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Student succeeds in advocating for accessibility

Olivia Wright
Francis Howell Middle student Olivia Wright and teacher and mobility specialist Kevin Hollinger worked together to assess improvements that could be made to student walking routes. (Source: Francis Howell School District)

After discovering that making the short walk to school was not an option for Olivia Wright due to accessibility limitations, this Francis Howell Middle student set out to drive change.

“My role in (the Francis Howell School District) is to teach students how to efficiently and independently travel between their home and school, when appropriate,” said Kevin Hollinger, orientation and mobility specialist and teacher of the visually impaired. “We started back in August, prior to school beginning, to make sure our students were set up for success for the
upcoming school year.”

As Wright, her peers and Hollinger assessed potential walking routes, they quickly identified that several students who are visually impaired would be dependent on another person to help them cross the street on the way to school.

The pedestrian-crossing signal at the intersection of Gutermuth and O’Fallon roads used only visual signals to indicate directions, which left travelers who are blind no way to determine if it was safe to cross the road. Wright and her team also discovered that the pedestrian sensors were
not functioning correctly.

“I tried to use it, and I felt it was not safe with so many cars and not knowing when the light was going to change,” Wright said.

After a call to St. Charles County by Hollinger, Ron Sage, a county traffic engineer, assessed and fixed the defective sensors. But the work didn’t stop there.

“In addition to teaching skills of orientation, mobility and wayfinding, I teach students and their families – as members of the community – to advocate for themselves,” Hollinger said.

At his encouragement, the families requested installation of an Accessible Pedestrian Signal, or APS, which uses sound to signal when it is safe to cross the road.

Without an APS, Hollinger said these students and other community members were stripped of the opportunity to walk independently and promote their safety to the maximum extent possible.

Not only did St. Charles County and the city of O’Fallon work quickly to install the signals, Mike Deters, Francis Howell School District’s grounds manager; Cathy Fortney, the district’s ADA coordinator; and the staff at Francis Howell Middle collaborated to make sure the students had a safe walking path from O’Fallon Road to the entrance of the school. This was
accomplished by building sidewalks, installing truncated domes and painting curbs.

Weldon Springs also promoted student safety by fixing some of the broken sidewalks and working to clear sidewalks covered in mud and gravel from local construction projects.

“Now I can be just like everyone else,” Wright said. “I can walk places just like they can. It’s 10,000 times safer than relying on a standard pedestrian crosswalk. I’m really happy and thankful.”

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