Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Accessibility Gaining Traction in Burlington?

Accessibility in Burlington's public schools may be gaining traction, as I reported in Seven Days last week in the newspaper's print run and in its staff blog, Blurt. More than 50 people attended a meeting of a Burlington school board infrastructure committee to give their support toward making the Edmunds school complex accessible to people with disabilities. This is a story that affects the whole community, not just the handful of students in wheelchairs. As one person said to me in an interview, accessibility is something everyone will have to deal with -- as we age, as we cope with friends and relatives with disabilities, or if we get injured.

What was interesting about the meeting was that the committee heard comments from two disability advocates who gave their opinions that the school district is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act by shipping disabled students to other schools. The school district has maintained it's in compliance with the law because it offers equivalent educational programs at other town schools. I wonder about how the law applies with issues such as teacher hiring, to throw out another problem: a disabled teacher wouldn't be able to work at Edmunds because of its obstacles (stairs, no elevators.)

At a meeting last Monday, May 4, the school board finance committee received a feasibility report for installing an elevator at Edmunds. The cost: $1.5 million and change. This would be the first step in retooling the entire complex, which includes the elementary school and two gyms. A bit of humor in the meeting: the architect's plan labeled one of the bathrooms "ADA Complaint." The finance committee members got a chuckle out of that typo.

Next up: a phased report with steps for making the entire complex ADA-compliant. It should be done in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!