Whether in middle school, high school, or college, students experience a lot of stress on a day-to-day basis as they try to keep up with their classwork. Students with limited mobility face additional obstacles on a daily basis. However, when it’s their reality, students are often able to overcome many of the challenges that are thrown their way.
Yet, students with disabilities have the full protection of the law in order to get a fair chance at an education that is equal to that of their peers. Although schools at any level should recognize the needs of students with disabilities, some things can slip through the cracks or become ignored until someone points out that some students require more time or accommodations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) exists to protect the rights of all people with disabilities and to ensure that everyone is given the same opportunities, whether at school, in the workplace, or throughout any type of commercial or community space. If ever a circumstance arises in which students who use assistive devices are not receiving the same treatment or opportunities as their peers, the ADA, as well as other legislation, can be used to remedy the situation.
Current Legal Protections
Some of the most basic laws established to help protect students are ensure accessibility in any given area. No matter the size or quality of the school, all schools are required to provide access to every area of the school to students with disabilities — even if they are unlikely to use the space. If this can’t be done, students must be accommodated with a similar accessible opportunity.
This means wheelchair-accessible ramps must be positioned in all buildings across a campus in order for students to easily go to and from each classroom. These must follow certain specifications, such as a 1:12 slope, that provides an incline steady enough to climb in a wheelchair. Even older buildings that were not constructed with accessibility in mind are often required to build in ramps if it is at all feasible.
Wheelchair-accessible buildings are a very basic standard for schools. Although able-bodied students may not notice the prevalence of ramp entrances to buildings, they are almost everywhere. However, this is only one of many accommodations that students with disabilities might need in the course of their school years.
Getting to class on time is often easier in middle or high school where most classrooms are in the same building. However, in larger communities, where middle school and high school campuses are large and class times are consecutive, teachers must accommodate students with disabilities who can’t make it to class right on time. This can happen by either waiting a few extra minutes to start class, or by working one-on-one with the student and her paraprofessional if she is provided with one.
On college and university campuses, however, this can be even more difficult. These campuses can stretch for miles from one end to the other, and although students with limited mobility often take this into consideration and don’t schedule their classes consecutively, this is not always possible. Therefore, college professors must be understanding as these students may have distance or elevator-related delays that make them late, and be accommodating.
Another potential accommodation can be that of a classroom setting. Although college lecture halls often allow students with assistive devices to simply sit down at the front or in the back of a classroom, some science or film classes that involve labs might not be quite so simple. Students may need tables that offer under-counter knee clearance and accessible work and countertop heights. However, this will likely vary depending on the class and student and is best handled on an individual basis.
Physical education subjects like kinesiology are hugely important for students who may not otherwise receive a lot of physical activity throughout the day; and these classes can almost always be modified for all students to participate. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school teachers and administrators are required to modify their instruction in physical education to accommodate students.
Equal and Accessible Education
While the importance of equal and accessible education is undeniable, last year, the Department of Education announced it would be rescinding guidance documents that outline the rights of students with disabilities under the IDEA. Although this does not change or take away any of the rights for disabled students, the rescission was received with concern by disability advocacy groups.
Yet another federal change may actually benefit some students. In 2018, the Trump administration reclassified hemp as a crop to be managed under the Department of Agriculture. Depending on state laws, this reclassification now makes it legal for students who use CBD for anxiety or chronic pain to do so at school without risk of penalty. This privilege also extends beyond students and to any person in public setting.
Students with disabilities defy odds every day, and although they often make do without accommodations, they have every right to any educational modification they need. There are legal protections in place to help protect all students and give them opportunities to get fair and equal education alongside their peers.
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