COSTA MESA, California – Rory Siwula is 9 years old and speaks quickly as if in a hurry to get all the words out.
She is confident and likes to answer questions about herself. She is in fourth grade this fall. She uses a wheelchair. She is on the Killybrooke Elementary special education program. She thinks she’s pretty smart and says that in general she knows what people think when they see her.
And she’s tired of hearing no from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which she and her family claim are inadequate toilets on the Costa Mesa campus.
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Rory said she cannot reach the lights, sink, or soap dispenser and that there are no stalls in the general education toilets that are wheelchair friendly. While there are special education toilets all over campus, Rory said these are sometimes busy, which means she can’t always use them when she needs them.
Sometimes she finds herself forced to wait for a toilet attendant to escort her to the bathroom or someone to unlock an unmanned one – a fact that Rory questions as someone who, according to her mother Kelly Siwula, is very independent.
“I don’t want kids to have anxiety problems because I’ve seen it and it’s not great,” said Rory, who has a condition called caudal regression syndrome also known as sacral agnesis, which essentially means parts of their lower ones Spine absent.
“It’s not fun. And sometimes when I use the door I have to open it a little with my foot and I have to push it open and that’s how I open it, ”she added. “What if I need to have a cast? I can not do this. You have to use a helper. But what if children don’t want to use helpers? What if children just want to do it themselves and all? “
“What if kids want to be like everyone else?”
The family said that they had used all appropriate channels to apply for housing for about a year and a half, but that they felt they were not being heard.
District officials said in a statement that the campus has several accessible toilets and that all toilets on campus comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We have a DSA-certified class 2 (inspectors) on the staff who have checked the accessibility of toilets and parking spaces at this school and have found that they meet building regulations and ADA compliance,” said Annette Franco, a spokeswoman of the district.
However, the Siwulas claim that the buildings and toilets, while complying with legal requirements, do not necessarily accommodate all students with disabilities.
So Rory decided to protest. Under a bright and sunny June sky last Tuesday, the family went to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office with signs to raise awareness.
“I think people should fix the general (educational) bathroom so that specialty (educational) students can use it,” said Rory.
“I want everyone to be accessible, whether they are generally educated or have a disability … all over the county, so that people have a voice and I want to fight for them,” she said.
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