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A San Antonio mom made a mobile unit for restroom needs of people with disabilities


Summer festival season is here, when cities block off streets for big events like the many Juneteenth celebrations happening this weekend. If you're a person with disabilities, public facilities like restrooms are often a major problem at events like these, even if everything meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That's because there are rarely enough facilities for people with severe or profound disabilities. Texas Public Radio's Jackie Velez reports on an effort in San Antonio to add some dignity to the rows of port-a-potties at America's street festivals and fireworks shows.

JACKIE VELEZ, BYLINE: Traci Lewand understands more than most the need for a specialized bathroom for people like her son Mason, who has multiple disabilities and needs to be hoisted to change positions.

TRACI LEWAND: As Mason was getting older, I realized that one of the challenges that we were facing - primarily myself because I'm 5'2'' on a good day - was that he was going to be taller than me rather quickly, and I was running out of spaces that I could change him when we were out in public together.

VELEZ: So Lewand decided to do something about it. She partnered with a local San Antonio nonprofit called disABILITYsa. And after three years of fundraising and months of construction, they've created a $130,000 mobile changing unit.

LEWAND: Let's take a tour.

VELEZ: Recently, it made a stop at the Fiesta Especial celebration at the Alamo Dome in downtown San Antonio. Lewand leads me to the 27-foot trailer. I should note that I use a wheelchair, and I appreciate the ramp up into it.

LEWAND: The mobile changing unit has a wheelchair-accessible toilet. Also, if you're in a motorized wheelchair, we have a space with an outlet so you can recharge your wheelchair.

VELEZ: In the back of the trailer is an adjustable plastic changing table. It's the size of a full-sized bed and has a handheld shower above it. Lewand says it's still a work in progress.

LEWAND: It'll be motorized, and you'll be able to move it up or down, depending on where you're at - level for transfer - also important for the person - not only for the person who needs to be placed on the table, but also for the caregiver.

VELEZ: There's also a Hoyer lift to help people move from a wheelchair to the changing table or toilet. JoAnne Serna used the mobile changing unit today with her daughter, Vanessa. Vanessa has a neurological disorder that affects muscle movement. Serna called it a godsend because it makes it easier to take her daughter to festivals.

JOANNE SERNA: This unit has everything. It has a changing table. It has a Hoyer, has a toilet. And it's secure. It's private. And it's just - it's wonderful.

VELEZ: Traci Lewand beams when she hears comments about what the service means to people.

LEWAND: To see this in person, out in community - my mother-in-law is here from Michigan - came out and saw it for herself. And we teared up inside the mobile changing unit because it means something to the people who honestly have some of the hardest struggles - who battle to get just the basic necessities met. The idea that you can toilet in privacy and dignity like any other person, you know, should be happening for everyone.

VELEZ: Lewand's dream is a fleet of these mobile changing units. There's already a similar effort underway in Los Angeles. She says each MCU should have a name. The first one is called Mason, after Traci Lewand's son, the inspiration for it all.

For NPR News, I'm Jackie Velez In San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Velez