Archived: NYC Schools Fail People with Disabilities

Following a two-year federal investigation completed last month, the U.S. Attorney’s office has found that more than eight of 10 of New York City’s public elementary schools are not “fully accessible” to people with disabilities.

Moreover, according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, “six of the city’s school districts, serving over 50,000 elementary school students, do not have a single school that is fully accessible to people with disabilities.”

“How can it be, 25 yrs after the ADA passed, 83% of NYC elem schools are NOT fully accessible to kids w/disabilities” Bharara tweeted.

In a Dec. 21 letter to the New York City Department of Education, Bharara said his investigation was “based on the city’s own statistics and characterizations of its schools,” adding: “Nowhere is it more important to tear down the barriers to equal access than with respect to the education of our children. But today, in New York City, 25 years after passage of the A.D.A., children with physical disabilities still do not have equal access to this most fundamental of rights.”

Bharara claims there are several families who have been forced to forego sending their child with disabilities to their neighborhood school due to inadequate accessibility.

In a comment to DiversityInc, Harry Hartfield, deputy press secretary for the New York City Department of Education, said the city’s “goal is to ensure that all our students have access to a high-quality education, and a student’s disability should never get in the way of their access to a great school.”

Hartfield added that $100 million has been set aside for accessibility projects as part ofthe School Construction Authority’s five-year capital plan, which is separate from the annual executive budget.

Beyond the legal ramifications, the lack of compliance with the 25-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act has put unnecessary burdens on families of students with disabilities.

“A parent of [an] elementary school child was forced to travel to the school multiple times a day, every school day, in order to carry her child up and down stairs to her classroom, to the cafeteria, and to other areas of the school in which classes and programs were held,” Bharara wrote in the 14-page letter.

Other consequences of the Education Department’s negligence include forcing children to travel inconvenient distances to and from school.

In just one school, located in the Bronx, Bharara cited over 50 violations ranging from having no access to the three higher floors due to lack of an elevator to doors being six inches narrower than required. In addition, the ADA states that 1 percent of fixed seating in an auditorium must be aisle seating with removable armrests, which this particular school does not have, further hindering access to events such as school assemblies and the like for students with disabilities.

Other violations revolved around cafeteria seating that did not allow for wheelchair space, meaning that students can’t get a wheelchair to fit and therefore cannot enjoy a key social aspect of school.

The city’s Department of Education has 30 days to respond to Bharara with “an outline and timeline of corrective actions that will remedy this unacceptable state of affairs.”

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