Wednesday, August 5, 2009

accessibility recap

We had our meeting Monday at the elementary school with the vice principal and the director of special ed. We had some immediate concerns to be addressed by the start of the school year:
  • easy parking and access to the building
  • accessibility to the playground and a bucket swing
It seems like our immediate concerns will definitely be met, which is great news. Plans are already in place to install a pathway of mats to the playground structure so Hannah can wheel her walker up to it, a bucket swing has been purchased, and they're going to order a sand table that she can stand at as opposed to sitting in the sandbox which is more difficult. All good stuff. We also figured out a drop-off time in the morning that should give me unimpeded access to the handicapped parking spot in front of the building and a key for the elevator so we don't have to count on someone being there to unlock and operate it for us. Also good.

But...(you knew there would be one, right?)

While these solutions will help in the short term, we are also interested in seeing more long range goals being met as well as the fostering of an "accessibility mindset" in any future projects the school undertakes. Changes that will benefit not just Hannah but other kids that come through the school in the future, or parents/grandparents/teachers, etc. that might also have mobility challenges. And although the two administrators nodded and murmured lots of affirmations that indicated they got that, several of the things they said told us otherwise.

For instance, the vice principal asked how long Hannah would be using a walker and if she would some day be using crutches or be walking independently. Read: "She won't need this kind of help long term, right?" B was quick to say that while we hope she will be able to transition to crutches at some point, we don't know anything for sure and also, this is not just about Hannah. These changes need to be made permanent, for everyone's benefit, not just hers.

Then the special ed director, when talking about the mats that were going to be put down around the playground, said, "What's great about these mats is that when Hannah moves to the bigger playground, the mats can move with her." Um, yeah. But again, what about a more permanent solution that can remain in place for all kids.

It also became clear that, either through cluelessness or gross negligence, the school does not have any kind of significant accessibility plan in place or way to address these issues. The playground was recently upgraded, in the past few years or so, and the special ed director admitted, "I'm not really sure why any of these accessibility issues were not taken into consideration when this was done." Good question, especially seeing as it's THE LAW.

Having not had any kind of experience with these types of issues and how they are typically handled in a school, I can't say whether or not this is an anomoly or if most schools try to just skate by on some of this until someone (usually an already overwhelmed parent) starts to raise concerns. But I can say that I'm really disappointed. I'm the kind of person who believes people want to do the right thing and tries to give people the benefit of the doubt. But it's clear to me that the folks we met with, while eager to address our immediate concerns, are not quite as able to see the bigger picture here, the fact that our community is not well-served when it is not accessible, and that this is about so much more than Hannah's specific and somewhat simple needs.

So we're trying to figure out where to go from here. Right now, we'll see how they do with following up on the items they said they were going to address before school starts. We also discussed getting together again about 6 weeks into the school year, to see how things are going. At that point, if we can shake ourselves out of the newborn phase we'll no doubt be immersed in with #3, we will try to start moving the ball in the direction of a more permanent, long range accessibility plan.

I feel overwhelmed by the thought of taking this on but can't imagine just accepting what is offered to Hannah and leaving it at that. Our community, our kids deserve so much more.


Daddy said...


Melissa said...

I am so glad that they are agreeing to move quickly to help with Hannah's immediate needs, but geez! How can they be so ignorant about the big picture?? I applaud you for being willing to tackle this whole issue. There are other (more selfish) families who would just take what they could for their daughter and ignore the fact that the district needs an overall attitude shift toward more inclusive practices. Keep us updated!

Heather Furman said...

Well said! While it's likely that the school administrators haven't had a lot of experience with making their school accessible, I'm really surpised by what you describe. Adequate accessibility to the building? A way to get to and use the bathroom? Easy access to the playground? These things should be in place and seem like no-brainers. My guess is that you will be doing the educating here and the tables will be turned for them for a while. Go get'em.