It’s a guessing game no baby-toting parent enjoys playing. Will the public restroom have a changing table? Or will I be stuck kneeling on cold tile, trying to speed-change the baby before he reaches out and grabs himself a handful of ripped toilet paper pieces, lint, and whatever other gross specimens tend to populate public restroom floors?
Fortunately, one website is trying to make this guessing game end for parents who are out and about with their babies. The site, Changing Table Locator, provides a map showing 7,000 public restrooms at businesses throughout the country and specifying whether they include changing tables, plus whether the tables are accessible to both genders. (If they’re not accessible to both, it’s usually because the tables can only be found in women’s restrooms, which is quite inconvenient for dads!)
The site is run by two parents in different corners of the U.S.: Shelby Gull Laird, a lecturer and mom of one living in Nacogdoches, Texas and Jacob Smithers, 36, a stay-at-home dad of three in Rock Island, IL. Gull Laird founded the site in 2009 after growing frustrated with how often her husband, when he was out with their child, found himself in places where the men’s restrooms didn’t have a changing table. Smithers found and joined Changing Table Locator after visiting a Chicago restaurant conspicuously lacking changing tables.
“The establishment had a children’s menu and highchairs but did not have changing tables in either restroom. We walked out of the restaurant knowing something had to be done,” he said. “I stumbled upon Shelby and Changing Table Locator. I asked her if I could join her efforts, since her map was unique and what I wanted to do myself, and here we are three years later.”
Gull Laird and Smithers, who crowdsource changing table information from businesses and parents, have plans to expand their efforts by developing a smartphone app. The app would allow parents to search for establishments with changing tables while on the go. The app would also feature real-time updates from users who’ve discovered new locations with changing tables.
“When someone enters a location on the app, it updates for all other users of the app as well as the website,” Smithers said.
Smithers and Gull Laird are currently raising money for the app, which Smithers said will be provided to parents for free, once complete. They’ve raised about $2,000 so far but will ultimately need $50,000 to make the app a reality and reimburse them for the personal funds they’ve already spent on its development.
It’s a lot of money to raise, of course, but I’d imagine there are a lot of people who would love an app like this, especially parents fed up with the lack of access dads have to changing tables. When celebrity dad Ashton Kutcher started a petition demanding that mega-retail chains Costco and Target provide “universally accessible changing tables,” more than 104,000 people lent their signatures to his effort.
It should be noted that the actual impact of Kutcher’s campaign is a little fuzzy. In an email to me, Target said they’ve had changing tables “in both our men’s and women’s restrooms for 25 years, while Costco said they’ve supported the installation of changing tables in men’s rooms “for many years” but have since shifted plans to focus on installing tables in family restrooms. That being said, Kutcher clearly raised awareness of the issue and that’s a great thing.
If the Changing Table Locator app comes to fruition, that’ll be a great thing, too. My younger child is on the cusp of potty-training — knock on all the wood in the world! — so the app won’t be of much use to me, personally, by the time it comes out. But I’m very excited for all the new parents who will benefit, provided that Gull Laird and Smithers are successful in their fundraising efforts. Best of luck to these changing table champions!