FHSD Student Advocates for Increased Accessibility at the County Level, Succeeds

Posted on 01/27/2021
Olivia Wright

After discovering that making the short walk to school was not an option for Olivia Wright due to accessibility limitations, this Francis Howell Middle School student set out to drive change.

“My role in FHSD is to teach students how to efficiently and independently travel between their home and school, when appropriate,” said Mr. Kevin Hollinger, orientation and mobility specialist and teacher of the visually impaired. “We started back in August, prior to school beginning, to make sure our students were set up for success for the upcoming school year.”

As Olivia, her peers and Mr. Hollinger assessed potential walking routes, they quickly identified that several students who are visually impaired would be dependent on another person to help them cross the street on the way to school.

The pedestrian-crossing signal at the intersection of Gutermuth Road and O’Fallon Road used only visual signals to indicate directions, which left travelers who are blind no way to determine if it was safe to cross the road. Olivia and her team also discovered that the pedestrian sensors were not functioning correctly.

“I tried to use it, and I felt it was not safe with so many cars and not knowing when the light was going to change,” Olivia said.

After a call to St. Charles County by Mr. Hollinger, Ron Sage, a traffic engineer for the County quickly assessed and fixed the defective sensors. But the work didn’t stop there.

“In addition to teaching skills of orientation, mobility and wayfinding, I teach students and their families – as members of the community – to advocate for themselves," Mr. Hollinger said. At his encouragement, the families requested installation of an Accessible Pedestrian Signal, or APS, which uses sound to signal when it is safe to cross the road.

Without an APS, Hollinger said these students and other community members were stripped of the opportunity to walk independently and promote their safety to the maximum extent possible.

Not only did St. Charles County and the City of O’Fallon work quickly to install the APS, Mike Deters, FHSD grounds manager; Cathy Fortney, FHSD ADA coordinator; and the staff at FHMS went above and beyond in making sure the students had a safe walking path from O’Fallon Road to the entrance of the school, which included building sidewalks, installing truncated domes and painting curbs.

Weldon Springs also promoted the safety of all students by fixing some of the broken sidewalks and working to clear sidewalks covered in mud and gravel from local construction projects.

“Now I can be just like everyone else,” Olivia said. “I can walk places just like they can. It’s 10,000 times safer than relying on a standard pedestrian crosswalk. I’m really happy and thankful.”

Hollinger called it a true group effort.

“These students now have the same opportunity as every other kid in the surrounding community to choose to walk to/from school (and QT),” he said. “I’m so grateful for our Facilities and Grounds Departments and Cathy – they lead by example and work diligently to ensure accessibility and equal access remain a hallmark of Special Education in FHSD.”

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