But educating personal office, district and committee aides about accessibility and disability rights and resources could be an effective way to improve access and limit uncomfortable, disrespectful and exclusionary treatment for people with disabilities on Capitol Hill.
Phoebe Ball, who serves as Disability Policy Counsel for the House Education and Labor Committee, described “attitudinal barriers,” including watching staffers gawk as she, a wheelchair user, approached them.
“I have sometimes been greeted by congressional staff with panic, obvious discomfort and occasionally condescension,” Ball told the committee at a hearing on May 27. “Whether these barriers are intentional or unintentional they are unacceptable and some basic disability awareness training can help, as long as the training doesn’t include disability simulations, which can reinforce stereotypes.”
Langevin emphasized that staff without knowledge of disability and accessibility resources can’t fully engage constituents, whether they are looking to take a tour of the Capitol or voicing concerns about a policy issue.
“Many House staff are simply not familiar with disability rights or accessibility services and procedures. By requiring the staff to have accessibility training, we can help the press staff put out communications in an accessible manner, enable administrative staff to handle internal and external accommodation requests properly and ensure staff with disabilities know where to request an accommodation, without fear of it impacting the job,” Langevin testified in that same hearing.