TROY grad student turns classwork into advocacy for disabled adults

TROY graduate student Lakisha Smith, right, and her son Tyree. Smith has been advocating for adult-sized changing tables in public restrooms.

TROY graduate student Lakisha Smith, right, and her son Tyree. Smith has been advocating for adult-sized changing tables in public restrooms.

A Troy University graduate student has become part of a campaign focused on improving the lives of disabled adults in the Atlanta area.

Lakisha Smith, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree through TROY Online and the holder of a master’s in business administration from TROY, is the mother of 13-year-old Tyree who was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia, the most severe form of cerebral palsy.

Lakisha Smith
Lakisha Smith

“Ty was born severely premature at just 24 weeks gestation,” she said. “He only weighed 1 pound 3.5 ounces at birth. Spastic quadriplegia is severely disabling and deprives those who battle with it of their independence.”

As Tyree grew and got older, the standard height and weight measurements for changing tables in public restrooms could no longer accommodate him, and the struggles of caring for him while out became even greater.

“The only options that myself, along with many other families, have is to change our loved ones on public restroom floors, on our laps while sitting on the toilet, in the trunk of our cars or leave them soiled and not change them at all,” she said. “This is undignified, unsanitary, increases risk of bodily injury to both parties and ultimately violates their civil rights as persons with disabilities are not afforded equal treatment in terms of public restroom accessibility.”

It was this need for equality and accessibility, and her education at TROY, that spurred Smith to explore other options. She has been an advocate for the special needs community since her son was first diagnosed, but she said it was not until she took Dr. Pamela Gibson’s public policy course that she decided to take real action.

“The major assignment of the course is the construction of a policy analysis in which a public problem is defined in such a way as to garner sufficient public interest,” Gibson said. “Each phase of the process could be considered instrumental in [Smith’s] work.”

Smith recorded videos of her changing her son in public restrooms, posted on social media sites and contacted local news stations to make connections with those outside of and within the community. Through Facebook, she met Candice Aaron and Libra Hicks, two mothers who face the same challenges with their disabled children that also became outspoken activists.

“Candice had recently founded Changing Spaces Georgia in May of this year,” she said. “We quickly realized what we all had in common and decided to embark on this journey together.”

Changing Spaces Georgia advocates for adult-sized changing tables and lifts in public facilities and has already found success at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston hospital. After having to change her son on the ground of the parking deck at CHOA, Aaron connected with the patient services department to come up with a solution: the adult-sized changing table.

“CHOA was very receptive and proceeded promptly with getting a height adjustable adult-sized changing table installed their family restroom,” Smith said. “This process took roughly one year from beginning to end.”

Changing Spaces Georgia has even gained legislative support from Georgia senator Valencia Seay of District 34 who offered to sponsor a bill for their cause in January 2017.

Smith said her time at TROY prepared and equipped with the knowledge she needed to be successful in this field and in pursuing her interest in advocating for those with special needs.

“Thanks to Dr. Pamela Gibson and her public policy course, I have taken an interest in becoming a policy analyst to further my efforts of influencing real change in the special needs community,” she said. “It is my duty to stand alongside the special needs community and speak out on their behalf.”


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