Pair Asks District to Upgrade Facilities, Access for Handicapped

By Cueni-Cohen, Jill | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 22, 2004 | Go to article overview

Pair Asks District to Upgrade Facilities, Access for Handicapped


Cueni-Cohen, Jill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Third-grade teacher Kyle Pinta teaches her pupils at Rowan Elementary School about how to deal compassionately with the disabled, and she would like to bring the lessons to the rest of Seneca Valley School District.

Pinta is working with Paula Bonino, a Seneca Valley parent and a physician who specializes in geriatrics. The two are asking the district to form a committee to look at ways to make district buildings more accessible for those with disabilities.

Although the district complies with regulations regarding handicapped accessibility, Bonino and Pinta pointed out at the Feb. 9 school board meeting that there are still many physical barriers for disabled adults and youths who want to take part in events such as graduation, concerts, plays, and award ceremonies.

Pinta, 53, of Hampton, has an unidentified neurological disease which is causing progressive damage to her motor functions. She uses a walker, her speech has slowed and she can't do all the things she used to in the classroom.

Her pupils, however, have learned to compensate for their teacher's disabilities.

"There are almost 900 kids in Rowan, and they all watch for me," said Pinta. "They open doors for me, and when [the children in] my classroom walk down the hall, they all walk behind me so they don't step on my feet.

"In my room they're very thoughtful," she said, helping with things like bulletin boards, running errands and simply reaching things for her. Desks for Pinta's 23 pupils are set up so that she doesn't have to worry about the kids pushing chairs back into her. Her classroom is also equipped with a handicapped bathroom.

She added that her pupils also warn the other children not to run around her or leave things where she could trip over them. "It's very matter-of-fact with them," she said. "They really understand what I need, and you can give them a lot more responsibility and credit than you would think an 8-year-old could take."

Pinta said the children's awareness comes from having day-to-day contact with her limitations.

"They understand not to run around people who are with canes or walkers, because they might hurt them. It's just an awareness thing. When you have a face to attach to a disability, it's much more real to you."

As a physician, Bonino is acutely aware of the limitations handicapped people must endure. But when she took her mother in a wheelchair to Seneca Valleylast year to see her twin son and daughter graduate, the limitations became personal.

"All the parents get a letter about commencement saying that you can come in and use the handicapped area that's there, but there's room for two, maybe three wheelchairs, and that's it," Bonino said.

"The other option was that you could watch the program on closed circuit TV inside the intermediate building, which is what [my mother and I] had to do, so our family had to split up."

Bonino said she wrote a letter to school board President Dean Berkebile giving suggestions for solving that problem, and for other on long-term improvements for the elderly and handicapped."

After receiving the letter, Berkebile recommended that Bonino come to the school board meeting and speak on the issue.

Bonino and Pinta have been friends for years, and when Bonino told the teacher about the letter she'd written, Pinta offered to to come to the meeting to support her claims.

In addition to proposing the committee, the two asked that the district to consider a removable ramp for wheelchairs and walkers on the visitor's side of the football field, so that disabled people and their family members can watch graduation together from there. …

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