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On February 27, 2013, a statue of Rosa Parks will be joining the U.S. Capitol...
Accessible ramp at Senate Parks near the Senate Underground Garage.

Designing with ADA in Mind

An accessible ramp at Senate Parks near the Senate Underground Garage.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, and represents one of the country's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation as it prohibits discrimination and guarantees people with disabilities equal opportunity. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, the ADA forever changed the way architects and engineers approach design.

Prior to joining the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), I practiced architecture in the private sector. My professional career matured as the ADA was signed into law and guidelines established. In fact, the ADA Standards for Accessible Design was always at my desk for easy access! We would incorporate typical details into projects and always attempted to find an appropriate way for persons with disabilities to access the building – fully honoring equal access. But my experience was typically facility or building related.

Kaylan Dunlap from Evan Terry Associates training a group of AOC employees on measuring for ADA Compliance.

Over the past several years, my role at the Architect of the Capitol has blossomed to include Compliance Officer, whereby I help manage the many accessible findings from the Office of Compliance, mostly dealing with the natural environment outside of a facility. Barriers such as a one-half inch sidewalk crack or a one-half inch transition resulting from sidewalks that have been buckled by tree roots or cross slopes perpendicular to travel exceeding 2 percent had not been as meaningful to me since they involved the world outside of buildings.

It wasn't until attending an ADA coordinator conference and receiving training from a wheelchair-bound professional here at the AOC did I truly understand how valuable these seemingly small modifications were to simply achieving access around the campus.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is important to remind ourselves why it is a necessary and helpful piece of legislation. While seemingly only relevant to a small number of Americans, the impact that this law has had on society is quite far reaching. There are almost 57 million disabled Americans today, with 30.6 million of these individuals experiencing difficulties with mobility. Even though only about 19 percent of the American public actually experiences these disabilities, the impact is much broader. That's why it is so essential to remember that incorporating these seemingly small improvements into our design and planning helps not only a fraction of Americans, but each one of us!

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