Capitol Hill is ‘Off Limits’ to Millions of Disabled Americans

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


David Lilja
Past Member 5 years ago

So wrong

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago

So much for the ADA

Kevin W.
Kevin W5 years ago

Gayle R, I love architecture and I adore old buildings so I agree that care needs to be taken in making older buildings accessible to the disabled. However, I know it could be done because these buildings must be accessible to members of congress and their staff members. I don't know of any law that prevents us from electing a disabled person to congress and surely congressmen/women don't discriminate against the disabled when hiring staff. Food for thought.

Gayle R.
Gayle R5 years ago

Do we truly want to tear down an old building full of history and start over? That is what it would take to make it completely compliant. How much would it cost taxpayers to do that? Or to even try to refurbish the existing building for partial compliance? Do we really want to lose all that history?

It would be wonderful if architects throughout time had taken everyone into consideration, but they didn't. Some things we have to live with if we want to keep the integrity of a site.

Stella Gamboni
Stella Gamboni5 years ago

It does make me wonder... Are there no Congresspeople with disabilities?

Stella Gamboni
Stella Gamboni5 years ago

I've been up those steps and listened to what goes on in there. Some might consider these obstacles to be a blessing.

john hall
john hall5 years ago

Of course we have some damn fool's blaming the GOP for this . How many law's are on the book's requiring the building's be fitting with elevator's or ramp's to help the disabled . The blame cleary fall's on the president's and all politician's that have failed to do this , so quit blaming the GOP on this .

Penny C.
penny C5 years ago


Christine Stewart

It is ridiculous the number of stairs many buildings have- most of the time it seems they are merely decorative and pointless. All modern buildings should be accessable from the start.

Virginia B.
Virginia B5 years ago

Paula M. You still haven't explained to us what you construe to be "frivolous and predatory" lawsuits. Please do!