The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 to ensure accessibility for all to institutional and commercial facilities, but for many, the struggle to access facilities goes on. Consider the case of Nathan Leber, a Minnesota seventh grader who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
While the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to meet students’ special needs at no cost to the families, the law does not apply to privately funded schools, and many of them turn away special-needs students.
Leber had been turned down by nine Catholic K-8 schools because they did not have elevators, his mother, Lisa Datta, told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Datta finally found a solution when she visited St. Thomas More Catholic School in St. Paul and met first-year principal Pat Lofton.
Last school year, Nathan was the only student in a wheelchair of nearly 300 students at St. Thomas More. Facilities manager Tom Kohler worked to make it possible for Leber to attend.
Although the school’s elevator is old and does not always work properly, Lofton immediately told Datta that Nathan could enroll. Lofton says St. Thomas More already was accessible, but staff had to make minor adjustments.
For example, the door that is accessible to wheelchairs has to be unlocked before Nathan gets to school. Once when the elevator did not work, two staff members carried Nathan down the stairs. Lofton says it is more difficult for other Catholic schools to take in students like Nathan because they have facilities issues.
“But obstacles are mind-sets,” Lofton says.
In June, Lofton, Kohler and administrative assistant Laurie Barrett accepted a Dandy Award from the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion.
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