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Home > Clerc Center > Students Use Math to Study ADA Compliance

Students Use Math to Study ADA Compliance


Image: Slope diagram showing rise over run (fraction or ratio) and vertical over horizontal (fraction or ratio). [Source: mathsisfun.com]

Slope diagram showing rise over run (fraction or ratio) and vertical over horizontal (fraction or ratio). [Source: mathsisfun.com]

Image: KDES students measure slope rise on ramp. (Photo: Susan Flanigan)

KDES students measure slope rise on ramp. (Photo: Susan Flanigan)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changed the way we design new buildings to ensure access for the general public. As part of a co-curricular project this spring, eighth grade students from Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) investigated one aspect of building access-access ramps.

First the students studied the application of the math concept of a slope to a real-life situation-the wheelchair access ramps outside and inside their school building. Slopes measure "rise over run" or "vertical over horizontal" (see diagram). A slope can chart scores in a game or the amount of money raised in a campaign, or it can be a physical element such as a ski slope, a skateboard ramp, or a ramp for wheelchair users.

The students researched how the ADA requires equal access for individuals with disabilities. "The ADA was passed in 1990," said student Malek Herring. "For our project we will see if the ramps at our school follow the law." The students found out that all public buildings must have ramps for wheelchair access and that wheelchair ramps must be built according to individual rules set up by each state or the District of Columbia.

The students gained a new appreciation for the intent of the law through borrowing a wheelchair from the school nurse. They each took a turn using the wheelchair to go up and down a ramp. This gave them the experience of what it was like to use a wheelchair ramp and the understanding of why the slope of the ramp makes a difference in its ease of use.

"At first it felt weird [to be in a wheelchair]. I wasn't used to it," said student Marcus Pointer. "I could see how frustrating it would be not to have access to a building."

The students are in the process of taking measurements to see if the KDES ramps match the ADA building code. "The students will take a series of measurements and photographs of ramps," said teacher Holly McBride, who is working on the project with co-teacher Anna Rice. "They will measure the ramps to determine the slope's ‘rise: run' ratio and document it on a chart. This real-life application of a math concept shows how math serves an important purpose in everyday life."

The students will prepare a presentation and discuss their findings related to whether or not the ramps are in compliance with the law. If any ramp is not up to code, the students will discuss possible reasons why not, for example, buildings like KDES-which was built in 1978-by virtue of their construction date may be "grandfathered" by law to have an exemption to full compliance.

The students plan to share their findings in a letter to KDES principal Nancy Berrigan and Clerc Center vice president Ed Bosso to be kept for future reference when modifications are made to the existing building or a whole new school is built.