Making Schools More Accessible for Students Living with Disabilities

There are many things that increase disability accessibility in schools, such as touchless sinks, mechanical lifts, and automatic doors. These items increase accessibility for all beyond the requirements set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

All of these design elements help students with hearing, sight and cognitive impairments be able to enjoy their school much more.

These designs help students identify different wings of the school by using colors, textures and plenty of light. No plants are tall poles block the line of sight to other areas in the school. Halls flow into common areas, such as cafeterias or gyms. bathrooms are designed so a student and an aide can fit in comfortably. Finally, as few doors as possible is used.

The goal is to ensure the entire building is accessible. School districts whose budgets are limited can hire a consultant to help ensure new building and renovations are accessible and ADA compliant.

One thing that most people do not realize is the entire building does not need to meet ADA regulations. For example, if a school has a science lab on the first floor that is accessible, it can have science labs on other floors or areas that are not accessible. ADA Accessibility consultants have the knowledge to help guide school official through the ADA requirements to help save money and stretch their renovation or building dollars.

What is the History Surrounding Accessibility Laws?

It is important to understand how accessibility laws can affect a school district when it is renovating or building a new school. These federal laws are there to ensure people suffering from disabilities can receive an education. The laws concerning accessibility are exacting to ensure that each student, regardless of their disability, gets the same education as someone without a disability.

Since 1968, three separate and distinct laws have been passed to protect people with disabilities; however, it wasn’t until 1990 that laws were in placed to provide all students with an equal opportunity.


There are many resources that schools can use to ensure they are compliant with the federal laws concerning disabilities. These resources include AT Kid Systems, the Braun Corporation, American Printing House for the Blind, Learning ally, Ascension, Playworld Systems Incorporated and LIFT-U.

The Architectural Barriers Act, abbreviated ABA, was passed in 1968. This Act stated that all new construction build with federal monies must meet the current federal standards and laws concerning physical accessibility.

Today, the standards include that classrooms have wheelchair accessible seating. Additionally, the school must have accessible bathrooms. These bathrooms should have toilets that are shorter than 17 inches and the area must be at least five feet wide and five feet long.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited programs (including schools) from any type of discrimination if they are receiving federal funds. For example, schools must provide Braille textbooks for any student with a vision impairment; otherwise, it is considered discrimination. Additionally, not providing a route to a stage or any other type of extracurricular activity for wheelchair-bound individuals is also considered discrimination.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975, requires that every public school provide an appropriate, free public education to all students with or without a disability in an environment that supports their individual needs. However, neither this act or the Rehabilitation Act covered the school buildings. School districts were not required to alter any existing schools in order to accommodate disabled students.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, schools must be designed in such a way to ensure that all staff and students have access to all the services offered by the school. Any design element, such as a door that is too narrow to allow wheelchairs from passing through is expressly prohibited.

Buildings that were constructed before 1990 are not exempt. This means that all facilities that did not meet the standards had to be retrofitted to ensure they were up to the codes established by the ADA.

This meant that a number of common barriers had to be addressed. For example, students and staff must have an accessible route to the different floors in the school. All bathrooms must be accessible. There must be an accessible route onto stages and all doors that were difficult to open or had heavy closing force must be removed and changed.

Additionally, no classroom can have furnishings that prevent students from freely moving around if they are using a mobility device.

desks must be able to be adjusted for students with mobility issues and shelves and coat hooks must be able to be reached by students in wheelchairs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureaus data collected in 2010, approximately 5 percent of American students enrolled in school suffer some type of disability, and 1 percent of these students have some type of ambulatory difficulty. A portable and compact lift like LIFT-U helps assist students and faculty members who have difficulty climbing stairs. This option may also be a better option for stages and raised platforms. With this type of lift, no space consuming ramps are needed.

According to a sales manager at ascension, the best type of lifts are those that can be easily operated by students. In order to use the Ascension lift, the student only needs to push one button. This allows students a sense of independence and can help improve disabled students’ self-esteem. Additionally, only students with extreme mobility impairments will require assistance to push the button on the lift. This can help decrease the number of additional staff members needed for mobility impaired students.