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Office of Congressional Workplace Rights report details disability access challenges

House, Senate office buildings restrooms, Senate subway pose barriers

Bathrooms pose many barriers for those with disabilities across the Capitol grounds. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Bathrooms pose many barriers for those with disabilities across the Capitol grounds. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Bathrooms in the House and Senate Office Buildings are riddled with barriers to people with disabilities and the Senate subway is ill-equipped to accommodate vision-impaired people, according to a biennial report on Americans with Disabilities Act inspections by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights for the 114th Congress.

Of 2,568 barriers identified in the report, 1,051 were attributed to multi-user restrooms, marking 40 percent of such challenges. Hart topped Senate buildings with 490 barriers, Dirksen had 373 and Russell had 258 — totaling 1,132 barriers to those with disabilities, including 11 in the subway.

Multi-user restrooms, signage and drinking fountains were among the most highly cited for ADA compliance deficiencies. Over 70 percent of barriers in the Senate buildings were attributed to the multi-user restrooms, 348 of which were found in Hart.

[Disabilities internship named after former Rep. Gregg Harper and son]

Issues present in the Senate and House bathrooms include the inability for a stall door to close on its own and that the soap dispenser requires two hands to operate.

In the Senate subway, the transportation barrier category was of particular concern in the report because there were no detectable warnings at the platform boarding edges for the subway system. These warnings are a distinctive surface pattern of domes detectable by a cane or a person’s feet to alert those with vision impairments they are nearing a surface edge, street crosswalk or hazardous drop.

UNITED STATES - MAY 17: Capitol crews work to restore service to the Senate subway line running to the Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. The trains were out of service as Senators made their way to the Capitol for the weekly Senate policy luncheons. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The Senate subway line could be dangerous to those who are visually impaired. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“Because the Senate subway platform boarding edges do not have platform screens or guards, detectable warnings are necessary to alert a visually impaired person that they are close to the edge,” the report notes. “Without them, a visually impaired person could unknowingly step into an unsafe area.”

The observation of a barrier does not necessarily mean that the ADA was violated, according to Laura Cech, a spokesperson for the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.

“While the OCWR identifies barriers based on what is not in compliance with the ADA standards, the existence of a barrier does not necessarily mean that the ADA has been violated,” Cech said in an email. “A violation can be dependent on when the element was originally constructed, what alterations have been made since the original construction, and what is feasible from an engineering and technological standpoint. We identify barriers for planning purposes so that the offices know what should be considered to improve accessibility.”

The House Office Buildings — Rayburn, Longworth and Cannon — turned up 1,187 total barriers. Alarms, signage, multi-user bathrooms and storage were among the most common barrier types in the House buildings. In Longworth, there were 118 instances in which a fire extinguisher cabinet hardware, or pull station control is outside the reach range and 31 instances where raised letter and braille characters on the room identification signs are out of the reach range. Rayburn had 494 barriers, Longworth posted 367, and Cannon 326.

“Inclusion is a starting point, not the finish line,” Lawrence Carter-Long, a spokesperson for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund said in an email. “As we near the 30th anniversary of the ADA next year, this report serves as a powerful reminder that Congress, too, has room for improvement. How quickly they achieve their professed goals will serve as evidence to their commitment. And, by extension, the nation’s.”

The report found that there were 186 barriers in the exterior routes and 63 at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Only those buildings noted were part of the report. Others in the Capitol complex, such as the Ford House Office Building, were the focus of other reports. 

“Those buildings were not inspected during the 114th Congress. They were inspected during the 115th Congress. We focus on different areas on the Hill during each Congress,” Cech said. 

A January letter from the Architect of the Capitol to the general counsel at OCWR notes that for the 114th Congress, it removed 10 percent of the barriers in the report, which have been verified by a third-party consultant. For the 113th Congress, 20 percent are closed and for the 112th Congress, 94 percent are completed.

“Thanks for reaching out to the AOC, we are always working to improve accessibility around the campus,” Laura Condeluci, a spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol, said in an email. “As for a response to the report, please see Appendix I, which includes AOC comments.”

The above referenced Architect of the Capitol letter is in Appendix I.

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