SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
AND MOUNT VERNON LADIES’ ASSOCIATION OF THE UNION
On July 21, 2010, the Department of Justice announced a settlement agreement with the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, which owns and maintains the Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens (“Mount Vernon”). Through a variety of creative methods, Mount Vernon has agreed to bring its facility into greater compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to increase access to its exhibits, programs, and facilities for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or blind, or have low vision or mobility disabilities. This Agreement addresses an historic site’s obligation under the ADA to provide equal access for visitors with disabilities to its historic facilities and public spaces as well as its exhibits and public programs.
The Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens
Located in Alexandria, Virginia, on the banks of the Potomac River, Mount Vernon was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Open every day of the year, it is the most popular historic estate in America, attracting more than a million visitors a year.
Visitors to Mount Vernon can see 20 structures and 50 acres of gardens as they existed in 1799. Among the sites visitors may tour are George Washington’s Mansion, a museum, the tombs of George and Martha Washington, and the nation's most important memorial to the accomplishments of 18th-century slaves. In its new Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, Mount Vernon offers exhibits and programs in innovative formats including state-of-the-art audiovisual programs, computer interactive displays, and special effects. Mount Vernon has agreed to ensure that the experience it offers can be enjoyed by potentially millions of people with disabilities.
Highlights of the Agreement
Over a period of 12 to 36 months, Mount Vernon will phase in a variety of accessibility features.
For individuals who are blind or have low vision, it will –
For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Mount Vernon will –
For people with mobility disabilities, Mount Vernon will –
Requirements of title III of the ADA
Title III of the ADA applies to private entities such as museums, historic sites, restaurants, and stores. It requires that public accommodations ensure that no individual with a disability is discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the entities’ goods, services, and facilities. Where necessary, a public accommodation must also provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services in order to ensure effective communication. Title III also requires removal of barriers to access in existing facilities where it is readily achievable to do so. Any new construction or alteration to buildings, including historic buildings, facilities, and exhibitions must meet the requirements of the physical accessibility standards.
People with disabilities and tourism
The U.S. Census Bureau reported in a 2008 report that in 2005 there were more than 54 million Americans with disabilities. This large-and-growing population of people with disabilities regularly travels, visits museums and historic sites, and eats out with family and friends.
As educational tourist destinations including historic sites, museums, aquariums, zoos, and libraries welcome this audience, it is essential that they use innovative means to provide access to buildings, sites, and interactive and multimedia exhibits. This agreement will serve as a model for ensuring enjoyment of those activities of American life by all individuals, as required by the ADA.
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