An estimated 94 million Americans have disabilities and 3.3 million Americans who are 15 years and older use a wheelchair. For these millions, a visit to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. is out of the question. An annual report on the “state of the Congressional Workplace” conducted by Congress’ Office of Compliance, an independent federal agency, has found that many sidewalks and restrooms on the Capitol grounds are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities.
In other words, more than a few corridors of the U.S. government are virtually “off limits” to many Americans.
Specifically, there were 154 “barriers to access” outside House buildings and 84 of those — that’s more than half — could pose safety risks to individuals with disabilities. 26 barriers simply block access for persons with disabilities just to get into buildings and 44 barriers pose “major inconveniences,” says the report.
A whopping 93 percent of the curb ramps — 28 out of 30 — surrounding House office buildings were found to be in violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards. Even more, 71 percent of these ramps — 20 out of 28 — raise safety concerns as they could cause wheelchairs to flip backwards or fall sideways, right into the street in some cases:
Pages 52 ff. of the report graphically show how someone in a wheelchair is, you could, putting their life in peril due to a problems with barriers, ramps and other features of buildings.
Pages 58 – 63 show that the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn buildings are practically ringed with barriers (from improperly pitched ramps to protruding objects) that make them something less than accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Some of the structural barriers that the report found included “manually-operated doors that require too much force to open; doorways too narrow to enable wheelchair access; deficiencies in pathways to buildings, including sidewalks without ADA compliant curb ramps, and other obstacles to physical access.”
The report also includes details about how six restrooms inspected all contain violations of ADA accessibility standards, from side grab bars that are of incorrect sizes and/or in need of repositioning on walls, to insufficient door pulls and other fixtures.
Investigators estimated that it would cost approximately $1.4 million to correct the accessibility problems highlighted in the report.
Capitol Hill Must Be Accessible to All Americans
While some might argue that it’s “understandable” that so many areas of Capitol Hill are inaccessible due to the age of some of he buildings, the report found violations of ADA standards even in newly constructed areas. In any event, buildings erected prior to 1990, when the ADA was enacted, are not exempt though the law allows that alternatives may be considered “if following the [ADA] standards would threaten or destroy the historic significance of a building feature.”.
In a positive development, the 2010 U.S. Census reported that 98 percent of transit buses are now equipped with lifts or ramps, an increase of 62 percent since 1995, a significant step in making the world more readily navigable for individuals with disabilities. It’s a sign that making such accommodations available is not at all impossible. Of all places in the country, Capitol Hill should be accessible to any and all U.S. citizens.
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Photo by Arend Vermazeren