An International Preschool-Grade 12 Academy 

City Leaders Discuss Accessibility With GEMS Students

The first-graders at GEMS World Academy-Chicago recently received some expert advice on how to design accessible buildings.

Joe Russo, deputy commissioner of compliance in the mayor’s office for people with disabilities, and his colleagues in Chicago’s accessibility compliance unit, Chris Zafiris and Mansoor Khan, visited the first grade at GEMS to talk about how they ensure that the city’s buildings are safe and accessible to people with disabilities.
The three of them are a key part of Chicago’s efforts to be an inviting and livable city for people with disabilities.
“We’re a small but important team,” Joe said.
Their visit was part of the first-graders’ larger inquiry into the concept of accessibility, during which the students designed and built accessible structures of their own, using wood blocks and other materials.
Joe, an attorney, told the class that part of his job was to make sure all building projects follow accessibility laws. Chris and Mansoor said they work on the design and construction sides of building projects, making sure, for example, that ramps included in a building plan are constructed at the proper angle. Teachers Joel Blecha and Michael Ferbrache encouraged their students to think about how math, art and science work together when making buildings accessible.
After talking to the students, Joe, Chris and Mansoor inspected the buildings that the students had created. The structures included a museum, a zoo and a shopping mall. The first-graders showed how they’d positioned ramps near entrances and used braille on signage for those with visual impairments, among other elements that increased accessibility.
“I’m amazed at how much thought you’ve all put in,” Joe said. “This is awesome.”
GEMS, which uses the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program in the Lower School, regularly ties academic concepts to real-world situations to keep learning relevant and meaningful.

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