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  • NYC needs fully accessible schools. Families like mine depend on it.

    Jan 26, 2024

    Courtesy of Michelle Noris

    Chalkbeat – Josh and I were excited, planning for a child. I was not a happy pregnant person, but at each appointment, I was assured that the baby was growing well. Each sonogram declared he was “perfect.” After an uneventful full-term birth, our son Abey was born 8 pounds, 8 ounces. Within four months we knew he had challenges. At a year old, Abey did not sit, eat, grab a toy, or look at my face.

    We had not planned for Abey’s disabilities, but in the months and years that followed, we became well-versed in therapies, doctor’s appointments, feeding tubes, seizure medications, and wheelchairs. By the time Abey was ready for kindergarten, we realized that our school system had not planned for his disabilities either.

    Abey was born 13 years to the day after the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was signed into law. When we started looking at kindergartens, we found that the school across the street was not accessible. Neither were any of the schools within walking distance from our Queens home. He would need to be bused to another neighborhood.

    When I realized that New York City’s public schools were woefully behind in ADA compliance, I set about understanding why. As with many problems, the root was money. The first time I looked at the accessibility of our schools, back in 2018, only about 18% of city public schools were fully accessible, according to the group Advocates for Children.

    To continue toward a school system that is inclusive and compliant with federal law, Advocates for Children asked the city to allocate $1.25 billion for accessibility in the next budget cycle, which runs 2025-29. But this time around, the city has plans to spend only about two-thirds of that, $800 million, for accessibility. It may be tempting to point to New York City’s current financial strains and say, “We cannot afford that now; we will do it later.” I say that it has been more than 33 years since the ADA was passed, and we are catching up on work that should have been completed years ago.