Inspection Report No. OIG-INS-11-00-09
Review of Handicap Access

UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT
National Labor Relations Board
Office of Inspector General

Memorandum

September 8, 2000

To: Angela Crawford
Chief, Procurement and Facilities Branch

From: Jane E. Altenhofen
Inspector General

Subject: Inspection Report No. OIG-INS-11-00-09: Review of Handicap Access

We initiated this inspection in July 2000 to determine whether the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) leased office spaces met the requirements for handicap accessibility. The inspection focused on the public's access to NLRB facilities, primarily reception areas, information officer rooms, and hearing rooms.

We found that NLRB offices generally met the standards for handicap accessibility, but had some common deficiencies. Doors commonly presented problems because the knobs were difficult to use and some doors required too much force to open. Hearing rooms often did not have wide enough pathways, platform areas did not have ramps, and designated spaces for handicapped seating were not provided. We suggest that the Procurement and Facilities Branch become more knowledgeable about handicap access requirements and more proactive in bringing NLRB office space into compliance.

A draft inspection report was distributed for review and comment on August 18, 2000 to the Chief of the Procurement and Facilities Branch and the Regional Directors for the five offices visited, with an information copy to other Agency officials. The Facilities and Safety Section Chief provided the only response. He stated the report was generally accurate and made three comments/corrections, which were incorporated.

SCOPE

We interviewed NLRB staff in the Procurement and Facilities Branch to discuss the process for design and renovation of NLRB office space, and the Division of Operations-Management to obtain descriptions of Regional Offices. We contacted the handicap access officer at General Services Administration (GSA) to confirm the status of reporting requirements.

We reviewed the: Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 that first established the requirement that Federal buildings be made accessible to the handicapped; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) that extended the requirements for handicap access to privately owned, state, and local government buildings. We also reviewed the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) 41 CFR 101-19.6, Appendix A issued in 1984.

We conducted this inspection at Headquarters and 5 Regional Offices. We selected Regional Office 4, Philadelphia to test fieldwork. We selected Regional Offices 2 - Manhattan, 7 - Detroit, 13 - Chicago, and 29 - Brooklyn, primarily because these offices had some of the greatest numbers of public walk-ins indicated in the Fiscal Year 1999 Cumulative Public Information Program Quarterly Report compiled by the Information Technology Branch.

For each office, we evaluated the reception areas, the main information officer room, and one or two hearing rooms. For private buildings, we evaluated one of the main entrances and one elevator car. At Headquarters, we also evaluated all four floors of the parking garage and one elevator car.

We used the UFAS Checklist prepared by Barrier Free Environments and the UFAS Retrofit Manual prepared by the U.S. Architectural & Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to conduct our inspection. For each area, we selected the appropriate UFAS survey forms that included parking, pathways, ramps, entrances, doors and gates, elevators, rooms and spaces, and assembly rooms.

BACKGROUND

The 10th anniversary of the ADA was celebrated in July 2000. President Clinton stated that the Federal Government should lead the way in making this country more handicap friendly. The President also issued Presidential Proclamation No. 7327 entitled "Spirit of the ADA Month," in which the President noted that taking steps to allow greater access through construction and renovation of facilities is the key to achieving equality for handicapped individuals.

The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 required that buildings and facilities that are designed, constructed, altered or leased by or on behalf of the Federal Government must be accessible. The UFAS, issued in 1984, established minimal requirements as well as recommended levels of compliance. For example, doors must be a certain width but do not have to open automatically, and elevators must have raised buttons but not braille. Despite the 16 years that the regulations have been in effect, recent newspaper reports indicate that some public buildings still do not meet the minimum requirements for handicap accessibility.

The responsibility for ensuring compliance is not clearly established. The GSA owns and leases all Federal buildings. Some Regional Offices are located in older buildings with existing compliance issues when the Board moved into the space. Current leases include a standard clause that construction must comply with handicap requirements. Staff in the Procurement and Facilities Branch, who design and oversee renovations in NLRB offices were aware that the handicap requirements existed, and corrected some deficiencies during office relocations and/or space reallocations. However, staff in the Procurement and Facilities Branch primarily relied on GSA and the contractors to ensure compliance with the requirements. This practice of reliance on GSA is problematic because GSA cannot know critical information such as whether a counter will be used as a work surface. Additionally, efforts to identify and update older furniture and ensure appropriate placement of furniture and fixtures within rooms are totally within the NLRB's control.

FINDINGS

A summary of the findings discussed below is presented in the attachment.

Main Entrance

Four NLRB offices were in private buildings. All of the main entrances, with the exception of Headquarters, had revolving and hinged doors. Only one entrance had a power assisted hinged door. We evaluated the accessible route to the main entrance and one hinged door at each office.

The doors were of proper width, opened within the established force limits, and handles could be opened using one closed fist. We identified one area of non-compliance:

Elevators

The four offices in private buildings were located on floors 5 through 11 at Headquarters, 7 in Regional Office 4, 8 in Regional Office 13, and 10 in Regional Office 29. One elevator car was evaluated at each location. Hallway call buttons were inspected on the floor where each Regional Office was located and the lobby at Headquarters.

All elevator cars were of proper width and length and doorways were of proper width. All elevator cars came to a stop at the required vertical distance from the floor. The doors to each elevator remained open for a minimum of three seconds and opened and closed automatically. All hallway call buttons were centered at the appropriate height from the floor. The entranceway floor numbers were of the proper height and letter size. All elevators had communications devices installed. We identified the following areas of non-compliance:

Reception Areas

All five Regional Offices had reception areas. Four out of the five Regional Offices had entrances with double doors and one door was always locked. A security counter and glass partition separated the receptionist and inner offices from the reception area. Access to the inner offices was controlled by a locked door that could be operated with a buzzer release. Two offices had a desk in the reception area for the public use in viewing charges and petitions. We evaluated access to the reception areas, work surfaces, and wall-mounted objects in each office.

All of the doors had adequate maneuvering space on both the pull side and the push side of the entrances and each area had the proper headroom. All floor surfaces were compliant and all light switches were the proper height on the wall. All reception areas had accessible pathways from the entrance and elevators to the security window. We identified the following areas as being non-compliant:

Information Officer Rooms

All five Regional Offices had separate information officer rooms. The public had direct access to the information officer rooms from the reception area in two Regional Offices. The information officer rooms in the other three Regional Offices were located beyond the reception area accessed through a controlled door. The information officer rooms are used to meet with members of the public to review forms and answer questions, but not to prepare forms. We evaluated the door providing access to the room, pathways, work surfaces, and wall-mounted objects in each office.

The doors were of proper width and easily opened, and all rooms had an accessible pathway from the reception area into the room and slip resistant, stable, and firm floor surfaces. We identified the following areas of non-compliance:

Hearing Rooms

All five Regional Offices and Headquarters had at least two hearing rooms. Each Regional Office had one large hearing room that seats more than 50 people and one or two smaller hearing rooms that seat less than 50 people. Each of the Regional Offices hearing rooms had a judge's bench, witness box, and court reporter unit that sat upon a raised platform; all but one were connected units. One Regional Office and Headquarters had gates separating the public seating area for the attorneys, parties and judges. Three Regional Offices and Headquarters had small anterooms that led to the hearing rooms. We evaluated the accessibility and seating of the hearing rooms.

Each of the hearing rooms had slip resistant, stable, and firm floor surfaces. All of the carpeting in the hearing rooms was low pile with padding underneath. The doors were all the proper width. However, the non-compliant issues identified were as follows:

Parking

The Headquarters parking garage has four levels and contains 425 parking spaces. Each parking level has an elevator lobby that provides access to the west side of the building. We reviewed the accessibility of the parking lots.

The Headquarters parking garage had the required 13 handicap accessible parking spaces. The following area was identified as non-compliant:

SUGGESTIONS

We suggest that the Procurement and Facilities Branch become more knowledgeable about the handicap access requirements and more proactive in bringing NLRB office space into compliance. Ideally, a long-range plan to review and upgrade furniture and facilities would be developed. At a minimum, offices should be brought into compliance when moving locations, renovating, or purchasing new furniture.

Attachment (Investigation Findings)

cc: The Board
General Counsel
Director of Administration