This year, Nazarena Acosta-Miranda went to middle school for the first time. For many young people her age, going to middle school, where classes change every hour and hallways are bustling thoroughfares of activity, can be an intimidating transition. For Nazarena, a sixth grader at Clague Middle School in Ann Arbor, the move was especially challenging. Nazrena, who is blind, had to memorize where each of her classes were and learn how to navigate the school on her own.
To help Nazarena get around more easily, the school installed Braille signage along all hallways, pointing the way to classrooms, bathrooms, the music room, and the cafeteria. “The signs are helpful. They help me find my way when I get lost,” Nazarena said.
The Braille signage was part of a broader initiative of Ann Arbor Public Schools’ (AAPS) over the past two years to implement changes at buildings and facilities to make them more accessible for students and constituents with disabilities. Ann Arbor CIL staff member Carolyn Grawi has served as a consultant to the initiative and provided advice on universal design and disability accessibility. As result of the work, all public schools in Ann Arbor now have accessible entries at every building, appropriate and accessible parking, at least one accessible men’s and women’s bathroom on every floor, and user-assessed ramps and curb cuts. AAPS is also updating its website to provide information on accessible entrances for its users.
The work is making an impact. Katy LaCroix, a fourth grade teacher at Logan Elementary, says the microphones and speakers that were installed in every classroom to aid students who are hard of hearing have benefited everyone, both with and without disabilities. “With the microphones, all of my students can hear the instruction better, and students are paying better attention to their lessons. As a teacher, I am also finding that I don’t strain my voice as much during the work day,” Katy said. “The microphones have improved the classroom experience for all involved.”
The microphones are not the only feature that is benefiting people both with and without disabilities. Motion-sensitive light switches that were installed to assist individuals with mobility impairments are resulting in reduced energy costs for the entire school system, because the lights turn off automatically when a room is not occupied.
In addition, ramps installed at the Skyline football stadium are providing easier access to games for students, families, and football fans who use wheelchairs. “It’s an excellent ramp,” said Benjamin Graham, a counselor at Skyline High School. “I’ve used it at games and noticed how gradual it is. A lot of ramps are so steep that individuals in wheelchairs cannot safely use them without help. This ramp is very well-designed. Just about anyone in any wheelchair would have an easy time using it.” The ramps installed at the football stadium are serving as a model for other schools and architects to follow due to their innovative design and the choice of upper and lower-level seating they offer to users.
“Making sure our facilities are truly accessible is important to us,” said Dr. Todd Roberts, Superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools. “In order to make sure that every child has access to the education we’re providing, we need to ensure that every child, parent, and grand-parent who comes to our schools can use our facilities.”
Randy Trent, Executive Director for Physical Properties, said that working with the CIL really helped him make things better by seeing things from the standpoints of all users: “At the schools, when accessibility issues come up, it’s often in the context of one problem for one child. With the CIL, we discussed experiences faced by everyone, from kids, parents and grandparents to community members. Carolyn helped us understand that accessibility is not about just meeting a standard, it’s about doing what works better for everyone.”
Carolyn continues to work with the school system to review plans and consult on accessibility issues of facilities and programming. She brings expert-level knowledge to the work, having completed a variety of advanced ADA compliance and accessibility training programs. Staff members at the CIL regularly consult with private businesses and units of government on accessibility, universal design, and ADA compliance issues.
Two ramps constructed at Skyline High School’s football stadium are enabling fans using wheelchairs easy access to both upper-level and lower-level seating.
Microphones and speakers installed in every AAPS classroom are enabling students who are hard of hearing to hear classroom instruction better. Teachers are finding that all students are benefiting from the amplified sound.
Nazarena Acosta uses new Braille signs to get around Clague Middle School.