Newseum Settles with DOJ Over Disability Regulation Violations

90 violations result in $15,000 fine

DOJ fines the Newseum for Disability Act violations
DOJ fines the Newseum for Disability Act violations / AP
December 9, 2013

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. has been cited by the Justice Department for nearly 100 violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including placing coffee lids six inches too high and having "protruding objects" throughout the building.

A settlement agreement with the museum on Pennsylvania Avenue was released on Friday after the DOJ conducted an "investigation and compliance review" over two years to determine if the Newseum was violating any disability regulations.

"Based on that compliance review," the DOJ said, "the Department found that the Newseum, Inc. failed to design and construct facilities that are readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities."

The first major offense listed reads, "There are protruding objects throughout the Newseum, Inc."

As a result, the Newseum will write a check for $15,000 "payable to the United States Treasury," and take "remedial measures" to address numerous ADA infractions, which include control buttons six inches out of reach and bathroom signs that do not have an "eggshell" finish.

The DOJ provided an appendix of the 90 alleged violations, which cover all exhibits, gift shops, restaurants, and bathrooms within the seven-floor museum on journalism history.

For example, in the Newseum gift shop the "Will Shortz crossword books are displayed at 72 inches above the finish floor and outside the reach range of a patron who uses a wheelchair or scooter." The Newseum has already complied with this infraction, moving merchandise to lower shelves, specifically "between 15 inches and 48 inches above the finish floor."

"This agreement ensures that people with disabilities will have an equal opportunity to enjoy the Newseum as other visitors," said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

"The Justice Department is committed to knocking down these types of barriers, and we commend the Newseum for its innovative efforts to improve accessibility for all visitors," said Samuels, one of the lawyers also suing Louisiana over the state’s school choice program.

Additionally, the Newseum was cited for its entryway into the "Berlin Wall Death Tower," a replica of a guard tower along the wall where snipers were stationed during the Cold War. The doorway is 2.5 inches too short.

The Justice Department instructs the Newseum to "modify procedures to train staff to warn patrons with visual disabilities that the entry portal of the Berlin Wall Death Tower lacks the required vertical clearance (which is 80 inches or 6 feet, 8 inches) and to assist them to enter the Death Tower without walking into the bottom edge of the roof structure of the Death Tower entry portal."

In the food court, coffee cup lids are "more than the maximum of 54 inches [4.5 feet] above the finish floor required for a side reach." Lids must be only 4 feet from the ground.

There are only two, instead of the required six, spaces for wheelchairs in the Annenberg Theater, and in a men’s bathroom a side grab bar is only 3 feet long, instead of 3.5 feet.

Bathrooms in The Source restaurant also do not have adequate signs. "The backgrounds of the signs identifying the toilet rooms do not have an eggshell, matte, or other non-glare finish, as required," the DOJ said.

The "TV Timeline" exhibit displays items too high for a person of "short stature" to see, and an interactive exhibit on 9/11 must be changed because a stylus for patrons to enter comments requires "tight grasping, pinching, and twisting of the wrist to operate."

A box displaying the camera that Charles Porter used to photograph the Oklahoma City bombing destruction, and the "Whiteboard Wizard" display in Tim Russert’s office are listed as "protruding objects."

"We have worked closely with the Department of Justice to make certain the Newseum is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act's standards," Jonathan Thompson, manager of media relations at the Newseum, told the Washington Free Beacon.

"We at the Newseum are making certain all our audiovisual presentations, exhibitions, public programs, website and other offerings are easily accessible to our guests with disabilities of all kinds," he said.

The Newseum will add closed captioning, assisted listening systems, and recorded audio descriptions to the exhibits as part of the agreement, which will cost more than the $15,000 fine. Thompson said he could not provide an exact estimate of the additional costs at this time.

The Newseum will have one year to correct the violations. Under the settlement, the DOJ "shall have the right" to inspect the Newseum with seven days notice to ensure they are in compliance. The government may also get a court order to enforce the agreement, if the Newseum fails to make all the corrections required.

Published under: Department of Justice