By Tess McIntyre,
Staff and students believe improvements can be made to increase ease of access for students in wheelchairs.
One of the main problems is the elevators in the P and L buildings. For students who use wheelchairs, these elevators are necessary in order to get to second floor classrooms.
“I think the elevator of the L building needs improvements. Sometimes it gets stuck or will not open,” special education teacher Leticia Vasquez said.
Stephen Smyte, Department Chair of Special Education, has also experienced problems in the L building.
“The second floor rooms have elevators, but the library [elevator] doesn’t work sometimes which makes access more difficult,” Smyte said.
Junior Benjamin Bobell has had firsthand experience with barriers on campus, since he used to use a wheelchair.
“Our school is pretty good, but not amazing,” Bobell said. “The main areas one would go on the campus are well paved, have no stairs, and are flat. However, the area to the right of where the cafeteria would be has terribly cracked pavement.”
Bobell also stuggled with elevators.
“The other part that is hard to get to is the P wing and the L wing. One can only get there via an elevator that requires a key,” Bobell said.
The requirement for a key to access the elevators is inconvenient to students, Debra Covert, another teacher in the Special Education department, explained. She said that students need to call over a staff member with a key and wait for them to arrive before being able to use the lift, meaning students cannot spontaneously use elevators.
“Part of the problem is that the campus is old,” Covert said.
The DHS campus was built over half a century ago in 1961. This was a decade before laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires that U.S. public schools must provide for the special services that students in the special education program need, were enacted.
“The newer classrooms have better accessibility…the school was not designed for students in wheelchairs,” Smyte said.
Other than the faulty elevator, DHS has a few other issues.
“I don’t think we’re doing a good job providing accessibility to students in wheelchairs. For example the office and library do not have automatic activation switches to open the doors,” Covert said.
Vasquez can explain some of the reasons for this lack of accessibility.
“We have a hard time finding space that is inclusive in many classes around campus,” Vasquez said. “With the increase of student numbers in general ed courses, classes tend to get more compact and space is limited.”
However, Smyte believes that accessibility at DHS is “pretty good” and that the new student center will have accessible ramps. He also said that lifters have been installed in classrooms so students who use wheelchairs can be in any class.
Nonetheless, advocates for those who require wheelchairs believe the district could do more.
“They don’t tend to bring things up to code unless people are upset. [The school district] needs to be proactive instead of reactive,” Covert said. “Don’t just wait until people bring up these issues to make a change.”