Viljandi school made more accessible for students with mobility impairments

A "Siia saab" ("This is Accessible") sign signals the accessibility of an establishment for people with special needs. (Eero Vabamägi/Postimees/Scanpix)
By Olev Kenk
4/21/2016 8:03 AM
Category: News

Paalalinna School, a municipal school in the Central Estonian city of Viljandi, managed to make the most of a limited budget in order to implement some adaptations that would allow better access to the building for students with mobile impairments and other special needs.

The school was the first basic school in Estonia to be granted a “This is Accessible” (“Siia saab”) sign by the Office of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner publicly denoting its accessibility, reported ETV’s nightly news broadcast “Aktuaalne kaamera.”

Wheelchair user and Viljandi native Siim Kütt was able to test out the school’s new wheelchair ramp and stairlift.

“The wheelchair ramp is top notch — the inclines all seem to be correct and good — but we had a little incident with the stairlift” explained Siim. “I reached the top [of the stairs], but the lift did not want to let me off there. Thankfully we were able to get it working again somehow and ...[while] I wasn’t able to make it to the top, at least I was able to go back down again.”

This incident highlighted a prevalent concern: that there have been many cases where a building had a stairlift installed, but it either did not work or the key needed to operate it was not always available.

Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner Liisa Pakosta noted that there was an increasing number of children with special needs in the country, and if their kindergartens and schools were not accessible, then these children had no hope of making it to the job market later in life.

“Based on a recent study, we know that a full 40 percent of children with special needs who commenced studies in basic school were unable to complete them,” Pakosta explained.

“This is Accessible” signage is split into several categories so that establishments can specify the type of accessibility guaranteed to its visitors. Categories included accessibility for wheelchair users, the visually impaired, hearing impaired, as well as simple language, and a separate version of the sign denoted that an establishment was “Accessible to all.”

A full list of establishments who have joined the “This is Accessible” campaign, which range from schools and offices to restaurants, shopping centers and cultural establishments, can be accessed on the “This is Accessible” homepage (link in Estonian).

Following the addition of a wheelchair ramp and stairlift, Paalalinna School planned on installing an elevator in the school next, in order to increase accessibility to the school building’s four floors.

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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