Designing Inclusive Environments
by JIM VANDERKOLK
Director of Operations
Rockford Public Schools
My daughter is finishing her masters degree in occupational therapy and presented me with a challenge (as my daughters frequently do): to assess the accessibility of Rockford High School from a wheel chair. So, I did.
I navigated through the empty halls. Even though the school meets requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a few challenges are still there, especially with my lack of skill in a wheelchair. Entering various rooms, hallways and athletic fields, trying to get into the art hallway, navigating the elevator, and accessing the football stadium are all tricky maneuvers. I could only imagine what it would be like if I were trying to traverse a busy school full of students, employees and parents.
Rockford has always made accessibility a priority. New projects and existing facilities all must meet specific requirements. Continuously evaluated for accessibility in order to develop the least restrictive environment for all.
When planning new projects we must consider those who will be using them. For example, a visually impaired individual can locate and access a restroom, classrooms are available for an individual in a wheelchair, and athletic facilities manageable for someone with an orthopedic condition, among many other scenarios.
Spending an afternoon in a wheelchair was a unique perspective, to say the least. Our existing facilities should strive for absolute inclusion. It is our responsibility to make accessibility for all a reality. The team component and a district-wide effort to remove hallway and classroom obstacles would improve the flow.
Our continued goal is to provide the best possible environment for students, staff and the community. This requires a vigilant awareness of accessibility above and beyond the requirements. Spending time in the facilities with alertness to potential barriers to individuals with special needs will improve our own awareness and ways to improve Rockford Public Schools.