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Without Accessible Restrooms: ‘You're Not Going to Do Anything. You Can't Participate in Things’

Christina Ingoglia, left, wears a black and red blouse and has bright red hair. Michelle Ribaudo, right, wears a striped shirt, black cardigan and glasses.
Rebecca Smith

Christina Ingoglia and Michelle Ribaudo are both board members for the Missouri Disability Empowerment Foundation, or MoDE Foundation, in Columbia. Christina is the current President and Michelle is the current Vice President of this organization that works to advocate for people with disabilities and promote inclusion.

They spoke about one of the ways their organization is working to make Columbia and the greater community a little more accessible – through their online bathroom accessibility map.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Christina Ingoglia: MoDE foundation is working on many projects that involve inclusion. That's like our – I would say that's one of our main mission, if not the main mission.

Last year, last August, we launched https://www.restroommap.com/, and at the time, it was a map to track restrooms that were gender neutral and if they had adult size, or “universal changing tables” is really a better way to say it – if they had universal changing tables, so larger changing table because my husband and I were struggling to get around with our daughter.

She is going to be in diapers for a while. She's almost five. Lilly is her name. And we knew that it was going to limit where we could go because at this age, she's starting to understand that she's being changed on a floor or being changed in public, and she doesn't deserve that. You know, as a baby, you can kind of get away with some of that stuff, but now we want her to have some dignity.

So, we created this crowdsource map and within a month, we went national with it because people were kind of jumping on board.

We started networking throughout the country this year and met some incredible advocates via social media and things like that, and then just a few weeks ago, we went International.

Michelle Ribaudo: Laughter 

Christina: A Canadian man – Dad – found us and he started submitting restrooms in the Ontario area, and we only have about 450 points, but we are working on growing that now.

And I could go on and on. We've just done a lot with using the map – both to find and submit restrooms, but also to advocate to show, “Hey, there's nowhere we can change our daughter in mid-Missouri,” which is changing slowly, but surely.

Michelle: And it brings awareness to that issue as well, because my children don't need the universal changing table right now. But I didn't realize the issue, and so, it's kind of that – to where you realize the different needs of the different disabilities. 

So now, I'm able to watch for that and pin things and kind of mention to a business like, “Hey, have you thought about just taking the sign that says “male” or “female” down. Just putting "gender neutral" or adding a table or something like that.

Christina: And you never know, I mean, your husband and you are both healthy, but you never know one day, as we all age, we may have to take care of each other, and you can't, it's really hard or socially awkward, plus, I mean, just kind of difficult in general, to take another adult of the opposite gender into an all-female room or an all-male room.

But it's kind of that, I mean – to go back to like understanding the issue – I would say I had no clue until I had my daughter, and I'm a little ashamed to admit that, but I think it's good to admit that.

I also think that's the bittersweet nature of inclusion because sometimes you don't get it until you're in that position of desperation, where you're like, “I really have nowhere to take my daughter to the bathroom,” and if you don't have that, you're not going to do anything.

I mean, you can't go to church, you can't go to a business, you can't participate in things, but I do think by meeting each other and having those different needs, we are working together to open each other's eyes and others' eyes to – there are needs.

Michelle: Definitely.

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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