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Brookfield mom advocates for son with special needs, inspires universal changing station bill

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BROOKFIELD, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A woman from Brookfield became the inspiration for a new bill after several years of advocating for her son who has special needs.

Sarah Knowles said her 20-year-old son Matthew loves rock climbing, Special Olympics bowling, music and swimming. But his physical needs have made it difficult for the family to do anything spontaneously.

"Usually we would either leave early from an event that we were going to or we would arrive late. We definitely limit our time away from home around the need to change a diaper if there is nowhere available," Knowles said.

As her son gets older, Knowles said it has become more and more difficult to find a place to change his diaper. Worst case scenario: She changes him on a public bathroom floor or in the back of her van. 

"He's got his full life ahead, and we don't want him to be confined to home because there's nowhere out in public that we can hygienically and safely change him," she said.

She brought her concerns to state Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, who has since introduced a bill that would require universal changing stations to be implemented around the state. They're larger than the typical baby changing tables in public restrooms, and the height can be adjusted.

The bill would require certain buildings to implement at least one universal changing station. Some examples would be malls, entertainment venues, museums, zoos and amusement parks. Small businesses could receive tax credits for implementing the changing stations.

"When you can't use the buildings, you don't go to the buildings, so we may not see this population that's asking for this," Vining said.

After hearing about the Knowles family's story and Vining's bill, some of Milwaukee's largest venues decided to implement the changing tables.

Vining said at least one Republican signed on to the bill so it does have bipartisan support.

She said it was likely that there would be opposition to the bill because it is an unfunded mandate, but she wants people to remember that implementing universal changing stations could be cost-effective for businesses in the long run because it would incentivize the Knowles family and other families like them to go there and spend their money.

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