I went around in a wheelchair to test accessibility in GHS
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Have you ever noticed how many potholes are in the sidewalks around the school? Or how many doors are pull instead of push? I learned that you really don’t until you’re in a wheelchair. In December, I spent the day in a wheelchair to test the accessibility in Gloucester High School.
While I could get around in a wheelchair, it wasn’t easy. The biggest challenge for me personally was the fact that I start every day in the student parking lot. There are no doors in the back of the school (that are unlocked) that are wheelchair accessible. That meant that, with the help of a friend, I had to wheel from the back of the building all the way to the front.
At one point my friend had to start pushing me because we were going to be late to class- this is when I hit my first pothole. While the wheelchair stopped moving, I did not. I managed to stop myself from hitting the ground by putting my foot down and I’m lucky I was in a situation where I was able to do that. Others may not be so lucky.
From that point on, I rolled in zigzags to avoid a similar situation. At one point, while going up the ramp into the atrium, I rolled into the grass and had to be wheeled out- and all this happened before I even entered the building.
All of the doors I encountered also happened to be pull doors. While there were many nice passersby around me to help, if I was alone I’m not sure if I could have opened them.
At the end of the day, my arms hurt and I was glad to be out of the chair. However, others aren’t as lucky.
Sophomore Jemima Grow spent three weeks in a wheelchair last spring after breaking her left tibia in half during a softball game.
“The accessibility is really bad, there’s only one elevator that a wheelchair fits in and it’s broken,” said Grow. “It made me late for every class.”
The elevator in question is the one located in the science wing. While the elevator still moves up and down, it can take minutes for the elevator to actually show up to get inside. Once you’re inside, the doors have a history of closing half way then bouncing back open. It can take up to three or four tries to even get the doors to shut.
Grow also recounted other difficulties such as tight spaces in classrooms with too many desks and fitting through classroom doors.
“There wasn’t a lot of room in the classrooms and getting through the doors were a struggle because they’re so small,” said Grow.
While students in wheelchairs face many problems in the main part of the building, the vocational shop can lead to many new obstacles.
For those who wish to take carpentry shop, there are stairs leading up to the classroom. There is a lift to bring disabled students to the class, but according to teacher Jack Andrews, the lift has never worked since the day it was installed.
“In ten years I’ve seen four different companies come in and try to fix it. People have gotten it to go up but then it can’t go down and vise versa,” said Andrews. “It’s just like everything else. They got the cheapest thing.”
While Andrews has never had a student in a wheelchair in his 18 years of teaching, if he did he assumes he would have to build a ramp from outdoors into his class. If it’s raining or snowing, he hopes they would be able to put up a canopy.
“We have the technology, we just don’t have the compatibility for it,” said Andrews.
While Gloucester High School isn’t completely hopeless when it comes to wheelchair accessibility, it definitely has room to improve.