The largest school district in the nation has an unacceptably low number of buildings that are accessible for students with disabilities. Only 335 of New York City’s 1,818 schools are fully accessible.
Accessibility is about more than just an outdoor ramp. It also means having a lift or elevator to all floors and rooms, with doors wide enough for a student in a wheelchair to enter and exit, and having bathrooms equipped and located to accommodate the needs of a disabled student on every floor.
The city defines a fully accessible school as one that allows “an individual with mobility impairment [to] enter and access all relevant programs and services, including the science laboratory, the library, the cafeteria and the gymnasium.” Partially accessible schools, which number 608 in New York City, may have floors with some barriers to access or just one accessible bathroom on the ground floor.
Given the age of our school buildings, it comes as no surprise that so few are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which enshrined in law the rights of people with disabilities. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza heeded the call of advocates when he proposed a $750 million plan in early November to make sure our schools are welcoming to disabled students. It’s a significant increase from the measly $150 million the city committed to in the last budget cycle for building upgrades to make schools accessible.
Mayor de Blasio has come up with a sensible plan in the interim: Starting in the fall of 2019, students with accessibility needs in all grades will receive priority enrollment at schools that are located in fully or partially accessible buildings. Students who are recommended for specialized transportation will receive door-to-door busing to the school they are offered, regardless of whether it is their zoned school.
Much more needs to be done, but the mayor’s plan is a good first step toward fulfilling the promise of access, inclusion and school choice for students with disabilities that their nondisabled peers take for granted.