Thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, most of the nation’s public school districts remain inaccessible to students with disabilities, government investigators say.

A Government Accountability Office report out late last week finds that in 63 percent of public school districts, at least a quarter of facilities aren’t physically accessible to those with disabilities. Problems at the schools included steep ramps, inaccessible playgrounds and restrooms and door handles that are difficult to use, among other issues.

Moreover, in 17 percent of districts, there are schools that typically do not serve students with physical disabilities because of the barriers in their buildings.

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In site visits to 55 schools across 16 districts, the most common issues cited by GAO investigators were related to restrooms, interior doorways and classrooms. Barriers existed in all of the schools regardless of the age or condition of the facility, they found, but were most prevalent in buildings that were over 25 years old.

About 70 percent of school districts have plans to improve the accessibility of their facilities in the next three years, the report indicated. That includes everything from large-scale renovations to small upgrades like changing door hardware or signage. Cost issues were frequently cited by school officials as a challenge to ensuring accessibility.

One issue GAO noted is that the U.S. Department of Justice has not issued technical assistance specific to physical accessibility in schools as it has for other settings like stadiums. Investigators recommended that the Justice Department work with the Department of Education to provide this type of guidance.

“Sadly, this GAO report shows that thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, its promise has yet to fully be realized,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who chairs the House education committee and was one of the lawmakers to request the investigation. “While an estimated 70 percent of districts had renovations planned in the next few years, the devastating impact of COVID-19 on school resources is putting these necessary improvements at risk.”

GAO’s findings mirror those from a 2015 report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York which found that 83 percent of elementary schools in New York City were not “fully accessible.”

The accessibility of school buildings affects more than students and teachers, GAO noted. The locations are often used for voting, as emergency shelters and for other purposes.

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