“Unlike other civil-rights issues, disability rights does have a price tag. We are in, and probably are going to continue to be in, a pretty tight budget climate. I think it will be hard to get the money to do this,” said Curt Decker, the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network. He added, “It is always going to be a struggle with the funding, but it’s the law, and we’re pressuring everyone to be compliant.”
Though the AOC accomplished a long list of accessibility improvements during the past few years, it also emphasized that, like OOC, budgetary challenges make it difficult to immediately assess and solve every problem that arises.
“We work to minimize the budgetary impacts of these improvements by including ADA improvements as part of larger projects when appropriate,” AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said in an e-mail. “This helps to save taxpayer dollars and to reduce the amount of construction occurring across the campus at one time.”
But it isn’t just old historic buildings at the Capitol that aren’t accessible. Even new renovations--like the sidewalks outside House office buildings, many of which were updated after the 2001 terrorist attacks--don’t always comply with the legislation’s requirements.
In the private sector and in state and local government buildings, building inspectors ensurethat proposals for new construction comply with the ADA, as is legally required. But on Capitol Hill, there is no requirement that new construction be assessed for its compliance with the ADA, and though the OOC offers free technical assistance to architects and contractors, there is no legal requirement that Capitol construction crews follow or even seek their advice.
The AOC, for its part, said it does work to ensure that new facilities meet ADA requirements. The AOC gave the example of the Capitol Visitor’s Center, which is fully ADA-compliant and has been lauded by people with disabilities as welcoming and “nothing short of amazing” in its accessibility.
But OOC uses the same construction project as evidence that its work is needed earlier. When Congress was building the CVC, OOC was not asked to inspect plans for the new construction, the agency said. OOC inspected the building only after the House Appropriations Committee asked it to do so, after much of the construction had been completed. Its inspections revealed more than 150 Occupational Safety and Health Administration and ADA violations, which the AOC then abated.
Disagreements, albeit rare, over whether or how to address a certain hazard or barrier leave the AOC and OOC tangled in a somewhat strained relationship. The AOC emphasizes that it has worked closely with OOC to address barriers when it identifies them, and OOC gives the AOC great credit for its work to address accessibility in a tight budget climate. But as occurs in the private sector, the inspector and the builder don’t always see eye to eye.
OOC General Counsel Peter Eveleth said that the AOC occasionally pushes back on its recommendations because renovations can be costly and their finances are tight.
“When it comes to abating hazards, they understand what the law is, and, when we inspect and point them out in our reports, they attempt to remedy them. But sometimes we have to push to get it done,” he said in a statement.