Man wants changes after disabled daughter injured on school play - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Man wants changes after disabled daughter injured on school playground

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CLOVER, SC (WBTV) -

A dad says his little girl's public school is breaking the law.  Six-year-old Maddie Aldridge uses a wheelchair. Matt Aldridge claims Maddie's chair couldn't access the school playground, and the whole playground wasn't accessible to kids living with a disability.

Maddie, a kindergartner at Clover School District, was born with no shinbones.  It's a genetic defect she inherited from her father.  Her little brother Grady, who will be 2 in June, was also born this way.  Maddie and her brother had double amputations – just like Matt – not long after birth.  Maddie was also born with only four fingers on each hand.

"I always tell people not to live life with an asterisk by your name," Matt told Anchor Molly Grantham, with his own wheelchair nearby.  "What I mean by that is, don't live your life in such a way where it's said, ‘Well, he did pretty good for a person with a disability'.  Just make what you do good."

Matt says he is not trying to stir up trouble, he just wants the school district to be compliant with law.

"I want them to treat every child equal," he said.  "Give every child the same opportunities."

His complaints started last September.  He says Maddie came home one day with bloody hands.  She told her mom and dad she'd been told to crawl on wood chips to get to the playground equipment.

Clover School District spokesperson Mychal Frost says they listened to the Aldridge family and changed one of the playgrounds at Larne Elementary to a rubber, track-like surface.  All of Maddie's kindergarten class now plays on this new playground-area.  The changes cost the district $100,000.

Matt says he appreciates that effort, but the playground is far from Maddie's class.  It's difficult, he says, for a young child to wheel the length of the school.

In response, the school says it supplies a "Shadow" – an adult – to Maddie every day, and the adult can assist and push the chair.

"We hear the family," spokesperson Mychal Frost said.  "We understand their complaints.  We are trying to work with the family as best as they're willing to work with us, to continue to identify solutions."

But Frost adds that what's best takes time to figure out.  The school system also has lawyers looking into who's right.  He says the district believes it is compliant with the law and not breaking any federal rules.

"It important to realize in working with any scenario, we're not going to make everybody happy in all situations," Frost said.  "That's where we want to make sure we're doing what is proper within the law and doing it correctly."

So who's right?  What's legal?
 
We poured over the requirements for public play areas within The American Disabilities Act.  (Click here to see the applicable section of the law, Chapter 10)

It says playgrounds must be accessible via ramps or paved, barrier-free routes, and must provide an appropriate surface beneath all accessible equipment.

But the school says there is no previous case law defining what that actually means.

"This is unchartered territory for playgrounds and for schools, for the attorneys and researchers looking into this," Frost said. 

We then took the situation to the non-profit "Disability Rights & Resources in Charlotte", an advocacy group for people with disabilities.  (Find more on them here)

Executive Director Julia Sain says the law can be confusing, but bottom-line, accessibility is a civil right.  She doesn't know this specific case in Clover, but says in past cases where she has been hired to come in and interpret the law as a consultant, she has seen schools and public areas try to help, but not end up helping in the right way.

"You can change a playground's surface," she said, "But it might not be the right playground to change.  The key to following the law with playgrounds and making them accessible to people with disabilities, is to keep it an interactive process where the family and school is working in partnership to make it a successful venture."

Right now in Maddie's case, the school and family say they are willing to work together, but it's clear both see the law differently.

Matt Aldridge says he will continue to push this issue until it is not only acceptable for Maddie (and in the future Grady), but also for every other student ever enrolled in the Clover district, living with a disability.

"The district's motto is 'To each child each day, excellence'," Matt said.  "And I say this is an area where we're not excellent. Let's work together to become excellent."

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