Tennessee to install first of many adult changing tables in state rest areas

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Brad Turner talks with Chrissy and Alaina Hood after the program. Many gathered to celebrate the the official beginning of adult-size changing table installations at Tennessee Welcome Centers and Rest Areas on August 24, 2022.

The state of Tennessee is installing adult-size changing tables in all of its rest areas starting with the Interstate 75 Tennessee welcome center, where the state Department of Transportation on Wednesday held a groundbreaking ceremony for the installation.

Deputy Governor and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Butch Eley said the table at the Tennessee welcome center in Hamilton County is the first of four tables to be installed soon at Tennessee rest areas, including those in Jefferson, Haywood and Robertson counties.

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"These are the first of many others to come, and we're going to continue working on this," Eley said. "That will help our caregivers and family members who support those in need."

Chrissy Hood, a Pulaski, Tennessee, resident and advocate for families with disabilities, thanked Eley and other Tennessee officials for their commitment to install adult-size, height-adjustable changing tables in all Tennessee rest areas even though those facilities are not mandated.

(READ MORE: Tennessee families struggle with state agencies to get home-based care for those with disabilities)

"I am so thankful that our families have an option instead of laying our family members on a bathroom floor, taking them to the car or having to stay home," said Hood, who is accustomed to living with only those options for changing her daughter, Alaina, who has autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a disability called Phelan-McDermid syndrome. "This is life-changing. ... (Alaina) enjoys watching people and being out in her community and doing things, not being trapped at home."

The Tennessee General Assembly included $1 million in its 2023 budget for a grant program that will award $5,000 grants to 200 businesses and municipalities in Tennessee that install universal adult changing tables that are open to the public, according to the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website.

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"There are states that are not doing this, and there are states that are seeing Tennessee actually invest in this," state Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities Commissioner Brad Turner said. "I think this sends a really loud message to families of all states and of all abilities that Tennessee is open and Tennessee is welcoming to your family if you have a loved one with disabilities that might need some privacy and needs to maintain the dignity of the experience to live inside Tennessee, to visit Tennessee, to work inside Tennessee."

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.