"It gives access to so many fathers out in the world," Donte Palmer says

By Char Adams
June 14, 2019 12:45 PM
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Donte Palmer/Instagram

It all started in October 2018, when Florida father Donte Palmer shared a photo of himself in a men’s restroom struggling to change his young son’s diaper without a table. The incident put the need for changing tables in men’s bathrooms front and center.

Now, less than a year later, Palmer, 32, is working with Pampers — and John Legend — to help meet the need.

“When I first took the picture, it was something I posted in my own frustrations,” Palmer, of St. Augustine, tells PEOPLE. “I just posted it for my family and friends. I never expected for it to get this big. But it has happened. So [my wife and I] decided to advocate for fathers. This is a huge issue.”

With that, Palmer and his wife, Lakeisha Palmer, started Squat for Change, a grassroots organization to ensure that all family members have access to a safe and clean changing table. Pampers took notice and invited Palmer to work with them to put 5,000 changing tables in men’s restrooms in the U.S. and Canada by 2021.

“The progress is unbelievable. My vision is to take it step by step. It gives access to so many fathers out in the world,” says Palmer, who has three sons, Isaiah, 12, Taylor, 7, and Liam, 2. “Tens of thousands of fathers have access to these tables. So my vision is to provide more support, get other people on board. So this can expand to other fathers who don’t have the resources … to be the perfect dad that I know they can be.”

Pampers announced the new initiative on Monday, with plans to begin with “high-need public locations” like Philadelphia, Dallas and Detroit, the company said in the statement. The first 500 locations have already been identified and are expected to have tables installed “over the coming weeks,” the statement reads.

Along with the statement, Pampers released a video of Legend, a celebrity ambassador for the company, with other fathers sharing their tips and tricks for changing their little ones without proper diaper changing stations.

“Dads have to resort to all these maneuvers because there’s no changing stations in our restrooms,” Legend says in the video, encouraging other parents to share their stories using the hashtag “#LoveTheChange.” “Parents, we hear you … we’re all in this together.”

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Over the years, fathers have become more vocal about the need for changing tables in men’s bathrooms. One of the most memorable examples: In 2015, Ashton Kutcher complained about the issue in a Facebook post.

New York recently announced it would provide diaper changing stations in men’s and women’s restrooms in public buildings — including everything from restaurants to parks.

These efforts appear to be new ways to keep up with changing parental norms. In 2016, fathers reported spending eight hours a week on childcare — that’s triple the time they spent caring for their children back in 1965, according to the Pew Research Center.

“We started the #SquatForChange hashtag and now I’m actually seeing that change come about!” Palmer says.