There are many things that increase disability accessibility in schools, such as touchless sinks, mechanical lifts, and automatic doors. These items increase accessibility for all beyond the requirements set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
All of these design elements help students with hearing, sight and cognitive impairments be able to enjoy their school much more.
These designs help students identify different wings of the school by using colors, textures and plenty of light. No plants are tall poles block the line of sight to other areas in the school. Halls flow into common areas, such as cafeterias or gyms. bathrooms are designed so a student and an aide can fit in comfortably. Finally, as few doors as possible is used.
The goal is to ensure the entire building is accessible. School districts whose budgets are limited can hire a consultant to help ensure new building and renovations are accessible and ADA compliant.
One thing that most people do not realize is the entire building does not need to meet ADA regulations. For example, if a school has a science lab on the first floor that is accessible, it can have science labs on other floors or areas that are not accessible. ADA Accessibility consultants have the knowledge to help guide school official through the ADA requirements to help save money and stretch their renovation or building dollars.
What is the History Surrounding Accessibility Laws?
It is important to understand how accessibility laws can affect a school district when it is renovating or building a new school. These federal laws are there to ensure people suffering from disabilities can receive an education. The laws concerning accessibility are exacting to ensure that each student, regardless of their disability, gets the same education as someone without a disability.
Since 1968, three separate and distinct laws have been passed to protect people with disabilities; however, it wasn’t until 1990 that laws were in placed to provide all students with an equal opportunity.
There are many resources that schools can use to ensure they are compliant with the federal laws concerning disabilities. These resources include AT Kid Systems, the Braun Corporation, American Printing House for the Blind, Learning ally, Ascension, Playworld Systems Incorporated and LIFT-U.
The Architectural Barriers Act, abbreviated ABA, was passed in 1968. This Act stated that all new construction build with federal monies must meet the current federal standards and laws concerning physical accessibility.
Today, the standards include that classrooms have wheelchair accessible seating. Additionally, the school must have accessible bathrooms. These bathrooms should have toilets that are shorter than 17 inches and the area must be at least five feet wide and five feet long.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited programs (including schools) from any type of discrimination if they are receiving federal funds. For example, schools must provide Braille textbooks for any student with a vision impairment; otherwise, it is considered discrimination. Additionally, not providing a route to a stage or any other type of extracurricular activity for wheelchair-bound individuals is also considered discrimination.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975, requires that every public school provide an appropriate, free public education to all students with or without a disability in an environment that supports their individual needs. However, neither this act or the Rehabilitation Act covered the school buildings. School districts were not required to alter any existing schools in order to accommodate disabled students.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, schools must be designed in such a way to ensure that all staff and students have access to all the services offered by the school. Any design element, such as a door that is too narrow to allow wheelchairs from passing through is expressly prohibited.
Buildings that were constructed before 1990 are not exempt. This means that all facilities that did not meet the standards had to be retrofitted to ensure they were up to the codes established by the ADA.
This meant that a number of common barriers had to be addressed. For example, students and staff must have an accessible route to the different floors in the school. All bathrooms must be accessible. There must be an accessible route onto stages and all doors that were difficult to open or had heavy closing force must be removed and changed.
Additionally, no classroom can have furnishings that prevent students from freely moving around if they are using a mobility device.
desks must be able to be adjusted for students with mobility issues and shelves and coat hooks must be able to be reached by students in wheelchairs.
According to the U.S. Census Bureaus data collected in 2010, approximately 5 percent of American students enrolled in school suffer some type of disability, and 1 percent of these students have some type of ambulatory difficulty. A portable and compact lift like LIFT-U helps assist students and faculty members who have difficulty climbing stairs. This option may also be a better option for stages and raised platforms. With this type of lift, no space consuming ramps are needed.
According to a sales manager at ascension, the best type of lifts are those that can be easily operated by students. In order to use the Ascension lift, the student only needs to push one button. This allows students a sense of independence and can help improve disabled students’ self-esteem. Additionally, only students with extreme mobility impairments will require assistance to push the button on the lift. This can help decrease the number of additional staff members needed for mobility impaired students.
The Virtuoso lift by Ascension can elevate a student up to 60 inches high. The lift has an accordion styled skirt that rises as the lift rises. This ensures that no objects or students can get under the lift. The Virtuoso costs approximately $24,000, making it a great choice for schools on a tight budget.
A cheaper option to the Virtuoso lift is the Protege lift. This lift raises 42 inches and costs a mere $19,000. The lift uses sensors rather than skirting. If a student goes underneath the Protege, the sensors stop the lift. When students are playing, a ball may roll underneath the lift. The student may not even consider the danger when they run after the ball and go underneath the lift. Accordion skirting and sensors help prevent accidents from occurring.
When schools are shopping for lifts, they should find one that is quiet. If a lift is loud, it can disrupt presentations and cause embarrassment to the student who is using the lift.
Another advantage to Ascension lifts is how easy they are to set up. It takes only one person to move the lift. Within a few minutes, the lift can be moved into place. There is a swivel wheel located at each corner of the lift. These lifts are balanced and easy to transport from one area to another area. When the lift is in place and ready to be used, the wheels can be popped off by hand, which alleviates the need for tools. Braun is another company specializing in lifts. They offer several options for wheelchair lifts for buses. The lift should be chosen based on the floor to ground height and platform size needed.
When revisions to the ADA were made in 2010, a rule was enacted that stated all school playgrounds must be accessible to disabled students by March of 2012. Playworld Systems Inc and several other companies design playgrounds that are accessible to students with mobility impairments and cognitive impairments. These playgrounds offer different levels of challenge for students.
The playground systems have different levels of difficulties. For example, level one of the playground is not very challenging while level four is extremely challenging. To helps students with disabilities interact with students with no disability, Playworld recommends placing a level one product like an accessible slide beside a more challenging piece of playground equipment like a concave climbing area.
Playworld believes children can have fun playing together when they have activities that match their unique level of mobility.
There are even products that combine multiple levels of challenges in one piece of equipment. For example, the AeroGlider is a rocker that has two large seats that face inward. This combination allows two students in wheelchairs to ride with several students that are not disabled. The Triumph Climber is another example of combining different levels of challenges into one structure. This piece of playground equipment companies a level one and a level three climbing challenges into one piece of equipment.
Removing Learning Barriers
In addition to mobility disabilities, schools must provide accessibility to students with learning disabilities. Learning Ally’s vice president of education solutions states that more teacher should be educated on learning disabilities and how to diagnose any issues. Learning Ally distributes audio books for students who are vision impaired or reading impaired. Approximately 20 percent of students have some type of printed-word disability. However, only 5 percent are actually diagnosed with an impairment.
Increasing the number of official diagnoses means that students with reading or sight impairment can receive help from their schools.
The Chafee Amendment helps companies, like Learning Ally, give access to students suffering from learning disabilities. This law was first enacted in 1996. It stated that companies are not required to pay royalties on copyrighted materials and books when they are making them accessible to students with disabilities.
This law has made content not previously available to students suffering from blindness or dyslexia available in the school system