Jefferson National Expansion
Administrative History
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Administrative History
Bob Moore
video monitor
Video monitor with accessibility information, installed in the visitor center in 1984. NPS photo by Al Bilger.


During the 1980s, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial implemented several measures in an effort to make park programs and facilities more accessible to all visitors. Although the design of both the Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch complex pre-dated many accessibility guidelines, and improvements in facility accessibility were rather limited, some gains were made. [1] In 1986, as part of the extensive restoration work on the Old Courthouse, a Garavanta wheelchair lift was installed at the west entrance to allow access into the building. [2] In 1987, portable ramps were acquired to provide access to the museum shop/information center, the theater, the diorama room, and the St. Louis history exhibit galleries on the first floor. [3]

Improvements in program accessibility were more notable. By 1989, several interpreters had been specially trained in sign language; two TDD telephones were installed in the interpretation division offices; and interpreters received special population awareness training. [4]

Video Programs

The memorial commissioned two video programs to assist visitors with disabilities, which were produced in 1984 with funds from the Jefferson National Expansion Historical Association (JNEHA). Both videos made use of a sign-language interpreter, shown in a vignette in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Earphones were available at the location of the viewing monitors, which could be used to increase the volume of the program for the hearing impaired. The programs were self-activated with special non-mechanical switches, which worked upon contact with the electrical conductants of the human body. A visitor could start the program by bringing any part of their body in proximity to a small panel, about the size of a light switch cover plate, located about 3.5 feet above the floor. These switches were installed in 1989. [5]

The video at the Gateway Arch illustrated accessibility for visitors with mobility impairments. It described the difficulties involved in a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, including the several flights of steps and small, unique tram cars. The video showed what it was like to ride to the top of the Arch on a tram, the size of the observation area at the top, and the views from each side. The program was produced by a local video company, shot on 3/4" videotape, and transferred to videodisc. [6] The program informed visitors with disabilities of the problems they might face during a visit to the site, allowing people to choose for themselves what programs they wished to attend. The video also provided an alternative interpretive program for activities such as a ride to the top, which were impossible or unsafe for a person with mobility impairments to attend. [7]

Completed in 1862, the Old Courthouse was built before the advent of modern elevator systems. Although a wheelchair lift was installed on the exterior steps of the building, the second floor was not accessible to visitors with mobility impairments. As with many park areas, the costs of rehabbing the building to include an elevator were prohibitive during the 1980s. In addition, the Old Courthouse's second floor was composed of uneven surfaces and steps leading from one wing to another; even with an elevator, a person using a wheelchair or canes would find the area difficult to navigate. To insure that all visitors received a quality interpretive experience, a video program on the first floor provided scenes of the courtrooms on the second floor from doorways as well as other angles not always seen by the public. The video described the history of the building and pointed out the location of restrooms, galleries and areas of interest. [8]

Further Accessibility Improvements

In 1990, further progress toward improved accessibility was made with the use of slides to communicate available services; improved signs at video monitors; and the development of special binders showcasing inaccessible areas. In addition, a site bulletin was developed by JNEHA interpreter Eleanor Hall to inform visitors of available services. An audio enhancement system was installed for use in the Tucker Theater for visitors with hearing impairments. At the Old Courthouse a script was developed for a taped audio tour of the building. [9]

During the early 1990s, JEFF continued its commitment to make its programs and facilities accessible all visitors. An Accessibility Plan for the memorial was completed on February 29, 1988, and a Special Populations Coordinator appointed in December 1989. [10] The park aggressively implemented recommendations in the JEFF Accessibility Plan, including improved programmatic accessibility videos at both the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse, large print brochures, a section of the park newspaper dedicated to accessibility, an adjustable ramp at the Old Courthouse, TDD equipment for the deaf at the Arch, Braille language information, and wheelchairs upon request at both the Arch and the Old Courthouse. Also, JEFF incorporated accessibility requirements into the planning for the new American Indian Peace Medal exhibit and 70mm theater in the Arch complex. The park's collateral duty Special Populations Coordinator, a position filled by JEFF civil engineer David Caselli, reviewed all plans and specifications for facilities and coordinated accessibility issues. The ongoing analysis of needs and costs associated with accessibility continued. [11]

Months of writing and editing a script to accompany the film Monument to the Dream resulted in a final written product to be used in 1991 with a captioning device for the 265-seat Tucker Theater. The custom-designed system was installed by Harpers Ferry Center staff in early 1992. Three training sessions were conducted for the entire staff, focusing on better communication skills between interpreters and visitors with disabilities. Interpreters also joined other park staff in the planning of future improvements involving the Gateway Arch. Plans addressed streetside access to the grounds from two sources, and access to the lobby level of George B. Hartzog, Jr. Visitor Center via an elevator or improved ramps. Attendance at a seminar devoted to explaining the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 also enhanced staff knowledge of critical issues related to the disabled visitor. Awareness of the concerns and barriers encountered by visitors with disabilities increased the sensitivity of the staff to these and other problems, promising many more positive and innovative changes in facility and program access for the remainder of the 1990s. [12]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004