Ever since the American with Disabilities Act was signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, people with and without disabilities have been trying to find ways to provide easy and fair access throughout America. The changes have ranged from making newly constructed stadiums ADA-compliant to making sidewalks smoother. Nearly all modifications need some sort of government funding, and rarely can one person implement a change.
This is the story of what could be done if we are not afraid to speak up. The set-up: a school in Nebraska trying to make something right and seventeen-year-old Nate Kotila, who has Cerebral Palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, not accepting the improvement.
School officials at Papillion-LaVista South High School implemented a key system in 2003 to their lone elevator to prevent able-bodied students from using it. Administers gave students who needed to use the elevator a key to activate it. That seemed to be a great idea. But when Kotila, who lacks fine motor skills, tried it a couple of times, he discovered something that must be changed. Kotila had a difficult time getting the key into the hole and turning the key all the way. The junior thought about what could be done to fix the problem, and he came up with one.
Kotila’s idea was to install a card reader, so all students needed to do was “just hold the card in front of the reader and the elevator door opens.” He needed to raise over $1,500 for the enhancement. Kotila spoke at a teacher conference in the fall, pitching his idea, and immediately raised $800. A couple of weeks later, he had more than enough money.
The card system was installed at the end of November and has been in full effect since the middle of December. There are eight students at Papio South who need to use the elevator full time along with peers hobbled with injuries and each one of them received an access card. “We all have our card keys on lanyard with retractable cords. It really, really makes it so much easier and faster to access the elevator,” said Kotila. Papio South is the only school in Papillion-LaVista that is multi-floored, and therefore, is the only one that requires an elevator.
Kotila, who is from the Twin Cities area, is pretty busy when he is not conquering accessibility issues. While living in Minnesota as a pre-teen, he joined an adapted T-ball team in Robbinsdale and was intrigued by Power Soccer before the move. After Kotila’s family moved to Bellevue in 2009, his hobbies took flight. Along with helping referee a Project Unify Special Olympics basketball game with his school and rival school in late 2015, Kotila’s passion is aviation. He participates in a virtual airline, called AAvirtual. AAvirtual is on-line and its objective is to “simulate real American Airline flights and operations using our flight simulators.” After logging more than 430 hours on the flight simulator, Kotila “loves being able to use the many resources to simulate the flights that are occurring real-time.” As far as Kotila’s refereeing ventures, he says, with a smile, “it seems that once I do something then other people ask me to do more.”
After graduating from high school next year, Kotila plans on going to college to get a degree in Information Systems or in a technology field and he “always wanted to be a pilot so it would be awesome if I could find a career using my technology education in the aviation industry,” he acknowledged.
Kotila’s elevator system should be implemented at every school. I always wondered why with Minneapolis South’s one elevator that school officials didn’t regulate who uses it. Able-bodied students would sometimes cram the elevator, so students with disabilities would need to wait for the next one. Kotila’s invention alleviates that problem and schools, especially one’s with just a single available elevator, should find a way to install this system. The card reader is a two-fold solution: school elevators would serve their purpose and it would keep students off elevators who don’t necessary need them.
With Kotila’s thorough planning and persistence, he succeeded at making Papio South more accessible to those with disabilities. Kotila learned a lot from his experience and knowing what he likes to do, he might not be done with accessibility. “This was a great learning experience and I would sure be open to learning more and helping in other buildings and companies but I think I will most likely wait until after college to do anything purposefully,” Kotila explained.
Written by: Michael L. Sack