One of the primary challenges of rehabilitating any historic building is updating it to comply with ADA standards for accessibility. As all of the schools in this study were built long before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Architectural Barriers act of 1968; in fact, many were built at a time when students with disabilities did not attend public school at all.


Multistory schools in this study do not have elevators. Many schools are comprised of multiple additions; in some cases, these different units were not constructed at the same grade or with corresponding floor heights, leading to level-changes within the building. The oldest school buildings were typically built on raised basements, which means that reaching the first floor from any entrance requires ascending a half flight of stairs. And finally, many buildings, even single-story at-grade construction, may have steps or barriers at entrances, preventing universal access.


All of these issues are fixable, though some are easier than others. The diagrams at right show the first floor corridors and entrances of each City-owned school in the study. A few schools have fully accessible entrances and ground floors (or near enough to become fully accessible with minor alterations). Schools with green corridors and entrances marked with orange triangles are barrier-free inside but entrances may need updates like wheelchair ramps and handrails. Finally, schools marked with red X's are raised-basement schools in which no part of the building is wheelchair accessible without major modifications.

Four schools (Oakman, Detroit Open, Holcomb, and Washington) are single-story buildings that can be made 100% accessible. All others are multistory and require an elevator to reach upper levels.


Although there are several schools that are largely accessible or could easily be made accessible, there is only one school in this study that is fully accessible right now. Oakman Elementary is a particularly special building because it was built specifically for children with physical disabilities. Built in 1929, it was a pioneering building that was one of the first and most important special needs schools in Detroit.