A Win For The People

Reprinted from PN May 2017

An accessibility facelift to the more than 200-year-old Virginia Executive Mansion has earned the landmark PVA's Barrier-Free America Award.

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People with disabilities visiting one of America’s oldest executive residences in the heart of Virginia’s capital city, Richmond, now have an easier, more stately and award-winning way to tour this historic home.

Virginia’s Executive Mansion sits within the gates of a park-like area that includes the state Capitol building designed by Thomas Jefferson. It has been the home to governors of the “Old Dominion” state since 1813.

Until last year, however, visitors with mobility issues had to tour the building via a less-than-dignified entryway. Those who couldn’t climb the steep steps to the historic portico had to use an elevator located at the basement level on the back of the home to access the first floor. 

The People’s House

That all changed when Virginia’s 72nd governor, Terence R. McAuliffe, approved an accessibility facelift for the national historic landmark.

A wheelchair-accessible ramp at Virginia’s Executive Mansion allows a “most accessible and dignified welcome for all Virginians,” said Virginia Gov. Terence McAuliffe.

Now, all those with disabilities can enter the mansion via a ramp that is connected to an existing breezeway leading to the southern entrance on the mansion’s first floor.

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) helped consult on the facelift, which earned PVA’s 2017 Barrier-Free America Award. Established in 2001, the award honors and promotes leadership, innovation and action in the architectural, design and construction communities for advancing accessibility — an advancement that improves the quality of life for everyone. 

“When people with disabilities have no alternative but to enter buildings through back or side entrances, using service or freight elevators, or by other circuitous routes that separate them from the general population, it only serves to make them feel isolated and uncomfortable,” says PVA’s Director of Architecture Mark Lichter. “Wheelchair users should be able to enjoy the same activities as able-bodied individuals, particularly in public access dwellings that exist to welcome visitors from all over the country.”

Lichter and the PVA architecture team were among the experts who consulted on Virginia’s Executive Mansion project, reviewing the design and assisting with the accessibility features during the design and construction phase.

PVA veteran members were then invited to attend the celebratory ribbon-cutting when the accessibility ramp was opened on March 24, 2016. McAuliffe and his wife, Dorothy, also attended, along with other Virginians with disabilities, to celebrate the mansion’s enhanced access and safety for all guests.

“The Executive Mansion is the people’s house, and this ramp will ensure the most accessible and dignified welcome for all Virginians, from our wounded warriors to our disabled citizens,” said McAuliffe during 
the ceremony.  

Feeling Welcome

Seeing veterans and others enter the house easily and comfortably motivates the PVA architecture team to consult on hundreds of such projects around the country. They provide accessibility design consultation and support to ensure the use and enjoyment of facilities for all people with disabilities. That sentiment is clearly echoed by Dorothy McAuliffe. 

“We want everyone who visits the Executive Mansion to feel welcome, and to achieve that goal, every visitor must be able to enter on the main floor,” she said during the ceremony. “Through thoughtful collaboration with architectural and preservation experts, we were able to provide enhanced access that complements the historic character of the home.” 

The historic landmark was officially presented with the Barrier-Free America Award during a private celebration at the Executive Mansion this spring.

“As Gov. Terence McAuliffe remarked when the ramp opened, ‘The Executive Mansion is the people’s house,’ and we applaud the work that was done to make it more enjoyable for all of the people,” Lichter says. 

Previous Barrier-Free America award recipients have included architects, business people, philanthropists and television personalities.

“Through our work, we play an extremely important role in removing the barriers that people with disabilities face everywhere, every day,” Lichter says. “The Barrier-Free Award exemplifies excellence in the philosophy and execution of these principles.”

ails, dimensions and specifications to building designers. It is the most widely used model building code in the United States.

For more information on the Executive Mansion, visit, or for more information on PVA’s architectural  department, visit


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A Win For The People


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