Dunwoody resident Joi Sumpton said she long ago dreamed of inventing something that would sell worldwide. The idea that made that dream a reality was sparked in an unexpected place—a public restroom.
As a flight attendant for a major airline, Sumpton visited public restrooms often and kept seeing the same awkward scene. “I noticed that parents with small children would have to lift the children to the sink so they could wash their hands. This was often cumbersome and messy. Lifting a 30- or 40-pound child and holding him long enough for a proper hand wash is not easy. Sometimes, water would get on the child’s clothes and sometimes the mother’s clothes. Some of them solved the problem by just having the child use hand sanitizer instead of washing hands,” she recalled.
“Hand sanitizer is fine in situations where there’s no better alternative, but children need to learn to wash their hands,” she continued. “It’s a good habit that should be with them for a lifetime.” Sumpton’s invention is a self-retracting step that allows children to reach the sink to wash their hands without help.
“I thought about it and asked myself, why not? You find diaper changing stations in almost all public restrooms and parents are much more likely to have a pre-school or early elementary school child with them when they go out than an infant in diapers,” she reasoned.
Sumpton had a prototype and a few samples made and went out to sell them in places people often bring children such as zoos, theaters and recreation centers. “But each time, I was confronted with the same question: ‘Where have these been placed already?’ Of course, they were nowhere; I hadn’t sold any yet. My husband said, ‘You’re just going to have to give some away.’ I said, ‘I can’t afford to give any away.’ He answered, ‘you can’t afford not to.’”
She selected some high-profile nonprofits that cater to children and had the invention, which she named Step n Wash, installed at her expense. “I could tell people, ‘They have these at such and such school or such and such museum’—then they were ready to buy.”
Step n Wash is reaching international markets at the perfect time, Sumpton said. “Hand washing has always been important, but with a pandemic that is spread when microbes travel from one person to another, handwashing is a lifesaving habit. Instead of having to hold the child, the parent is free to talk to him or her about the importance of keeping hands clean and teaching them to sing the happy birthday song as they wash so they are sure to scrub their hands for a long enough period of time.”
Sumpton said Step n Wash is not practical for most homes but is perfect for public places. “They are actually bolted to the floor so you wouldn’t want to go to the trouble and expense for a child who will quickly be tall enough to reach the sink, but a public place will always have a flow of youngsters who have trouble reaching the sink. They are retractable so they just go back under the sink and out of the way of those who don’t need them,” she said, adding that the product also results in a tidier public restroom since children are less likely to get water and liquid soap on the sink and floor as they wash.
While Sumpton had small children in mind when she invented Step n Wash, she said she has found an unexpected market for the product. “I have gotten letters from little people—small adults—thanking me for getting this product into public restrooms. Some say they have had to carry their own step stools when they travel to be able to reach the sink. They are delighted to find a step there and waiting for them.”