The Braille Monitor                                                                                       December 2002

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What to Do in Washington, D.C.

by Sandy Halverson

The United States Capitol
The United States Capitol

From the Editor: For a number of years now Sandy Halverson and her efficient volunteer staff have handled the collection and organization of the information Federationists gather during our annual Washington Seminar. Now that Sandy and her husband John have returned to the Greater Washington area, we asked her to gather information about fun things to do in the nation's capital while we are in town during the first week of February and not actually in meetings with members of our congressional delegations. This is what she offers:

At the time of this writing, many of us are making plane and hotel reservations for our upcoming Washington Seminar. Some of us come to our nation's capital a day or two early because of cheaper air fares, or we find that we have blocks of time during the week which our congressional appointment scheduling personnel cannot fill. This sample of museum information is offered to give seminar attendees an opportunity to experience some of our nation's history while we are creating a bit of our own.

The Congressional Special Services Office (CSSO), located in the Capitol, has Braille maps of the tourist areas of Washington. I'm not sure how much of the Mall is covered, but I am told much is included.

This office also has a package of Braille and large-print Capitol-related materials and an audiotape of the public Capitol tour. A table‑top relief map showing the area from the Library of Congress to Union Station, including the Capitol Hill area and the Mall, is located at the CSSO in the crypt of the Capitol—appointments are required to reach the office. Identical maps can be examined inside the South Capitol entrance of the Rayburn Building, ground floor, and outside the Disbursement Office on the first floor of the Hart Building.

Blind people can of course take the usual public tour, or, if the CSSO is contacted in advance, blind visitors can have a more private tour, which includes aural descriptions of paintings as well as an opportunity to touch some of the statues. The office requests as much advanced notice as possible for scheduling special tours. The public tour takes approximately one hour.

Since September 11, access to the Capitol itself has been greatly restricted. Although a valid picture identification is sufficient to enter any of the Congressional office buildings, visiting the Capitol now requires a visitor's pass or gallery pass. These are best obtained from a member of Congress or senator's office. You can contact the CSSO at (202) 224-4048.

Yasmin Reyazuddin, one of our Maryland Federationists, works as a volunteer information specialist at the Smithsonian Institution. She assures us that, if requested, tour guides can show blind visitors tactile reproductions of some items in the museum collections. The National Museum of African Art introduces visitors to native artifacts found in African cultures. Although the National Air and Space Museum has a number of inaccessible displays, it also now boasts a number of others that are designed for tactile exploration. The National Museum of American History is always a popular tourist attraction, and right next door is the National Museum of Natural History with plenty of exhibits to investigate. The Arts and Industries Building is adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle, the first of the Institution's buildings, which now houses the visitors center and a restaurant. The Arts and Industries Building offers a variety of scheduled exhibits that change periodically. The Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture garden displays contemporary art. A unique feature of this museum is the opportunity to examine the sculptures while wearing special gloves.

Staff at the Smithsonian are very willing to make exhibits meaningful to everyone, but cannot work with blind visitors without prior notice. To obtain additional information about specific tours, admission fees, and the nature of exhibits, call the visitors' center at (202) 357‑2700 or go to <>. To make tour arrangements for a specific museum, call the Smithsonian's main number (202) 357-1300 and ask to be connected with the individual museum.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, located near the National Mall, just south of Independence Avenue, SW, between 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place, provides one of the most profoundly moving museum experiences in Washington. Tours with a docent must be arranged at least two weeks before your planned arrival time. For more information or to make tour arrangements, call (202) 488-0400.

One of the many small but delightful collections in the Washington area is the Hillwood Museum and Gardens. It was originally the home of Marjorie Meriwether Post, who collected furniture and objets d'art from Tzarist Russia and the Louis XVI period. Blind visitors are permitted to examine much of this collection, though using gloves for some pieces. This is a very small museum and cafe, so reservations are required for both tours and dining. It is located at 4155 Linnean Ave., NW. For more information call (202) 686-5807 for tours or (202) 686-8505 for the cafe, ext. 8517. The Web site is <>.

If a narrated tour is more to your liking, contact Old Town Trolley Tours at (202) 832‑9800 or its screen-reader-accessible Web site at <>. This narrative service, rated as outstanding by Washingtonian Magazine, operates between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., with trolleys running every thirty minutes. The Smithsonian Institution museums, Ford's Theater, the White House, and the Capitol are just some of the stops. Passengers may leave the vehicle at any stop and board a later trolley.

If evening sight‑seeing seems in order, the Monuments by Moonlight tour, which takes approximately two and a half hours, leaves from Union Station. This tour is also scheduled through Old Town Trolley Tours at (202) 832‑9800.

Ford's Theater, located at 511 10th Street, NW, can be reached at (202) 426‑6924 or <>. Officials anticipate that renovations currently in progress will be completed by December 2002, at which time daily tours will resume of both Ford's Theater and the Peterson House, the actual location of President Lincoln's death.

For security reasons the popular FBI building tour was discontinued during the summer of 2002. However, a virtual tour is offered at <>, but we cannot vouch for its screen-reader accessibility.

Tours of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing take place from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. all business days except federal holidays. This attraction is located at 14th and C Streets, SW, and calling (202) 874‑2330 will give you more information about its unique gift shop.

The Tourmobile tram route circulates between the Smithsonian museums, Arlington Cemetery, the Washington and Jefferson monuments, the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court, the FBI building, and the National Arboretum. The Vietnam and Korean War Memorials are also popular stops. Although tickets may be purchased from the driver, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is the closest stationary location to the Holiday Inn Capitol for ticket purchase. For additional information call (202) 554‑5100 or go to <>.

The 2003 events calendar for the International Spy Museum has not yet been released. This establishment introduces ticket holders to various facets of espionage, with weekly programming. Its Web site, <>, is not accessible. I was told that a call to (202) 393‑7798 two weeks ahead was sufficient to arrange a private, hands‑on tour, but two days later another staff person told me that, due to the small number of employees, they could not provide this special service.

If you have questions about local eating establishments or public transportation, check with the hotel concierge desk or in the Mercury Room. Mercury Room workers will not sell you a ticket, but we are glad to do what we can to make your touring more enjoyable.


Planned giving takes place when a contributor decides to leave a substantial gift to charity. It means planning as you would for any substantial purchase—a house, college tuition, or car. The most common forms of planned giving are wills and life insurance policies. There are also several planned giving options through which you can simultaneously give a substantial contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, obtain a tax deduction, and receive lifetime income now or in the future. For more information write or call the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.

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