A National Mall Accessible to All

National Mall in Washington DCBob Herman, senior advocacy attorney for Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans), has long fought for a more wheelchair friendly National Mall in Washington, D.C. “The walkways are tough,” he said. “I remember being out there for a festival some years ago. Everything was so dusty and wheels easily get stuck.”

Referring to Section 504 of the “Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” Paralyzed Veterans has argued that the National Park Service (NPS), which manages the Mall, was discriminating by permitting inaccessible pathways to be the only routes of travel.

Herman recalls testifying before Congress in 1996, making the point that the National Mall needed to make itself more accessible. The Capital Commission of Fine Arts stated, though, that paving the walkways would compromise the historic nature of the Mall. In 2006, Congress directed the NPS to refurbish the Mall to preserve memorials and historic landscapes and meet the needs of all visitors.

On October 28, 2011, the final plan was issued after lengthy planning, public hearings and multiple opportunities for public comment. Paralyzed Veterans twice submitted comments that focused on the need to pave the Mall’s current gravel walkways to make the Mall an accessible destination for visitors in wheelchairs. The NPS’s proposed course of action is to improve the pedestrian environment by paving the walkways with firm, stable but color-compatible material. The plan as well as alternatives that were studied can be viewed online at this link.

Some improvements have been made, using what Herman calls an “exposed aggregate,” which he said will still be bumpy but will be a major improvement over the gravel walkways. “I know the NPS is making efforts to do it, and I know they want to do it,” Herman said of the walkways project. “The problem is funding. Slowly they are improving, but I haven’t heard a timetable for when improvements will be finished.”

Herman said that the completion of this project will be of major significance to veterans. “How do you put a price tag on independence and equal access?” he asked. “It’s important to (Paralyzed Veterans’) members to do things independently, and they can’t visit the Mall independently due to condition of so many walkways. The Mall is so important to this country and offers so many memorials to veterans. We need to be able to wheel around and see everything and experience it.”

Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.

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