smithsonian sidewalk

Access Board Recognizes Smithsonian Accessibility

  January 14, 2022

By Dan Hounsell

Thirty-two years after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), institutional and commercial facilities continue to struggle to ensure the accessibility of their facilities to all visitors and occupants. So when a high-profile organization makes strides in accessibility in its facilities, it’s worth celebrating. 

In December, the U.S. Access Board recognized the efforts of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for its installation of new sloped walkways for accessible entry on the National Mall side of the 111-year-old building. The board recognized the importance of providing compliant and accessible routes and entrances, stating “the Access Board commends the museum for this accessible design and ongoing commitment to removing barriers. It allows easier and more dignified access to the museum for people with disabilities, older adults, stroller users, and others. These sloped walkways are a great example for other museums and historic buildings on the National Mall to follow in providing more accessibility for the American public.” 

Before the upgrades, the museum entrance from the National Mall had provided only a monumental staircase that caused those with disabilities to navigate around the large building to the Constitution Avenue entrance. Now the two new sloped walkways provide greater access to all museum patrons. The walkways are sloped between 1-3 percent and are 8 feet wide, which permits space for two-way pedestrian traffic. The walkways also include bronze handrails and resting landings with a bench at the switchback turns. 

Federal buildings and facilities that were designed, built, or altered with federal funds must meet Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Standards for accessible design, which indicate where access is required and provide detailed specifications for ramps, parking, doors, elevators, restrooms, assistive listening systems, fire alarms, signs, and other accessible building elements. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 25 years of experience covering engineering, maintenance, and grounds management issues in institutional and commercial facilities. 


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