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Hamilton, New Zealand, 2017. Jenn Hooper, mother of two boys and Charley, a profoundly disabled 17-year-old-girl. A precious life worthy of the dignity so often taken for granted. A fierce determination to defy “acceptable” for an invisible sector of society.
It all started with a twig, Jenn says, “When we realized how severe Charley was going to be, we realized that as soon as she was too big to lift without a hoist, she’d be housebound. We’re a family package, so that meant we’d all be housebound. We wanted more for her – and for us. Suddenly one day, something kind of twigged, I kept finding myself saying, “The world isn’t set up for this level of disability” . . . And I thought, Well, actually, why isn’t it? Let’s change that.”
So started Changing Places New Zealand, a charity that designs customized public restroom facilities for people whose high and complex care needs cannot be met by standard accessible accommodations. These facilities provide clean, dignified and secure spaces in which these needs can be met. There are currently five rooms across the country with another five to be completed this year.
What does a Changing Places New Zealand room look like and what sets it apart?
Changing Places in New Zealand differs from others worldwide (in Australia and the U.K.) because our rooms are designed by somebody who uses them. I use these rooms. I’ve checked my designs with hundreds of other people who need these rooms. I’m probably the only subject matter expert in the design of these rooms, from a user point of view worldwide.
The standards include: 12m² (minimum) with a wall- or ceiling-mounted hoist, height-adjustable change table, privacy screen and a toilet set away from the wall. We also put artwork in all our rooms to avoid that clinical feel. The layout gives users the function needed to perform the care. The artwork says they’re genuinely cared about.
Access to our rooms is restricted to registered users to keep out people that don’t need them or who might damage the rooms or themselves.
Who benefits from these rooms? Why?
The people needing the care: They get to leave their houses and participate in activities and outings like everyone else.
The carer: Specialized equipment with adjustable height, everything within easy reach and a privacy screen around the toilet. These are the first rooms to consider the carer’s needs as well.
Asset owners: If there are three shopping malls and only one has a Changing Places room, people like me are going to shop there and be able to stay longer.
How do you measure the impact of your fully accessible public bathrooms?
If a room has been used three times in a month, that’s a win. That’s three times that somebody like me, with someone like Charley, was able to care for them in a safe and dignified way.
How do I measure the success? By being safe in the knowledge that Changing Places gives those that need these rooms the confidence to leave their houses. Even if they don’t use the room, they know they can.
How can people support Changing Places?
Share our Facebook page and website and invite us to speak to community groups. Suggest that we present to accessibility advisors, local government, businesses or at conferences. Help us not be quite so invisible. Or donate money, as we are not government funded like elsewhere in the world.
How do you envision the future of your charity and the role it will play in improving the lives of people with disabilities?
Our aim is to have Changing Places bathrooms within ten minutes’ drive of each other across the country. This would give everyone real equity and freedom to participate in communities.
We’d like to change the culture of better than nothing to nothing better. Minorities have almost been groomed into having to feel grateful for any little bone they’ve been thrown. These rooms are my way of changing that culture. If I can do that here, maybe it can help inspire change for other minorities.
Hamilton, New Zealand, 2023. Jenn Hooper, mother of two boys and Charley. A precious inspiration who, “is changing more lives than anyone I know and showing the world that you don’t have to accept what somebody else says is good enough for you.”
It started with a “twig”, but Charley’s story continues to impact lives and inspire change. Jenn adds, “I didn’t want her to end up as only this preventable tragedy. I didn’t want her story to end like that. And now it won’t.”
Read about Changing Places England, here