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Office of Compliance:
Congressional Accountability


Reports & Studies - Conducted by the Office

Table of Contents







Constituents and visitors to the legislative branch with disabilities are guaranteed certain rights regarding access to elected representatives, committees, staff, and to the buildings where these officials are located. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these rights include equal access to evacuation plans and procedures. During the 109th Congress, planning for the prompt evacuation of individuals with mobility impairments was a priority. In all public buildings on Capitol Hill, employees and visitors with mobility impairments will now be directed to designated staging areas during an emergency. From these staging areas individuals with mobility impairments will be assisted to safety by trained employees.

Further, although additional work needs to be done, steady progress is being made installing visual emergency alarms in public areas and providing hallway signage giving egress information to individuals with disabilities. These changes will assure the prompt alerting and evacuation of visitors with vision and hearing impairments.

The first part of this Report summarizes the findings set forth in the Individual Building Charts, attached at Appendix A. Comments from the inspected entities are attached at Appendix B.


The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA) established that the public access provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became enforceable within the legislative branch. 2 U.S.C. §1301 et seq. The Office of Compliance (OOC), an independent legislative branch agency, enforces these laws. 2 U.S.C. §1331(b)(1). The OOC also conducts biennial inspections of the legislative branch to ascertain compliance with the ADA. 2 U.S.C. §1331(f)(1). This Report to Congress, and to the entities responsible for fixing violations, presents the findings of the inspection conducted during the 109th Congress.


Title II of ADA -- Access to Public Programs, Services and Activities

Title II of the ADA prohibits public entities from excluding individuals with disabilities from the "services, programs or activities" of the public entity. 42 U.S.C. §12132. See also 28 C.F.R. Part 35. These laws and regulations are applicable to each office of the Senate, each office of the House, each committee, each joint committee, the Capitol Guide Service, the Capitol Police, the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, the Office of the Attending Physician and the Office of Compliance. 2 U.S.C. §1331(a).

A public entity covered by Title II of the ADA must make "reasonable modifications" to practices and procedures to avoid discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Making these changes is mandatory, unless to do so would be an "undue burden" or would fundamentally alter the nature of the program. 28 C.F.R. §35.130(b)(7); 28 C.F.R. §35.150(a)(3). A public entity need not make structural changes in the building it occupies where other modifications would allow the programs or activities to become accessible to individuals with disabilities. 28 C.F.R. §35.150(b). Thus, for example, if a Committee hearing room has a double-leafed door in which a single leaf is too narrow to allow passage of an individual in a wheelchair, the Committee must keep both doors open, or staff the doors, during all Committee hearings which are open to the public.

Title II of the ADA requires public entities, including all Member and Committee offices, to ensure that communication with constituents or individual members of the public with disabilities is "as effective as" communication with others. 28 C.F.R. §35.160(a). The public entity must give "primary consideration" to the request of the individual with disabilities in determining the type of auxiliary aid or services to provide. 28 C.F.R. §35.160(b)(2).1 Public entities that interact with the public by telephone must have access to a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) or a telephone relay system. 28 C.F.R. §35.161.

Title III of ADA -- Removal of Barriers to Access

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in places of public accommodation and requires, among other things, the removal of architectural barriers to access. 42 U.S.C. §12132. See also 28 C.F.R. Part 36. Title III allows for different levels of compliance for "existing facilities" and "new construction."

"Existing buildings" are governed by "readily achievable" barrier removal requirements. 28 C.F.R. §36.304. All of the currently occupied buildings on Capitol Hill are "existing facilities."2 Under this standard, any architectural or structural barriers to accessibility must be removed if the removal is "readily achievable." The determination of "readily achievable" is made on a case-by-case basis and includes factors such as the cost to remove the barrier and the overall financial resources of the responsible entity. Department of Justice ADA Technical Assistance Manual §III-4.4200.

The ADA regulations provide examples of removal of barriers that should be considered "readily achievable." 28 C.F.R. §36.304. A number of these barriers still exist in the Capitol Hill complex: lack of visual alarms in rooms and spaces open to the public, non-compliant signage, non-compliant sidewalk curb cuts and non-compliant door weights. The OOC does not have authority to enforce removal of these barriers unless it receives a formal charge from a visitor with a disability. Nevertheless, the OOC strongly suggests that remedying these barriers to accessibility be given a higher level of priority than in the past.


Improvements Made During 109th Congress

1. Evacuation Planning

The most notable improvement in public access for individuals with disabilities during the 109th Congress was the planning and preparation for evacuation of visitors and employees with mobility impairments. The United States Capitol Police (USCP) and the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) have worked together to establish safe evacuation routes and procedures to get individuals with mobility impairments out of the buildings. All staging areas are now properly located and certain elevators have been modified so that they can safely be used during an evacuation. Trained USCP officers will operate the designated elevators to evacuate individuals with disabilities from the staging areas on floors above and below ground level. Further, the Emergency Action Plans of each office now include information on getting visitors with disabilities to the designated staging areas.

2. Maps and Signage

The OOC’s previous Report to Congress on disability access highlighted that signage and wall maps within buildings on Capitol Hill did not show accessible exit routes and exits for individuals with mobility impairments. (See at 11). Since that Report was issued there has been progress in some buildings, but more work remains. In all of the House Office Buildings, the AOC has marked the accessible exits and staging areas on wall maps. The AOC plans to make similar changes to the wall maps in the Senate Office Buildings and the Capitol Building, and the OOC will inspect the maps during the biennial inspections of the 110th Congress.

3. Charges Filed with OOC Led to Corrective Action

Two Disability Access Discrimination charges were filed with the Office of Compliance during the 109th Congress. Both charges led to corrective action. One charge concerned parking access at a Member’s district office. The district office was located in a building owned by a private landlord. After negotiations, the landlord created an ADA-compliant parking spot, and the charge was successfully resolved. The other charge concerned sidewalk accessibility on the Capitol Hill complex. A constituent using a motorized wheelchair was injured while crossing a temporary sidewalk ramp that was too steep. The AOC replaced the ramp with an ADA-compliant ramp, and is now working toward a permanent solution. This charge is pending closure.

Suggestions for Future Improvements

First Priority: Visual Alarms Installed in Public Rooms and Spaces

Visual alarms are essential to promptly alert individuals with hearing impairments to evacuate. The Department of Justice has determined that installation of visual alarms should be considered "readily achievable" by most organizations. 28 C.F.R. §36.304(a)(7). Such alarms have been installed in public spaces, including restrooms, hallways, and hearing rooms throughout most buildings on Capitol Hill. The major exception is the Hart Building. The AOC reports that it has delayed its budget request for visual alarms in the Hart Building until FY11. The OOC disagrees with the decision to delay remedying this significant hazard. The OOC strongly recommends that the AOC heed the regulations of the Department of Justice and make installation of visual alarms a higher priority. 28 C.F.R. §36.304(c)(2).

Second Priority: Sidewalk Curb Cuts and Ramps

OOC inspectors have measured numerous sidewalk curb cuts throughout the Capitol Hill grounds that are too steep to be considered accessible.3 Some of the non-compliant curb cuts were recently installed.4 The OOC recommends that the AOC survey all of the Capitol complex’s sidewalks and grounds to ascertain which curb cuts are not in compliance with the ADA, and immediately fix those that are non-compliant. Accessible sidewalks are a fundamental public access issue for any constituent who is in a wheelchair.5

In 2006 an ADA public access charge was filed with the OOC following an injury to a constituent caused by the steep slope of a temporary ramp on the sidewalk along Independence Avenue. The constituent was visiting Capitol Hill and injured his head when his motorized wheelchair fell over backwards as he was attempting to cross the temporary ramp. The AOC fixed the problem after the OOC raised the issue. The AOC should be mindful about using non-compliant temporary ramps for any project in an area open to the public.

Third Priority: Tactile Signage

OOC inspectors found that none of the buildings on Capitol Hill has tactile signage at any of the building exits, including the exit stairwells in hallways. Accessible tactile signage is in raised, contrasting and brailed characters and is mounted at 60" above the floor at the centerline of the sign. 28 C.F.R. Pt. 36, App. A §4.30. Such signage enables visitors who are blind or have low vision to find their way out of the building during an emergency. The OOC recommends that installing egress signage accessible to individuals with vision impairments should be a top priority.

OOC inspectors found that brailed office number signage was sometimes inaccurate. These signs were also usually mounted incorrectly, either several inches too high or too low. The House Superintendent’s office recently purchased a machine to make brailed signage and has begun replacing the older signs in the House Office Buildings. The OOC recommends that the other jurisdictions take a similar step. This would also provide for consistent tactile signage throughout all buildings on Capitol Hill.

Objects placed in front of brailled and raised character signage present a barrier to an individual who must touch the sign to understand it. The OOC recommends that building Superintendents and the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) regularly remind each office to remove items in front of hallway signage.

Fourth Priority: Decrease Door Weight for Designated Accessible Restrooms

The force required to open the door to the designated accessible restrooms in many buildings is too great.6 If the door weight is too heavy, an otherwise accessible restroom becomes inaccessible to an individual with mobility impairments. The OOC recommends that the AOC periodically measure and adjust the door opening force of all public restrooms in all buildings that are designated as accessible. Alternatively, the AOC should install automatic door openers for the doors on all designated restrooms.

Fifth Priority: Install Accessible Communications Device in All Staging Areas

At the invitation of the AOC Fire Marshal’s office, the OOC examined an accessible two-way communication device7 that is being installed in some staging areas of the Capitol Building. The communications device connects directly to the USCP communication center. The OOC agrees with the AOC’s decision to install the emergency communication devices and supports AOC’s efforts to install similar devices in all Capitol Hill buildings open to the public.

Sixth Priority: Remove All Obstacles in Hallways

The OOC inspectors found that hallways and corridors in the buildings on Capitol Hill were not always kept free of protruding objects such as public telephones and drinking fountains,8 or tripping hazards such as welcome mats. Such objects are potentially harmful to individuals with low vision who are visiting the buildings on Capitol Hill. The OOC supports ongoing efforts of building Superintendents and the CAO to keep the hallways free of these hazards.

Website Accessibility

The OOC does not currently have jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act which require websites and other electronic information to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.9 Nevertheless the OOC encourages individual offices to ensure that their websites are accessible.10


The OOC inspection of facilities and procedures was conducted from from May 31, 2005 through August 31, 2006. Inspections were conducted by Thomas Seymour, Fire Protection Engineer; David Thompson, Environmental Health Specialist; Luis Guzman, Occupational Safety and Health Specialist; George Maze, Health and Safety Specialist; David Young, OOC Project Manager; and Victor Ontiveros, OOC intern. The inspectors received invaluable guidance and assistance from Earlene Sesker, Accessibility Specialist with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.

Kate Tapley, Senior Attorney with the OOC, is the primary author of the Report. She also oversaw the inspection of facilities and procedures. Editorial assistance was provided by Stephen Mallinger, CIH, who serves as Special Assistant to the OOC General Counsel. Production assistance was provided by Alma Candelaria, Deputy Executive Director of the OOC, Rachel Scherer, OOC Congressional Affairs Specialist and Writer; Carol Griffith, former Administrative Assistant to the General Counsel; Hugh Jackson, OOC intern; and Kathy Schluter, Administrative Assistant to the General Counsel.

The inspection and writing teams appreciate the cooperation of the covered entities during the inspection process. They particularly note the assistance and time given by employees of the AOC.

Peter Ames Eveleth
General Counsel
Office of Compliance

July 2007

1 “Primary consideration” is a different standard than the “reasonable accommodation” requirement of the employment provisions of the ADA.  See 29 C.F.R. §1630.9.

2 The Capitol Visitor Center, which is “new construction,” must strictly comply with ADA accessibility standards.  28 CFR §36.401.

3 Curb ramps must have 8.3% rise or less and must otherwise comply with 28 C.F.R. Pt. 36, App A §4.7. 

4 New curb cuts on existing sidewalk are alterations, and therefore must strictly meet the requirements of the ADA regulations. 28 C.F.R. §36.402(b)(2).

5See also Preamble to Final Rules,  56 Fed. Reg. 35694 at 36 (July 26, 1991)  (Other provisions of the ADA “would be meaningless if people who use wheelchairs were not afforded the opportunity to travel on and between the streets.”)

6 To be compliant, the maximum force needed to open these doors must be 5 lbf. 28 C.F.R. Pt. 36, App A §4.13.11(2)(a).

7 An accessible communications device is within reach of someone in a wheelchair and provides both visual and audible information. For example, a light goes on when help is on its way in case the person in the Staging Area cannot hear.  Similarly, the location of the activated device is indicated on the central control panel  in case the person in the Staging Area cannot talk to give his or her location.

8 A “protruding object” is something that protrudes into the corridor more than four inches and whose leading edge is higher than 27”.  28 C.F.R. Pt. 36., App A §4.4.1.  It cannot be detected by an individual with low vision who uses a cane to navigate.

9 29 U.S.C. §794(d).  The OOC has recommended an amendment to the CAA so that the accessibility of websites would be enforceable.  See e.g.  Section 102(b) Report Dec. 2006, at 18,

10Offices of House Information Resources (202-225-6002) and the Assistant Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Information Officer (202-224-8313) can provide assistance in creating webpages that are compliant with these provisions of the Rehabilitation Act.

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