Latest report on ADA compliance at the Capitol leaves out key data, raises questions

Office of Congressional Workplace Rights report details barriers for disabled people

The latest Office of Congressional Workplace Rights report leaves out information on the Hart Senate Office Building, pictured here, where NBC producer Frank Thorp takes a photo from the second floor of Hart in June.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The latest Office of Congressional Workplace Rights report leaves out information on the Hart Senate Office Building, pictured here, where NBC producer Frank Thorp takes a photo from the second floor of Hart in June. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 9, 2021 at 6:49pm

The Capitol complex continues to be an unwelcoming environment for people with disabilities 31 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, a biennial report from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights for the 115th Congress shows — and which might still undercount such barriers considerably.

Of the 1,996 total barriers identified by the office, 900 were attributed to multiuser restrooms, followed by self-service displays and racks (267 ) and doors (134). However, this report undercounts the doors substantially and doesn’t take into account the Hart Senate Office Building.

“The door category total includes eight barriers that were assigned as ‘whole facility’ barriers because the issue is present throughout the entire facility as opposed to a single office or space,” the report said.

Doors are listed among the most common barrier types for the Rayburn, Cannon and Longworth House office buildings. Instead of listing the exact number of doors that were identified as barriers, the report says “Whole Facility” for each building.

“This total includes whole facility barriers,” states a footnote referring to the door total. “While whole facility barriers are counted as ‘single’ barriers in the total listed above, there is actually a much higher incidence of that type of barrier in certain facilities.”

Rayburn has 182 barriers (there were 494 listed in the prior report for the 114th Congress), Longworth is at 106 (367 in the previous report) and Cannon is at 82 (326 in the previous report), according to the report.

“With the 6 door barriers in Rayburn, 4 of them are actually whole facility barriers, which means that the specific issue affects all or a substantial majority of the Member office doors in Rayburn,” the report says.

For Longworth, the pattern of undercounting mirrors that in Rayburn.

“The 2 door barriers are actually whole facility barriers, which means the issue is present in all or a substantial amount of the Member office doors,” according to the report.

Cannon followed suit.

“Cannon also had building-wide barriers concerning the doors to Member offices: the doors do not have enough maneuvering clearance for individuals using wheelchairs, and the door hardware (i.e., knobs or handles) is difficult to use for individuals who have disabilities affecting their hands,” the report said.

Nancy Baldino, a spokesperson for the OCWR, did not directly answer questions about why Hart was excluded from the report or why doors were counted as whole facility barriers.

“The information provided in the report is comprehensive and shows the progress made toward improving accessibility on the Capitol Hill campus,” Baldino said in an emailed statement.

Across the rest of the Capitol campus, the Ford House Office Building presented 548 barriers. The Library of Congress Madison Building had 455 barriers, and the Library of Congress Jefferson Building had 269.

Not being able to take into account the Hart Senate Office Building suggests the report is not comprehensive. Hart topped Senate buildings in the previous report with 490 barriers. The report for the 115th Congress covers fewer facilities (more than 12) than the report that was completed for the 114th Congress (more than 20), which found 2,568 barriers.

Removing the barriers identified would be costly.

“Based on these software estimates, the total cost for correcting all the barriers found during the 115th Congress totals approximately $12.5 million,” according to the report. “The actual construction costs for removing these barriers have not been confirmed or validated by the AOC.”

Left unsaid are issues that have arisen or been resolved in the intervening years since the end of the 115th Congress in January 2019.