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School Accessibility Gets $150 Million Boost in N.Y.C. Budget

For years, Brooklyn resident Rebecca Kostyuchenko and her family members have visited her daughter Jacqueline's school every day. They have to make that visit in order to carry Jacqueline, who has a mobility impairment, up and down stairs to classrooms, to the gymnasium, and to the cafeteria. Her neighborhood school is not accessible to children with certain physical disabilities, but her parents said it was important to them that she attend school with her neighborhood friends. 

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recounted that story during a recent announcement that the city is planning to spend $150 million of its $89 billion budget to pay for accessibility improvements in buildings throughout the one million-student district. 

"Listening to Rebecca testify to the city council about carrying her daughter up the stairs at P.S. 321 in Brooklyn ... proved to me that we have a long way to go, and that we have to act, and act now," Johnson said earlier this month. "She demanded in public what is reasonable and what is right: access to education for her daughter. You both deserve much more from us than what you're getting."

Back in 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice informed New York City that most of its elementary schools are not fully accessible to children with physical disabilities. The problems included, nonaccessible entrances, playgrounds without handrails or with steep ramps, and bathrooms and classrooms that can only be accessed using stairs. The $150 million, which will be allocated over the next three years, is not expected to fix all of those problems, but it will allow both major and minor improvements to schools throughout the city. 

"All sides agreed it's time to really time to tackle the issue," said Jaclyn Okin Barney, an attorney who specializes in disability issues and is the coordinator for Parents for Inclusive Education, a New York-based group of parents and advocates. Parents made it clear that their children with disabilities didn't have the same choices as other students in the city, Barney said, and "I think that's what helped." 

Maggie Moroff, coordinator of the ARISE Coalition, which supports students with disabilities in New York schools, said that her group and others are already gearing up for the next push, which is including more money for accessibility in the district's five-year capital improvement plan. The $150 million is deeply appreciated, "but it's also a drop in the bucket," she said.


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