Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WCAX: Burlington school finally handicapped-accessible

Burlington School Finally Handicap Accessible
Burlington, Vermont - January 19, 2011

Burlington's oldest school is finally starting to look a little more modern.

Parents, teachers, and students cut the ribbon Wednesday on a brand new $500,000 state-of-the-art elevator at the Edmunds School.

There have been people working to get an elevator in Edmunds for decades. And no parent was happier about the new addition than Michael Wood-Lewis. His son Ben currently attends fifth-grade at Champlain Elementary. Without an elevator, he wouldn't be able to move on to middle school at Edmunds next year with many of his fellow classmates.

"I don't think there have been any students to attend Edmunds who use a wheelchair simply because they couldn't. There have been plenty of candidates but they've all been sent elsewhere," Michael Wood-Lewis said.

Accessibility for disabled students is a problem perplexing many of Vermont's schools. Only one new school has been built in the past decade and more than half are at least 40 years old, built before requirements for handicapped accessibility. That means most are in need of improvements.

The Vermont Center for Independent Living fields complaints about school accessibility on a regular basis.

"I think generally people look at the main bathrooms or the main entrance, but maybe the second floor isn't accessible to everybody or the staging area for the theater isn't accessible to everybody," said Sarah Launderville of VCIL.

Schools must meet requirements outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but many resort to creative measures in order to do so, like bringing in stair lifts instead of installing expensive elevators or moving classes downstairs to accommodate disabled students.

In the case of Edmunds, disabled students were simply sent elsewhere in the district.

But there are signs of progress, especially recently. According to the Vermont Education Department, upwards of 20 schools have taken advantage of federal stimulus funds to make major accessibility upgrades to schools.

"School budgets are so strapped that when stimulus money came in it was one area where they could really expand and make improvements," Launderville said.

And for families like Ben's-- that's encouraging news. Families that just want to see their children made a part of the classroom community in every way possible.

"It's the daily lottery to see who gets to ride in the elevator with Ben," Michael Wood-Lewis said. "It's really about accessibility and inclusion."

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

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