Submitted by Alan Gunzburg Chairman and Stephanie Cowie Vice-Chairman of the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities
It seems the buzz about town is the lack of ADA compliance in our public schools. The funny thing about this is those talking about ADA compliance don’t understand the history, or what it takes to be ADA compliant and simply believe an elevator here or a ramp there will solve the ADA compliance issue.
First the history, 1973 we passed a federal law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which guaranteed civil rights to all disabled people and required accommodations for disabled students in schools.
Then, in 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) guaranteed and enforced the right of children with disabilities to receive a free, appropriate education. This landmark law is currently enacted as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended in 1997 (the last century). In 1990 congress passed and President George Bush signed the Americans with Disability Act. This is the signature law that provides civil rights to Americans with disabilities.
Fast forward to 2009 First Selectman Peter Tesei established the First Selectmans’ Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities (FSAC4PwD).
Within the next few years the discussion on ADA and the necessity of the Town of Greenwich to provide access to Title II of the ADA became the nature of discussion.
Title II applies to State and local government entities, and, in subtitle A, protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and local government entities.
So everything was on the table from the physical building at Town Hall (where a new accessible bathroom was built on the main floor and the entrance was modified to include power doors) to redesigning the Town’s website.
We worked with the Greenwich Lions Club to increase access at Tod’s Point and with the Department of Parks to enhance parking at the Susie Baker Pavilion.
Additionally we worked with the Department of Public Works to study and build an accessibility rubric of the Town’s sidewalks. The FSAC4PwD with the Town’s ADA coordinator created policies like the Town’s ADA Grievance Policy and Accessible Communication Policy.
Now a look at Greenwich Public Schools. In 2017, the BOE commissioned a study called the Master Facilities Plan (MFP) to address updating, upgrading, and modernizing GPS buildings. Based on the MFP, three elementary school buildings have been identified, and will need to be remodeled to be compliant.
Additionally Havemeyer, the BOE headquarters, has many barriers that will require remodeling as well.
Also Cardinal Stadium is in the middle of a long overdue remodel which will bring accessible seating, accessible bathrooms and ADA parking. But the key thing to remember is, the answer isn’t just an elevation or a ramp that will achieve the goal of compliance. We need to inventory the online curriculum, the door widths, the bathrooms, the playgrounds, the lunchrooms, the gyms, the parking lots, and the auditoriums, to name a few things, to ensure those areas are accessible too. On top of that we need to continually monitor our schools programs, communications and websites to insure full accessibility as mandated by federal law.
That’s why we support a full inventory done building by building and floor by floor and room by room. A rubric to identify the scope of the problem, so we can fix the easy problems and plan for the bigger ones, is absolutely necessary.
For those of you who want to politicize public schools and their accessibility please remember this is the law not a political issue. Finally for those who look for quick inexpensive fixes and think there might be a faster path to solve this problem, remember that ADA compliance is lowest rung on the ladder of accessibility.
Alan Gunzburg Chairman FSAC4PwD
Stephanie Cowie Vice-Chairman FSAC4PwD