Student speaks out about school accessibility issues

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The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines the term “disability” as someone who experiences a physical or mental condition limiting their ability to perform a major activity. When someone is discriminated against for having, having had, or being perceived as having a disability, it can be more accurately defined as “ableism.”

Thirty years ago, the ADA was heralded as a landmark step for accessibility in public spaces. Not only were businesses forced to provide reasonable accommodations for their disabled employees, but all public spaces – including schools – were mandated to remove architectural barriers for disabled citizens.

However, Title III of the ADA states that public facilities must update their architecture only if said updates are “easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense”, allowing certain facilities to go years without updating their architecture.

Until that day comes for Lincoln, students like Gehrig Baur are forced to make do. For Baur, who uses a wheelchair, tasks as mundane as going from the ceramics classroom to the library prove difficult without the option of mobility. There is only one elevator in the Lincoln building; additionally, not all the staircases outside have ramps next to them. 

“[Lincoln] is not always easy to navigate in a wheelchair,” states Baur. “It’s just not wheelchair-friendly.” Baur says that little things, such as teachers having a spot for her wheelchair in classrooms, can make her life a lot easier.

Baur was unable to attend a recent biology field trip due to her disability, and was asked to make it up on her own time to maintain her grade.

“I wish there was an alternative assignment for me instead of having to make up the assignment from the field trip on my own time,” said Baur.

Baur has two tips for students who would like to help their peers with disabilities. First, always ask if they need help rather than assuming they do. Every student is different and may need help in different ways. This will ensure the student is not uncomfortable with any actions taken that are perceived to be helpful. Second, avoid making them uncomfortable by not asking what their disability is. This is personal information that someone may not want to share with a stranger or acquaintance.

Principal Peyton Chapman acknowledges the current challenges students face and assures that accommodations will be made in the new building. 

“The current barriers to full accessibility have informed our planning for the new school,” said Chapman, “which will be 100 percent accessible and in compliance with ADA requirements.”

In the meantime, students struggling with a lack of accessibility will be forced to work harder to achieve an equitable education.