Even our country’s first President’s home could use a little universal design overhaul. The Justice Department (JD) recently announced a settlement agreement with the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union (MVLA)-which owns and maintains Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, the home of our nation’s first President, George Washington. The JD and MVLA reached an amicable agreement under which the association will continue to bring Mount Vernon’s structures and facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible design standards and provide effective communication of the content of its audiovisual presentations, exhibitions, public programs, and other offerings for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or have low vision.
The estate is located in Alexandria, Virginia on the banks of the Potomac River. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The estate has 20 structures and 50 acres of gardens as they existed in 1799 and includes George Washington’s mansion, a museum, the tombs of George and Martha Washington, and a slave burial ground and memorial.
In a recent article for PR Newswire, Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, noted that, “As the nation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the ADA, we commend the MVLA for its cooperation and for its innovative efforts to improve access to this historic estate and to its exhibitions and programs for individuals with disabilities,”
He continued, “This agreement shows that two lofty goals-providing access for individuals with disabilities, and preserving and understanding our nation’s historic past-are not in conflict. This agreement will ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities who want to participate in the wide range of public offerings of one of the most important historic estates in the United States.”
Under this agreement Mount Vernon Estate will:
- Modify and make accessible the primary walkway to the main entrance for visitors to Mount Vernon;
- Complete installation of an accessible surface along the gravel walk connecting the newly constructed facilities with the historic mansion;
- Provide a shallower entry ramp and complete other modifications to the route into and out of the ground floor of the historic mansion;
- Provide an accessible walk to and a level landing at the entrance of the shops, food court, and Mount Vernon Inn;
- Modify the controls of interactive exhibits so that they are usable by visitors with mobility disabilities;
- Replace or relocate objects that protrude from walls and exhibits so that they are no longer a hazard to visitors who are blind or have low vision;
- Provide closed captioning for its centerpiece films in the Revolutionary War Theater and the Legacy Theater;
- Provide sign language and oral interpreted tours of George Washington’s mansion for people who are deaf or hard of hearing (on advanced request);
- Provide walk-in audio-described tours for people who are blind or have low vision of the mansion, estate grounds and outbuildings, and of the exhibitions, computer interactives, and audiovisual presentations in the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center;
- Provide tactile access to selected objects and reproductions for people who are blind or have low vision to augment information provided as part of the audio-described tours;
- Provide alternate formats (e.g., audio, large print, and Braille) of exhibition label content, general public maps, and printed materials;
- Provide a photographic album containing current views of each of the mansion’s rooms on the basement, second, and third floor levels for people who cannot climb stairs to those areas. The photographs will be accompanied by printed commentary offered to all visitors by the mansion’s historic interpreters.
The agreement resolves a compliance review under the ADA. The department’s review focused on the historic mansion, the Mount Vernon Inn and Shops, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, the Ford Orientation Center, and the public walks connecting these structures. People interested in finding out more about the ADA or this agreement can call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383 (TTY), or access its ADA website at: www.ada.gov.
CAPS designated remodelers like Home Evolutions can incorporate the latest universal design aspects (like some of the ones implemented at the Mount Vernon Estate) into your home in order to achieve all of your aging-in-place needs.