Accessibility and Schools Making the Grade

September 9, 2020

by Jason Angel

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in June on the accessibility of schools in districts from around the country.  The GAO found “that two-thirds of public school districts have schools with physical barriers that may limit access for people with disabilities.”

Between August and October 2019, the GAO examined facilities for physical accessibility issues in 55 districts from around the country. Through observations and interviews, researchers established that districts need formal guidance from government agencies to improve access.  The guidance would be helpful to the 70% of schools, planning improvements to their schools, which include major renovations and minor upgrades.

Barriers to accessibility were commonly found in three areas: restrooms, interior doorways, and classrooms. Furthermore, with the increase in school shootings, school districts are required to implement several security measures. Many of these measures created a barrier to access. For example, schools with double-door entrance vestibules could trap people who use wheelchairs because of limited maneuvering space.

To better address accessibility, the GAO found that schools need guidance on accessibility as it directly relates to school facilities. Their recommendation was that the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education should collaborate to provide clarity on required accessibility for schools. The guidance should reconcile the design standards of accessibility with security requirements.

The report provides detailed research on the accessibility of schools; however, with the current pandemic, there may be more pressing issues to examine with regard to accessibility. It may be more important to prioritize addressing the challenges of the virtual learning environments. Issues around effective communication, assistive technologies, and access to technology may be limiting factors to an equitable education.

To read the report, click School Districts Need Better Information to Help Improve Access for People with Disabilities.

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