One mom’s mission to make handicap accessibility more inclusive
Adalynn Milham hears the subtle sounds that nobody else picks up on: the IV drip in a hospital or water running outside, for example.
But one of the things her mother wants the 7-year-old to hear is her voice in a world where her needs often go unseen.
Amanda Milham, of Callender, a mom of four, never imagined herself as an advocate, let alone one for something like larger changing tables.
But as a mother to a girl with special needs, she said being a voice for the unpleasant realities of disability exclusion is one of the easiest things she has done.
Milham first started noticing that the public changing tables were too small for her daughter, who has autism, epilepsy, a tissue disorder and two rare chromosome deletions, when she was about 4.
“(Adalynn) would grip it because she was scared,” she said.
In addition to her other conditions, Adalynn has a severe anxiety disorder, exacerbating something like being changed in less private places. But as she got older, a blanket on the dirty floor of a restroom, grassy lawns at the park or the back of a car in a public area were her mom’s only options.
“She knows the difference,” Milham said. “She’s becoming aware of her surroundings.”
After a lot of dirty looks from judgmental passers-by, Milham doesn’t let it get to her, if only for her child’s sake.
“If someone looks at her differently, that’s my time to advocate for her,” the head coordinator of Changing Spaces Iowa said.
So she’s doing just that. This legislative session, the Changing Tables Bill introduced by State Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, and State Rep. Kristin Sunde, D-West Des Moines, would require all state rest stops to install changing tables with the weight capacity for larger children, teens and adults.
Meyer said that the bill, one of the first ones she introduced this year, made it through committee with unanimous support and awaits the House funnel, the legislature’s first deadline for getting bills approved by committees.
“It’s something that lots of people have never thought of before,” Meyer said, praising Milham for the awareness she’s brought to the issue. “I’m so glad it was brought to my attention and we can actually do something to address it and increase awareness.”
“It’s (Adalynn’s) dignity and her privacy,” Milham said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for people with 30-year-olds who need this change as well.”
With her advocacy, the mom of four said many others having the same challenges have reached out to her with the same difficulties.
“A lot of people don’t even know there’s something out there to help them,” she said, “and that’s sad. Everywhere we go is handicap accessible, but it’s not fully accessible for the disabled community.”
In addition to advocating for larger changing tables, Milham is advocating for the changes in family restrooms that can afford more privacy to caretakers taking care of someone of the opposite sex. The Changing Table Bill’s first iteration is just the start for her.
Since the law being proposed now would be for rest stops only, and there are only 38 in the state, according to the Department of Transportation, Milham would like to see the requirements expanded to:
• Facilities with the capacity to serve 1,500 or more people in a day, including public venues with a floor space of 40,000 square feet or more;
• Public transportation facilities;
• Parks and recreation centers;
• Buildings and facilities with future construction dates;
• Buildings and facilities undergoing future renovations.
In other words: the places that families like theirs love to visit.
A fiscal note from the Legislative Services Agency on the current bill’s iteration notes that renovating the state’s 19 “modern” rest areas with larger changing tables would cost about $20,000-25,000 each from the Primary Road Fund.
“When (Milham) brought this to me, I brainstormed with staff and legislators on how we could make this successful,” Meyer said, bringing the bill to its current iteration that gained bipartisan committee support.
Meyer said she doesn’t anticipate any opposition in the legislature after the funnel on the Changing Tables Bill, but did foresee some difficulty with the expansions.
“We think this is a good first step,” she said, noting that the caveat of mandating that private businesses install them would make wider bipartisan passage much more difficult.
But Meyer also believes that the bill could accomplish much more beyond the rest stops.
“I truly believe this is a matter of awareness,” she said, telling The Messenger that once people and businesses are more aware of the issue, they will voluntarily step up to install the new equipment in their own private businesses and facilities.
To Milham, awareness is more than a progressive buzzword — it’s her daughter’s future. The director of development for Facing Autism said she won’t stop until it’s heard.
“Our lives are so much easier to live, and hers is so much more complex,” she said, welling up as she described what it means to have her daughter’s voice heard. “For her to live in our world is hard, so if there’s one thing that I can make easier for her, I’m going to advocate for it.”
Adalynn Milham picks up on the little things that make her family slow down to look at the world around them, so her mother is returning the favor.