Marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities
Act, Rep. Jim Langevin took the rostrum July 26 in the House of
Representatives as the first member of Congress in a wheelchair to
preside over the chamber. House woodworkers specially crafted a
gavel for the occasion to ensure it could be easily maneuvered by
the five-term Rhode Island Democrat, who is quadriplegic.
“This is an extremely proud moment for me and helps renew
my spirit as we continue to remove barriers and strengthen the ADA
for millions of Americans with disabilities in the decades to
come,” Langevin said of the occasion.
At the age of 16, he was injured while working with the Warwick
Police Department in the Boy Scout Explorer program. A gun
accidentally discharged and a bullet struck Langevin, leaving him
paralyzed. The outpouring of support from his community inspired
him to enter public service. His current efforts include working to
get rid of Medicare's “in the home” restriction and a
one-year delay of the pending elimination of the first-month
purchase option for power wheelchairs.
Making the Speaker's rostrum — built with two sets of
stairs as part of a House restoration project in 1950 —
wheelchair-accessible entailed the installation of two hydraulic
lifts that are recessed into the floor. When engaged, two separate
platforms raise and extend over several steps to reach the
intermediate and uppermost levels of the podium.
It was a unique challenge to incorporate the modern technology
into the historic space. Because the project could not impede the
work of the House, the lifts were fabricated off-site and installed
at night, on weekends and during district work periods when
Congress was not in session.
“[We are] committed to making the historic buildings on
Capitol Hill accessible to all,” said Stephen T. Ayers,
Architect of the Capitol. “We are working to improve and
increase access, and the campus has never been more accessible than
it is today. We have come up with creative ways to meet the goals
of the ADA as well as maintain and protect the unique architectural
features of these buildings and the Capitol grounds. The Speaker's
rostrum is an excellent example of that ingenuity.”
Said Langevin, “I have long said that I may be the first
quadriplegic to serve in Congress, but I won't be the