A Changing Place improves accessibility

On a rainy Thursday afternoon last week, about 50 community members gathered at Grove Park near downtown Midland to bear witness to a transformation not only in action, but also in thought, on just how a community can go beyond what is required and do more of what gives new meaning to the term “inclusive.”

They broke ground for  a “first of its kind in Midland,” universally designed restroom called a “Changing Place,” says Karen Murphy, director of the City of Midland’s Public Services department. She adds this represents "an exciting day for the future of accessibility to our community." 
Floor plan drawing for Grover Park accessible restrooms
Championed by the Midland Rotary Club which adopted Grove Park as a service project years ago, the facility will have two ADA-compliant restrooms and an adult- size changing table with additional space for those with disabilities that require wheelchair use, among other unique public facility features that Murphy, also a member of the Rotary Club,  says will be the model for “future restroom buildings and restroom renovations throughout the community.”

Rotary’s motto is ‘service above self,” says member Tawny Ryan Nelb, one Rotarian who has led the charge since the club began raising money for it after Rotary first heard about the possibilities.  “When I think about Rotary serving in Midland, it's (this project) supporting our community's vision … of being inclusive and moving the community together forward.”

So, they began raising funds for the project. While initially planning to do some clean-ups and see what else they could do to improve the park, they worked with the city to determine its needs based on the Parks and Recreation master plan. Restrooms were the next step on the list of improvements.

Several groups stepped forward two years to start working on an ADA-accessible restroom facility. The Grove Park community, Midland Area Community Foundation, City of Midland, Midland Rotary, and Disability Network have all had a hand in working on the project, and as more groups became involved, they learned that ADA standards were the bare minimum of what should be done. They also learned  that more could be done to make the facility inclusive. So, plans changed and more funding was raised for the project. 
Iris Mehler is a member of the Midland Area Community Foundation’s Access to Community initiative.
"We're 35 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and these restrooms, they pass code but they don't have accessibility. So many people with cognitive impairment, elderly, people who are quadriplegic, etc., that cannot use those restrooms,"  says Iris Mehler, a member of the Midland Area Community Foundation’s Access to Community initiative, who  worked with community leaders to help them understand the need for an inclusive restroom. “The all-inclusive Changing Places restroom allows people with the most complex disabilities to have equal access to sanitary restrooms, which we all take for granted,” she adds. “We don't see these people because they can't go out because they can't use the restroom. They can't go out because the playground is not accessible,” Mehler states. 

“This is like the biggest victory. It's like discovering the community and seeing that people really care,” Mehler says, “We are not just using the word inclusion, we are really becoming inclusive. And a truly inclusive community means creating spaces that allow everyone to take care of their needs.” 

In a letter to the City Manager, Murphy, describes the Changing Places restroom saying “The Changing Place restroom will include an adjustable adult changing table along with an overhead hoist system that will allow park users in wheelchairs to utilize the restroom with the assistance of these adaptive devices. “The restroom will have additional floor space for maneuvering wheelchairs and to provide room for personal assistants. There will be specialized bars for use of the toilet as well as on the walls for assistance with standing and dressing.” she writes. “This restroom will be the first of its kind in Midland and likely the Great Lakes Bay Region and will serve as a model for future restroom buildings and restroom renovations throughout the community to provide for the most complex of needs in a public restroom venue.”

The restrooms will be located in Grove Park near the parking lot along Ashman Street.Funding for this project has been provided by the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, Dow Chemical Foundation, Midland Area Community Foundation, and the Great Lakes Bay Foundation. 

The design for the building was created by Pam Blough from PM Blough, Inc. After the project is complete, all the design specifications will be available to anyone who wants it in the future, free of charge. Terri Johnson, the president and chief executive officer of  Greater Midland, announced at a recent Midland Rotary Club meeting, that this type of bathroom will be included in the new Midland Community Center currently under construction.

If anyone knows a business that needs an ADA-accessible restroom, contact the Disability Network for more details.

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Read more articles by Stephanie M. Yancer.

Stephanie M. Yancer is a freelance writer and social media marketer. She enjoys traveling and spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, paddleboarding and sitting by the campfire. Stephanie is married to Justin, a U.S.M.C veteran and has three boys, a 21-year old and 6-year old twins. She graduated from Central Michigan University and is an alumna of Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority. She can be reached at StephanieYancer@gmail.com.