Thursday December 12, 2013
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I was trading e-mail with someone about special ed classes, when the subject of kids in wheelchairs came up and reminded me of something I thought you folks might like to hear about.
To put it simply, there are a lot of leeches hanging around schools with an eye toward turning otherwise useful legislation into cash cows.
Back in Texas I had a beautiful lab set up for chemistry and physical science. I had safe, hip-high benches made of solid soapstone. The kids sat at them on metal stools, but they stood when they were doing lab work, which is best for safety.
I had a visitor one day. He told me he was there to survey the lab to see where he could fit in a handicapped work station. I was all for that, so I told him to go ahead, and added that if there was any way I could help all he had to do was ask.
I had five lab benches, each holding six students. He eyed the lab for about five minutes and said the best location for the handicapped station was against the end of my rib-high demonstration bench, which of course was also my desk when I was just teaching.
I wasn't too happy about some poor kid in a wheelchair being stuck right up to the teacher's desk and having to crane his or her head upward to see what I was writing on the blackboard--and even higher to see anything I was demonstrating. Plus which, the angle to the screen if I was using the overhead would have made it very difficult for him or her to see because it was a glass beaded screen, and they have the property of throwing light back in the same direction from which it comes, which means that if you are off to one side the image is very dim. On top of that, some of the demonstrations I did were carefully planned to be safe for the first row of lab benches, which were six feet away, but would have been downright dangerous for someone so close.
I also have always favored having special ed kids feel as much like a part of the class as everyone else. I had some of them coming to my classes already, and I worked very hard to make them feel like just another student. Having some poor kid stuck right up front next to me, eight feet from the nearest student, struck me as a poor choice.
So I asked the guy if I could see the plans for the handicapped work station to see if I could fit it in somewhere else. Good Lord! You should have seen that monster! It was far larger than it needed to be and it only seated one student. On top of that, it had a cheap faux stone top, and its own water tank, pump, and sink, along with a gas tank and tap. The water tank and gas tank had to be refilled, and the catch basin had to be emptied all the time.
The cost for this shoddy piece of equipment, delivered and installed?
Just under $15,000.
After the guy left, I walked over to my benches, looked underneath, and then made a trip over to the principal's office. As a result, the next week after school closed for the day, a carpenter and I sawed off the end of the lab bench nearest the door (soapstone can be sawed with an ordinary wood saw). Then we lowered it down to the right level for a wheelchair.
Cost? My time, his time, and maybe ten bucks worth of wood, screws, and brackets, which I furnished.
The sink was right next to that lowered section, and a handicapped kid could easily see into and use it. And putting a bunsen burner down on that workstation took me about two seconds. The rubber gas line was long enough, so I just picked it up and put it down there.
My! You should have seen the first student who showed up the next year, a young girl who was thrilled that she had her own workstation right there beside everyone else!
The company guy showed up a couple of weeks later during the same class that had that little girl in it. As it happened, we were doing a lab. He had brought a fed with him, and it was obvious to me that he wanted to find something wrong and lodge a complaint. But I'm afraid that kinda sorta backfired.
The fed was very impressed with what we had done, and when he saw that little girl sitting there and feeling like one of the class he smiled from ear to ear.
In the end he made notes, took pictures, did a little drawing, shook my hand, and said he was going to submit the whole thing to Washington as a way of saving megabucks of federal tax money.
I don't know whatever came of all that because I moved here the next school year. But this I do know: The idea of spending $15,000 to install that work station was ridiculous. I could build one from scratch right now, almost 30 years later, for under $500, and I could build it for $200 less than that if I could place it where it was attached to the normal water supply, gas, and waste line.
In my experience most teachers are only too happy to lend a hand getting things done "right"--which means done well and done for as little as possible. It's their classrooms, you know.
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