Travelers who have suffered the ignominy of changing baby diapers on grimy floors and dirty bathroom countertops rejoiced last week when President Obama signed a new law requiring equal access to changing tables in restrooms of all public buildings.
Because most of these facilities already have changing tables in women’s rooms, the act effectively codifies changing stations in men’s rooms—a move that will change traveling with babies nationwide.
Technically speaking, the Bathrooms Accessible for Babies In Every Situation (BABIES) Act ensures that all publicly accessible federal buildings—including court houses, post offices, and Social Security offices—have at least one safe and sanitary baby changing station on each floor. According to an article on the parenting website Babble, it also requires signs pointing to where the baby changing station is located.
(By the way, that acronym really is the name of the new act. We couldn’t make up this stuff if we tried.)
Though the act was supported publicly by the commander in chief, it actually was the brainchild of Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), who has championed the cause with strong language about how a lack of equal access to changing tables puts the health and safety of babies at risk.
One snip from Cicilline’s website: “Equal access to baby changing stations in federal buildings in both men’s and women’s bathrooms across the country is essential to protecting the health and safety of children and encouraging a family friendly environment. No mom or dad should ever have to worry about finding a safe, sanitary place to change their baby.”
To be clear, the BABIES Act only covers federal buildings, which, as a recent New York magazine piece suggested, means private establishments (such as restaurants and theaters) are not required to comply.
But as a father who has changed babies in just about every possible unsanitary condition (including the floor of an airplane galley), this author is encouraged by the news—and the support for equal access overall.
Let’s hope the BABIES Act eventually establishes precedent for business owners—and public places like airports—to follow, too.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.