An Accessible Community


This ramp in the first floor hallway at CHS was added in compliance with ADA requirements.

The building that houses CHS is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.  For a century, our building has been serving the community, opening its doors to students and visitors and providing a welcoming space.  As we reach such an important milestone as a 100th birthday we have to ask, “How can we continue opening our doors?  How can we be accessible?”

In order for our building to truly welcome everyone it must be accessible — specifically to those with disabilities. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 ensures that our school meets a certain standard.  The ADA requires public schools to meet requirements in regard to programming and building codes: door width, ramp incline, automated door openers, etc.  Related to ADA compliance, there is an idea circulating called “better than code.”  The ADA is outdated and its enforcement is inconsistent, causing those with disabilities to face many challenges.  Older buildings could add a ramp to meet those codes, but there might be stairs at the top.  There could be automated door openers to meet the code, but they might not work.  It is important that we are not just checking a box and instead considering how to be “better than code.” And although CHS is ADA-compliant, our school must continue working to improve its accessibility.  

Marci Tuzinsky, CHS dean, is making a conscious effort to increase our school’s accessibility.  In the time that Tuzinsky has been working at the school, many changes have been made. For example in 2018, when N. Fifth Avenue was being redone, CHS wanted to be more thoughtful about how wheelchair users get to the building.  They seized the opportunity of the construction project to add a path from Kerrytown directly to CHS so that wheelchair users don’t have to take a longer path.  When the garden was being installed, the school opted for raised garden beds and placed them wide enough apart so that wheelchair users could participate in planting projects.  And the work does not stop there. Tuzinsky hopes that every month and every year, our school becomes more and more accessible.  

Despite these improvements, we cannot pretend that our school is 100% perfect. 

There have been many thoughtful additions to the school.  We have a lift for wheelchair users to get down to the gym, automatic door openers outside the bathrooms, wheelchair-accessible stalls, curb ramps and braille on the signs.  Beyond these additions, there are plans to push us in the direction of an even more accessible future. There are plans to install a new fire alarm system that will not only have a sound but a flashing light so that those that cannot hear can be alerted.  There are also plans to install a new elevator system this summer.    

Despite these improvements, we cannot pretend that our school is 100% perfect.  The CHS building is old and does not have the same features that a newly renovated building would have. There are many staircases, small platforms, side passages and non-functioning door-openers. The reality is that we are not perfect and that students and visitors might still face challenges in our building. It is important that we recognize it and continue to improve. 

To keep our school up to code, if not “better than code,” students need to be advocates. If you see something that could be improved in the building, then you can work alongside Dean Marci to address it. Tuzinsky welcomes all students to share their ideas.  

“A couple years ago we had two students that used wheelchairs in the same year,”  Tuzinsky said.  “They were great advocates and pointed out things that needed to be fixed.  Students should look out for one another, [and] advocate for each other.”

It is incredibly important that our school continues to prioritize accessibility.  Making sure that we have the right accommodations for those with disabilities is what allows us to be a true community.  Accessible equipment is necessary for current students, staff and visitors and the future of CHS hoping to join us.  And as we move forward we must keep making thoughtful improvements, not just checking a box.  With each milestone, we should hope for 100 more years of accessibility.