MCPS representative checks ADA compliance, repairs to follow


Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Rebecca Hirsh

An American Disabilities Act compliance surveyor inspected Whitman last week as part of a countywide check to ensure all schools follow the regulations of the law and are accessible to all disabled people. After three days of work, surveyor David Patnode reported complete compliance in all hallways, stairways and the courtyard. However, he found problems in the bathrooms dealing with space around toilets and sinks.

The 1990 ADA law prohibits ability-based discrimination by setting structural regulations for buildings to ensure accessibility. Regulations include standards for bathroom grab bar height, ramp slope and change in sidewalk altitude, as well as the removal of any tripping hazards.

The ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to require all schools to undergo compliance assessments, which is what prompted the MCPS study.

“A lot of people don’t take others’ disabilities into account when designing or even experiencing spaces,”  Patnode said. “It’s important to make everything universally equal and accessible.”

The special education classrooms have separate bathrooms that are compliant, so students rarely face issues, special education teacher Veronica Garner said.

Hired surveyors began assessing all schools in May and expect the evaluation process to take around two years to complete, project manager Jim Tokar said. The inspectors will prioritize schools built before the ADA’s passage.

“Those are the ones that probably have the greatest deficiency,” Tokar said. “Once we have evaluated the older schools and we understand what we have to do, then we will go back and recheck all of our more current designs to make sure they are compliant.”

Countywide repairs to address the most severe problems will be completed first, Tokar said. Some of the lesser-grade problems, such as the slope of ramps outside, may be addressed later.