Assessing Access

Children often lack knowledge and skills necessary to interact with each other, especially when confronted with differences in mobility, hearing, sight, developmental skills or verbal skills.
Grade Level

  • Apply the principles of American democracy to people with disabilities
  • Analyze how individuals and groups in American society have struggled to achieve the liberties and equality promised in the principles of American democracy
  • Learn how to exemplify the democratic values represented in the ADA and Civil Rights Act


Everyday situations like conversing in the lunchroom or playing on the playground might lead a student who doesn't understand such differences to miss out on making a new friend. Conversely, children with disabilities might feel left out, often because mobility or other ability discrepancies preclude their participation.

By first brainstorming the ways differences in ability might affect access to public spaces, then conducting an "accessibility inspection" on the school grounds, students can learn about physical barriers to inclusion.

Next, by reading a narrative by a young man with Down syndrome, students can learn how to remove social barriers separating people with disabilities from the majority of their peers.

The playground activity should be conducted as your class prepares for recess. Some of the questions will come up in the classroom; you should pause to answer each question as your class moves from their seats, through the halls, and to the playground. If some of your students have disabilities, make sure the discussion continues in a way that includes, rather then excludes, them.

Note: The reading portion of this activity falls around a 4th-grade comprehension level, but the experiential learning project of assessing inclusiveness can work for younger students.



  • Read excerpts from the Americans with Disabilities Act to your class, explaining that more than 43 million people in this country might be isolated or segregated from others due to a physical or mental disability.
  • Explain to students that they are going think about ways to fulfill the ADA guarantees.
  • Write words on the board to help students brainstorm public places that need improvement (e.g. playgrounds, beaches, forests, shopping venues, taxis, etc.)
  • Take a walking tour of the school grounds and have students fill out the checklist on handout 1 to assess access.
  • Discuss the follow-up questions on handout 2 and read the Teaching Tolerance article "I'm Smart in a Different Way".
Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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