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'IT'S GROSS': Michigan child pushes congressman to make restrooms more handicapped accessible

Zoey Harrison has Cerebral Palsy. She needs help when using Michigan's public restrooms so she's pushing State Representative Graham Filler to get two bills passed.

LANSING, Mich. — In late 2018, 13 ON YOUR SIDE introduced the world to then 9-year-old Zoey Harrison, who 'Saved Recess' with her invention of the BodyCoat, which triggered a family business called Xability

Nearly three years later, she's got her sights set on urging Michigan lawmakers to "Save Restrooms" by getting bills passed that will improve handicapped accessibility throughout the state.

Zoey Harrison, who was born with cerebral palsy and spends most of her time in a wheelchair, rose to fame when she wasn't able to play at recess with her friends because it took too long to get her dressed appropriately in time. Her frustration led to an idea - a full BodyCoat - which her mother, Jennifer Harrison, created.

Zoey's invention was picked up by media outlets all over the world, and was twice featured on ABC World News Tonight with David Muir.

While the family BodyCoat business continues to flourish, Zoey has gotten older, taller and is becoming much more aware of the challenges her disability will make her face for the rest of her life.

"When we're out in public, I need help when I have to use the bathroom," said Zoey, who is the reigning Miss Wheelchair Michigan. "To change me, my parents have to put a blanket on the floor in public restrooms.

Credit: Jennifer Harrison
Zoey Harrison is the reigning 'Miss Wheelchair Michigan,' and she's leveraging her position to make handicapped accessibility changes in the state.

"It's gross. There seems to always be water on the floor. Sometimes there's ants, and the tampon boxes need to be changed."

Public restrooms tend to be like Grand Central Station in terms of foot traffic, too.

"She's over strangers coming and going while I'm changing her and seeing 'her business,'" said Jennifer.

Soon after Zoey was named Miss Wheelchair Michigan, State House Representative Graham Filler, (R) 93rd District, contacted her, offered her congratulations and invited her to the floor of the State House of Representatives at the Capitol in Lansing for a day.

Credit: Jennifer Harrison
Zoey Harrison, 12, wants change in Michigan regarding handicapped accessibility in public restrooms. She's brought two bill requests to the Capitol.

Zoey accepted the invite, and immediately saw it as a chance to have her voice heard.

"I just started saying everything to him that I needed changed," said Zoey, referring to what happened the moment she met Filler. 

"She handed me a full folder of things she wanted me to accomplish as a legislator," said Filler, who represents Gratiot County where the Harrisons live. "They were broad concepts of things she thought needed to be improved in Michigan for disabled people and people in wheelchairs."

In Zoey's paperwork, she detailed two legislative bills that she wanted Filler to get reviewed and passed.

"The first one focused on increasing accessibility in public restrooms, and the second one centered around adding accessible travel information to the State of Michigan's government website so people with disabilities know where the most suitable handicapped restrooms are and how to get to them."

Filler says he couldn't believe what he was reading, and that it was coming from a 12-year-old.

"I said, 'Boy, these are interesting concepts,'" said Filler, who recently began his second term. "We've got to look further into this."

As soon as Zoey left the Capitol, that's exactly what he did.

"I need to sit down with my staff and brainstorm ideas, and then we need to send bill requests to the Legislative Service Bureau," said Filler.

He says he doesn't anticipate any pushback once he starts lobbying for support from his fellow lawmakers.

"I especially like the state website idea Zoey brought to me," said Filler. "I don't know if that's a legislative fix; maybe that's me calling the State Department that works with disabled folks and saying, 'Hey, have you ever thought about this?'"

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Filler from getting much done for Zoey in 2020, but after meeting with her again earlier this year, momentum for the bills is back.

"I'm really impressed by her get-it-done attitude," added Filler. "I'm a get-it-done legislator, and I've run into someone who won't stop, also."

Filler says he's continuing to generate support for both bills. There's no timetable when or if they'll make it to the floor.

"End of the day, this goes to the heart of Zoey," Filler said. "She brought something new that I haven't seen and that no one else has ever seen."

Zoey says she's not done pressuring Filler and pushing for more legislation to be passed with solutions for entrances to public buildings, transportation and shopping centers.

She's also set up a meeting with United States Representative John Moolenaar to discuss more changes.

If you'd like to follow Zoey's progress, follow her Facebook page where updates continue to be posted.

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