Changing Places: transforming NZ for the profoundly disabled

29 March 2023

Changing Places: transforming NZ for the profoundly disabled

For Jenn Hooper, one of our Geneva Healthcare family carers, transforming the way we cater for people with high needs disabilities isn’t just a good idea: it’s her life mission. Forced to grapple with impossibly difficult decisions after her daughter Charley suffered a mammoth brain injury at birth, in the years since Jenn has thrown herself into advocating for those whose needs are neglected by society.

In the battles for her daughter and other profoundly disabled Kiwis, she found herself coming back to an uncomfortable truth: the world is not set up for this level of disability. Jenn’s lightbulb moment, which eventually led to the birth of Changing Places in New Zealand, came when she realised: “Why isn’t it? Let’s change that.”

Jenn Hooper and Charlie

Changing Places are public bathrooms designed for those with complex care needs who cannot (or struggle to) use standard accessible bathrooms. This incredible initiative began in the UK in 2005 – coincidentally the year of Charley’s birth – and while impressive, Jenn had some ideas of her own too.

So, leveraging her extensive personal experience caring for someone with a highly complex disability, Jenn took what Changing Places was doing overseas, added her own twist and raised the standard even further.

Changing Places exterior

These facilities include specialised equipment such as height adjustable adult-size change tables and ceiling or wall-mounted hoists – and here in New Zealand they require meticulous attention to detail. Changing Places go far beyond just ticking accessibility checkboxes. “These rooms really do have heart,” said Jenn. “They are utterly built with love. Good intentions are great, but good intentions don’t make good design. Every part is so carefully designed, with safety, ease of use and comfort in mind for the carer as well as the cared for, because carers are important too and should be valued and considered. The devil really is in the detail with these rooms, and without first hand knowledge they’re incredibly easy to get wrong.”

There are now five Changing Places across the motu, with two others opening in the next few months, but there’s many more on the horizon: 21 more Changing Places are currently in various stages of planning, construction, or approval. As a registered charity, any money that Changing Places receives from donations or membership fees (a single payment for a lifetime membership) goes towards expanding their nationwide network of facilities here in New Zealand.

To donate, register a member, or just to learn more, visit ChangingPlaces.org.nz or follow them on Facebook.

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