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Alan M. Hantman, FAIA, served as the 10th Architect of the Capitol.
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Capitol Reflections: ADA and Life Safety

The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) works to continually improve physical access across the U.S. Capitol campus, using creative solutions to ensure the grounds and buildings provide access to all, while maintaining and preserving the historic fabric and character of Capitol Hill. While we have made great strides in accessibility over the past 25 years, there is always room for improvement.

Some of our experts shared details from past projects that increased accessibility around Capitol Hill as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

First up is Sue Adams, Director, Safety, Fire and Environmental Programs at the Architect of the Capitol.

How does life safety relate to the Americans with Disabilities Act and what has changed over the past 25 years?

While many people think of the Americans with Disabilities Act as focused on improving access, it has also resulted in better fire and life safety codes to protect people with disabilities. Fire alarms are now required to have flashing strobe lights, in addition to an audible sound, to alert those who cannot hear that there is an emergency.

It may be hard to believe, but 25 years ago there were few fire alarms or automatic sprinklers on the U.S. Capitol campus. Doors to the Capitol were chained and padlocked at night. There were no regular evacuation drills. Night workers typically had few options for emergency evacuation.

During the past 25 years, the Architect of the Capitol has improved the safety and egress for all those who work at and visit the campus by:

  • Installing fire alarms with ADA compliant strobes and pull stations.
  • Installing sprinkler systems (pictured above during testing) to retard fire and smoke, providing greater time for people to get out of the buildings.
  • Designating areas with call buttons to notify the U.S. Capitol Police about the need for rescue assistance.
  • Replacing revolving doors, constructing ramps and providing additional doors to exit in case of an emergency.

And we have completed this work while maintaining the historic fabric of the facilities.

Left: Capitol Building exit before with revolving door. Right: After with its replacement doors and design.

Left: Madison Building exit before with stairs only. Right: After with ramp.

Additional stories from this three part series: ADA and Historic Buildings and ADA and the Visitor Experience.

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