An Open Letter to the “Able-Bodied” World: The ADA and The Importance of Handicap Accessibility in Schools

Today’s society is filled with a diverse population, and the world must be equipped for this diversity.

Today’s society is filled with a diverse population, and the world must be equipped for this diversity.

Morgan Champion, Poetry Editor

Dear “Able-Bodied” World,

According to the world bank, 15% of our population experiences some form of disability, and while this does not seem like much compared to the whopping seven billion humans who inhabit the Earth, 15% is roughly one billion people or a thousand millions of people. Therefore, according to the world bank, ten million hundreds of people live with some form of disability—whether it be physical, mental or both. The crazy thing to me though is not the number of people effected, but the number of places that are not fit for the significant number of those effected.

In today’s society, whether or whether not a place is accommodated for these particular 15 million people is determined by ADA guidelines, which monitor the accessibility of any federally funded institution, such as schools, parks and museums. In order to continue to obtain money from the government, any public institution must follow these guidelines; however, they do not apply to the many places that are not federally funded, such as churches, private schools and small businesses. Furthermore, under some circumstances, historical monuments can be an exception, as “title II of the ADA requires that a public entity make its programs accessible to people with disabilities, not necessarily each facility or part of a facility.” These guidelines seem to be okay—until you are forced to walk a few miles to find a handicap accessible bathroom or are locked out of an attraction at a theme park because there is not an automatic door.

So, dear “Able-Bodied” World, I am not writing this letter to criticize the ADA, nor to point out your ignorance to the subject of handicap accessibility, but I am simply writing this letter for education because if places like churches or historical monuments are not fit for the 15 million people who live with disabilities, then what about schools?

While all public schools meet the minimum requirements of the ADA, most of the time, it is not enough, as different children have different needs. For example, one of these specifications includes an elevator shaft; however, a working elevator is not required. Therefore, if a student needed an elevator in a building that did not have one, she would be lost.

How do administrators, teachers and superintendents expect all of their students to have equal opportunities when their schools are only fit, at best, for the average child? Throughout my time on this earth, I’ve come across multiple instances of both public and private school systems’ failure to comply with not only the ADA, but also with the needs of a diverse student body, including with the needs of students with disabilities. However, while these issues may exist, there is an easy answer that will satisfy everyone, rather than just the one student affected. Whether or not a particular institution is willing to consider these solutions depends entirely on the severity of the case and on a child’s individual needs, but the fact stands—in order to successfully offer equal education opportunities for everyone, handicap accessibility is vital.