house a hassle.
“It opens us to a whole day out in Madison, not just a trip to the Capitol,” Sarah Knowles explained. “If you have a table somewhere that you know you can access it, in certain hours, you can go to that area, so we could go to Madison, and we can go walk around the area. We can go eat in a restaurant. We know that if we can just get back to that Capitol building, we know that Matthew's restroom needs can be met.”
So far, a spot has been picked out inside the Capitol for the changing station, but installation won't happen until September due to supply chain issues.
Since 2019, State Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, has been pushing for legislation that would require changing stations in more public places that are either new construction or undergoing a remodel.
Last year, State Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, joined the push because it has been an all-too-familiar issue for her.
“I've opened my office,” Agard said. “Caregivers and teachers have actually used the floor of my legislative office to care for the needs of their students.”
Some places, such as Fiserv Forum, have installed changing stations on their own absent of any requirements to do so. That's what the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board (SCERB) recently voted to do as well.
“I do hope that this is seen as a pilot project that is successful,” Agard said. “That my fellow legislators, regardless of what letter they have after their name, will hear stories from people from their districts who have come to the Capitol building that have not been able to because we didn't have this universal changing station.”
Meanwhile, Sarah Knowles said she also hopes the new changing table will keep lawmakers talking, and make it easier to convince them to pass a law.
“I think if they saw me face to face with Matthew, and faced with the piece of equipment that is needed, I could go and show them that equipment," Sarah Knowles said. "It maybe would be a lot more powerful than me emailing or doing a phone call, which is all that I can do right now because the Capitol has been inaccessible for so long."
It is the kind of conversation that could go beyond the Capitol, and make requiring more stations a reality.