It’s been more than 20 years since Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, but today the grounds of the U.S. Capitol are still largely inaccessible to people with disabilities, a new report finds, with everything from sidewalks to bathrooms posing barriers.
The findings come from the first analysis of physical accessibility at the Capitol and the legislative office buildings surrounding it conducted by Congress’ Office of Compliance, an independent federal agency.
Investigators found 154 “barriers to access” outside House office buildings, 84 of which were deemed to pose safety risks to those with disabilities. In numerous areas, inspectors found “ramps or sidewalks that could cause wheelchairs to flip backwards or fall sideways.” Meanwhile, a random check of six restrooms in the congressional buildings found none that met standards of the ADA.
Even newly constructed areas of the Capitol grounds are not immune to accessibility problems. The report notes that ADA violations were found in remodeled restrooms at the Library of Congress as recently as 2010 and in the brand new Capitol Visitor Center.
“By providing information to Congress and the Architect of the Capitol about the nature and location of the access barriers, and how to remove them, we hope to improve the safety of exterior pathways for people with disabilities,” wrote Barbara L. Camens, chair of the board of directors for the Office of Compliance in a letter accompanying the new report.
Budget constraints meant that the Office of Compliance was only able to review certain areas of the Capitol complex, the report said, rather than conducting a wall-to-wall sweep. Investigators estimated that correcting the accessibility problems highlighted would cost approximately $1.4 million.
Despite the criticism in the report, there have been accessibility improvements to the Capitol in recent years. The addition of a series of lifts to the House Speaker’s platform allowed Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., to make history in 2010, becoming the first person using a wheelchair to preside over the body.