Baby Operas and Diaper Changing Tables

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Last fall, Carnegie Hall presented ten performances of a new opera, NOOMA. There were two performances a day, but instead of the usual matinee and evening performances, performances of NOOMA were at 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. The unconventional performance times were needed to work around the audience’s naptimes.

NOOMA was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Minnesota Opera, and San Francisco Opera for a target audience ages 0-2, significantly younger than the usual opera crowd. And the opera comes complete with colorful parachutes like those used for interactive play in toddler gym classes.

In 2018, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York presented another “baby opera,” BambioO. That opera, commissioned by Scottish Opera, featured professional opera singers dressed in feathers and ruffles and singing in Italian while babies and toddlers roamed through the performance area.

Yes, opera for babies now is a thing and has been for more than a decade, having started in Europe. Norway’s Babyopera, which presents opera performance for the 0-3-year crowd, has been around since 2009.

Anyone who takes a diaper-wearing child anywhere knows to scope out the venue for diaper changing stations. And dads and other male caregivers may find themselves out of luck, particularly in older buildings, where they may have had to lay a baby on the floor to change a diaper. That’s because, in keeping with gender-role stereotypes, diaper changing stations were exclusively in women’s restrooms.

Some progressive building owners have voluntarily installed baby changing stations in men’s rooms. Others have installed family restrooms, which caregivers and children of all genders can go together.

And as of October 1, 2020, Maryland has joined the states that require diaper changing tables in public restrooms in government buildings. This article discusses the new Maryland law and other laws requiring diaper changing stations and what commercial real estate owners and businesses should do in response.

BABIES Act

Equity in diaper changing became law in 2016 when Congress passed the BABIES Act, formally named the Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation Act. That law requires all public restrooms in federal buildings to have safe diaper changing stations. The law also requires that the changing tables be accessible to individuals with disabilities, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Exceptions to the BABIES Act include:

  • Restrooms in nonpublic areas of a building

  • Restrooms where there is clear signage directing caregivers to the location of another restroom with a changing station

  • Restrooms where new construction would be necessary to install a changing station (but only if the cost of the construction isn’t feasible)

Maryland’s Diaper Changing Station Law

Like the BABIES Act, Maryland’s diaper changing station law applies only to buildings owned or used by state or local government. And like the BABIES Act, Maryland’s law exempts restrooms not accessible to the public.

Maryland’s law only applies to buildings that are built, add a public restroom, or undergo a substantial restoration on or after October 1, 2019. Substantial restoration is defined as a project costing more than $30,000.

School buildings are exempt from the law. Also, the local building inspector can allow an exemption if installing the diaper changing station is impracticable. There also is an exemption where the building inspector determines that installing a diaper changing station would cause the building to fall out of compliance with ADA or similar building standards.

Maryland’s law only requires a diaper changing station in one public restroom in a building. If there are separate men’s and women’s restrooms, there must be a diaper changing station in at least one restroom for each gender. Unlike the BABIES Act, Maryland’s law does not specify that the diaper changing station must accommodate individuals with disabilities (although accommodation could be required under other state laws).

Other State and Local Governments with Diaper Changing Station Laws

Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin also have state laws requiring diaper changing tables in public restrooms. Several cities have similar laws.

In 2015, however, Honolulu led the charge by adopting an ordinance that requires new or substantially renovated commercial real estate and businesses to have diaper changing stations. In 2018, New York City adopted a similar ordinance applicable to mercantile businesses.

Why Private Commercial Real Estate Owners and Businesses Should Care About these Laws

Commercial real estate owners and businesses that aren’t in New York City or Honolulu might believe they need not worry about diaper changing station laws since they only apply to government buildings. Some businesses might even want to discourage people with young children from patronizing them. As the frazzled mother who, in desperation, took my toddler to a wine store to buy some bubbly for New Year’s Eve (hint: it did not end well), I sympathize with those owners.

However, diaper changing stations have the attention of Congress and state legislatures. New York City and Honolulu have local laws expanding those laws to private businesses and commercial real estate. Further, since traditionally, only women’s restrooms had diaper changing stations, many view changing table laws as an important step toward gender equality.

Promoting gender equality and opening doors to more customers is good for business. In a 2019 Good Housekeeping article, Kate Wehr, explains

Within a 30-mile radius of our home, I can tell you exactly which businesses have high chairs, restroom baby seats, boosters, kid menus, and child-friendly entertainment available. . . . I can also tell you all of the places we’d like to patronize more, but won’t, because they don’t present a clean and comfortable spot to change a baby. Having to strategically plan every outing around something as simple as an inevitable diaper change is yet another example of the invisible labor American society assigns to (mostly female) caregivers, and I’m over it.

Businesses with a diaper changing table only in the women’s restroom may face claims of sexual stereotyping. Further, customers won’t refuse to patronize a business simply because of diaper changing tables in its restroom. But businesses and property owners that don’t make diaper changing easy will lose customers–and those customers may not return after their children are out of diapers.

Commercial Real Estate Owners and Businesses Should Install Diaper Changing Stations

Commercial real estate owners and businesses should treat their properties as if diaper changing station laws apply to them–even if they don’t. Wall-mounted changing stations cost between $150 and $350, with a higher cost for recessed or stainless steel stations, before installation. For all but the smallest of businesses, installing diaper changing stations will not break the bank. Businesses should install diaper changing stations in their customer-facing restrooms if installation and use of the stations won’t interfere with restroom use.

When renovating or constructing space, owners should configure space to include installation of at least one diaper changing station in every public-facing restroom. Handicapped accessible restrooms should include a diaper changing station that is accessible to disabled individuals.

Any laws that require commercial real estate and private businesses to have diaper changing stations are likely to be similar to the BABIES Act and similar state laws. So, property owners should follow BABIES Act and state laws regarding diaper changing stations in public buildings.

Cater to Your Future Customers

Operas designed for the diaper-wearing crowd have two target audiences: babies and their caregivers. The hope is that babies who grow up hearing opera will continue to be interested in opera as adults. And maybe some caregivers will shake off their stereotypes of opera as being for stuffed shirts and enjoy a night at the opera themselves.

When a business or property is welcoming to children, it also is catering to their current customer base. But commercial real estate owners and businesses likewise should look to the future. Not only are there likely to eventually be laws requiring diaper changing tables, but children who grow up patronizing their establishments could well become lifelong customers.

This series draws from Elizabeth Whitman’s background in and passion for classical music to illustrate creative solutions for legal challenges experienced by businesses and real estate investors.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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