MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s Capitol building needs to work for everybody, including those who need special accommodations, said a Brookfield mother. Sarah Knowles made it her mission to get more adult changing tables installed in public places, including at the Capitol. An idea that was first introduced in 2020.
After months of delays, the installation of a universal changing station on the ground floor of the East Wing has been completed.
Knowles has a 23-year-old son named Matthew with cerebral palsy.
“We can go to restaurants. We can go to museums,” explained Knowles. “We know that there’s a central place we can return to.”
Road trips more than an hour from home are difficult for the Knowles family because it means they will need to find a place to change Matthew.
“We don’t need to worry about what will happen if he needs changing,” said Knowles of the new changing table. “We don’t need to worry about where’s the cleanest bathroom floor or do we need to do it in our van. Will someone notice us doing it in our van? He’s 23 years old. It’s very inappropriate to have him half naked in our van, but that has been the only option at times.”
Travel to the Capitol, much less Madison, used to be nearly impossible for Knowles and her son. That meant she could not effectively advocate for the very thing Matthew needed because, ironically, it did not exist.
“We can participate in the Democratic process now,” said Knowles. “Before, we would be unable to attend a hearing here. We would be unable to meet our state representatives here.”
With a table that state lawmakers can now see for themselves and the flexibility it gives Knowles to visit, she hopes it has a so-called "snowball effect" to make those accommodations more common.
“When you need it, it’s a life-changing piece of equipment, and I hope that the representatives will take time to come and have a look at the table,” said Knowles.
“It is a reminder of why we are all here in the Capitol building,” State Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, said after a celebratory event Tuesday. “Why we have this job and how important it is that we actually listen to our bosses, our constituents, the people of this great state.”
A state that Knowles and her family can now see more of, thanks to the newest changing station.
“We all would like to be part of society as a family, and be part of our community as a family, and so it is for families,” said Knowles. “To keep families together.”
Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal included a tax credit for businesses that install universal changing stations. If the measure is stripped out of the spending plan by Republicans who control the Legislature, Democrats have vowed to reintroduce stand-alone legislation.