The Seattle School District is systematically updating play areas to include modern, fitness-inspired equipment that welcomes all comers, from the finicky adolescent to the student with special needs and even parents catching up after school hours. The concept of play area as community gathering space has long been part of the district’s philosophy, explains Gretchen DeDecker, Self Help Projects program manager for the 100-school district.
Products such as automatic doors, mechanical lifts, and low, touchless trough sinks increase accessibility in schools. Design elements can also increase accessibility beyond ADA requirements, says Karen Braitmayer, an accessibility consultant.
“A big trend right now is school buildings that have a clarity of organization,” she says. “Good wayfinding is useful to students with cognitive, hearing, and sight impairments.”
Districts need to train teachers and paraprofessionals on assisting students with disabilities without injuring themselves or the student. Part of that training must include being aware of every students’ specific needs, says Kathy Espinoza, assistant vice president, ergonomics and safety for Keenan, an insurance brokerage firm.