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More dads are finding baby changing stations in public restrooms

But some restaurants are still slow to respond
More dads are finding baby changing stations in public restrooms
Posted at 7:00 AM, Nov 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-05 07:00:07-04

CINCINNATI -- Would you lie on a bathroom floor in a restaurant?

Or put your baby on that floor?

Tri-State parents find they often have little choice. They're changing their babies' diapers on floors, restaurant tables and in their cars, since many businesses do not have baby-changing stations in the bathrooms.

Parents have struggled with this issue for years in the absence of any laws requiring such accommodations.

In October, President Barack Obama signed the Babies Act, one section of which made baby-changing stations mandatory in both men's and women's restrooms in federal public buildings. Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, introduced the bill in April and said on his website: "Federal buildings are paid for by taxpayers, and it's important to ensure that they are as open, as accessible and as family-friendly as possible.

"With this new law now in effect," he continued, "Social Security offices, Post Office buildings and courthouses will be more accommodating for working moms and dads in Rhode Island and across the country."

He went on to thank Obama for "swift action."

However, many local parents still complain that places they visit frequently, such as restaurants and other businesses, still have no laws mandating changing stations in either bathroom.

City of Cincinnati Communications Director Rocky Merz confirmed that there are no changing-table requirements in the city's code.

Matt Mahrle, a Liberty Township father of four children ages 4 and under, once struggled to find a place to change his child's diaper in a daycare center. When he asked a staff member about it, she offered him a towel to use to change the baby on the floor.

"Of all places, a childcare center would be the first starting point for dads to be able to change their kids," he said. "Changing on the floor is not ideal with my hands full. I don't understand how they aren't in there. It can't be expensive to throw that thing on the wall."

Basic changing stations, such as Koala Care, cost around $200 before installation, which Dan McGrath, general manager at Mio's Pizza in Anderson Township, decided to pay for after having a child himself.

"It is rather sad that it took the birth of our first child to realize changing stations should be in every restroom," he said. Before he had a child, there was one in the women's restroom but not the men's. He explained that it wasn't so much an intentional decision but more a "lack of attention."

"I literally had to check to see if we had one when my wife and I found out we were pregnant," he said.

While some restaurant managers, like McGrath, may have just been unaware of the need, others intentionally don't install them everywhere, such as Chipotle, which bases its decision on demographics.

Rebecca Palmatier of Colerain Township is passionate about Chipotle offering changing tables in its restrooms.

"I once told Chipotle (who until then had been my favorite eatery) that I was saddened that I might be growing out of their target demographic. They did not (at the time) offer much in the way of support to families with young children," she said. She went on to communicate with corporate Chipotle three times in the last three years, and has received multiple replies, which she called "varied and far-reaching."

"Chipotle has always been forward-thinking, in my opinion," Palmatier said. "If it were me, offering a safe, clean space for parents to change their soiled children's diapers would be just as important as ensuring that the guac and other foods are free of bacteria and safe to eat."

Chipotle's communications director, Chris Arnold, said some Chipotle restaurants do have changing stations, depending on their demographics.

"A number of our restaurants do have changing tables," Arnold said. "Generally, we install them in places where there is strong demand for them. The customers for our restaurants vary somewhat based on locations (some have more families and younger children as customers than others), so they make more sense in some places than they do in others."

Amber Schlicher of Springfield Township frequently eats at the Finneytown and Forest Park Chipotles and expressed similar frustrations.

"We have had to change our daughter in the back of our Jeep when she was still in diapers and we were eating there," she said. "We found it very frustrating."

Some companies, such as Keystone Bar and Grill in Clifton, Hyde Park and Northern Kentucky, have responded to customer concerns with major changes.

Nora Wahler of Anderson Township frequented the restaurant with her husband before having children, but wasn't sure what to do once their 3-month-old baby was with them. She sent an email to Dan Cronican, the managing partner at 4 Entertainment Group LLC who oversees the restaurants, and was pleasantly surprised when he told her they would install the stations. Even better, they would not be using the "unsightly plastic ones," but would install a "nicer more attractive stainless-steel" variety, which Cronican said costs around $800-$1,100.

Cronican thinks the more attractive stations may lead more businesses to make the change to "more easily accommodate their customers with small children without the worry of deteriorating their design or atmosphere."

Now Keystone has metal changing tables in both the men's and women's restrooms.

"It's especially important at a place like that, Wahler said, "with the common hall, modern sink setup and no counters at all."

Actor Ashton Kutcher has become an outspoken advocate for changing tables for dads, and started a campaign at change.org in 2015 that gained attention from New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who introduced a bill requiring men's restrooms to have stations if the woman's restrooms did. He told Huffington Post he thinks the shortage of diaper stations in men's bathrooms is "an anachronism that reflects the bias toward women being the caregiver."

"That's simply not the case today," he said. "In addition to same-sex couples of men, and men in heterosexual couples, there are also a lot of single male parents out there, too."

Mahrle agrees there is still a stigma against stay-at-home dads in our society, which he has noticed while taking a year off from his teaching job to parent his four children.

"I think we are just now coming around more to the idea of the stay-at-home dad and a role reversal where there are men taking care of kids," he said. "I get a lot of 'Mr. Mom' comments."

But, he added, "I think younger people are coming around to it about me not having a 'job.'"