By Hailey Middlebrook
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Finally, men and women might be able to share diaper duty more easily.
This month, President Barack Obama signed the Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation Act, or the BABIES Act, which requires diaper-changing facilities in male and female restrooms in public federal buildings, such as Social Security offices, courthouses and post offices. If these restrooms do not have changing tables, hallway signs must direct parents to the nearest facilities, the act states.
The law doesn't cover restrooms that aren't in public buildings, such as restaurants or retailers, and those in buildings that can't safely support changing facilities.
Mounting more changing tables in restrooms seems like a small task, but the policy suggests a step forward in gender equality, enabling all parents to take part in child care.
Health and safety concerns
Without access to changing tables, parents often use other surfaces to change diapers -- including restroom floors or counters. These unsanitary conditions can pose health risks, according to Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island who proposed the bill in April.
"Not only does (the lack of baby-changing facilities) put the health and safety of the baby at risk, it also puts the health of other restroom patrons at risk," Cicilline wrote in a statement on his website.
Cicilline continued, "Equal access to baby changing stations in federal buildings in both men's and women's bathrooms across the country is essential to protecting the health and safety of children and encouraging a family friendly environment."
In September, the House passed the BABIES Act by a vote of 389 to 34, according to congressional records.
"Federal buildings belong to the American people, and they should be welcoming and accommodating to all. Government needs to do more to ensure that public buildings are family-friendly," Cicilline's website said.
According to the website, within two years of enacting the BABIES bill, all federal public buildings will be required to have at least one changing station accessible to both men and women. The stations must be deemed safe, sanitary and appropriate by the General Services Administration.
"No mom or dad should ever have to worry about finding a safe, sanitary place to change their baby -- least of all in a federal building that's paid for by taxpayers," Cicilline said in the statement.
'Dads ... want to participate equally'
Actor Ashton Kutcher, who is expecting his second child his wife, actress Mila Kunis, has supported greater access to baby changing facilities. Last year, he started a Change.org petition to call for changing tables in men's bathrooms in major retail stores.
"As a new dad, I recently learned an unfortunate reality about changing diapers while out in public with a child," Kutcher wrote on Change.org. "Almost all public changing tables are in women's bathrooms, which makes it nearly impossible to find a table that's accessible to dads."
Adding changing tables to men's restrooms would be "a tiny step in the long process of rectifying the legacy of gender discrimination, but it's a step we need to take," Kutcher wrote. "Dads, like myself, want to participate equally in the child care process and our society should support that."
Kutcher's petition for universal changing tables was signed by more than 100,000 people, urging major retailers to make family-friendly bathrooms available to all customers. The campaign also launched a public discussion about baby-changing station accessibility, especially for single fathers.
One man commented on Kutcher's petition, "I am a single father of (four) and it is NOT cool that stores do not have changing tables in the men's restrooms."
"I'm a dad who has changed diapers on the men's floor. Yuck!" said another.
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