Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, most New York City elementary schools are not fully accessible to children with physical disabilities, according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a Dec. 21 letter to the nation’s largest school district, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said 83 percent of city public schools have problems such as nonaccessible entrances, playgrounds that lack handrails or have steep ramps, or bathrooms that can only be accessed by stairs. Six of the 32 elementary districts within the New York system don’t have a single school that is fully accessible, according to the research—an oversight that affects 50,000 children. From the letter:
The result is that children with disabilities and their families are being deprived of the countless meaningful and tangible benefits of being part of their own local school communities, including full and easy participation in after-school and extracurricular activities; attendance without hardship at parent-teacher conferences; reasonable commutes that don't unduly interfere with study, homework, and family time; and natural bonds of friendship and community developed with neighborhood children through playdates and school activities.
The findings are the result of a two-year investigation, Bharara wrote. And the problem is not just limited to older schools. In one school, an elevator installed in 2000—12 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilties Act—does not meet federal standards for accessibility. “The City’s failure to consider the needs of individuals with disabilities when upgrading and renovating its existing facilities is inexcusable,” the letter said. “The city also has failed to make basic, relatively low-cost fixes to its facilities that would help make the schools more accessible.”
The report noted that one family visited their child’s school several times each school day to carry her up and down the stairs, rather than require the child to go through a long commute to an accessible school.
Bharara directed the city to respond to the letter within 30 days. In a statement to the New York Times, schools spokesman Harry Hartfield said district officials are reviewing the letter.
“Our 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 told the Times.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.