Did you see this in today's New York Times on the web? Very
November 27, 2000
New Lawmaker's Horizon Extends Beyond
By MARC LACEY
WASHINGTON -- The men's room that congressmen use just
off the House floor is closed for now to James R. Langevin, who was elected to the
House this month by voters of Rhode Island's Second Congressional District. The telephones in the cloakroom where
members gather to hash out legislative strategy are inaccessible, too.
Mr. Langevin, a Democrat, will be the first paraplegic member
of the Congress, and his election has prompted the officials who run the Capitol to speed up
their renovation projects.
The floor of the men's room is being rebuilt to allow Mr.
Langevin (pronounced LAIN-juh-vin) the same access as everyone else. A telephone booth in the
cloakroom will also be refitted for his use. When it comes to the historic chamber itself, alterations are planned
to allow Mr. Langevin, in his wheelchair, to vote, debate and mingle with his fellow
"For the first six months I was in the Senate, I had to use
the ladies room," said Senator Max Cleland, Democrat of Georgia. Mr. Cleland, a triple amputee
who was elected in 1996, knows the obstacles Mr. Langevin is to face. Mr. Cleland's wheelchair could not fit
into the Senate men's room or squeeze through various committee rooms before
workers began installing ramps and making other fixes after his arrival.
"Jim is carrying the crusade I began in the Senate to the
House," Mr.Cleland said.
The effort to accommodate people with disabilities in the
140-year-old Capitol began a decade ago. But as Alan M. Hantman, the architect of
the Capitol, put it: "It's a work in progress. We have a lot more to do."
It was a freak accident 20 years ago that left Mr. Langevin
He was a 16-year-old police cadet in Warwick, R.I., when a
member of a SWAT team pulled the trigger on his semiautomatic pistol in the police
locker room, believing it was unloaded as he showed it to a friend. The bullet ricocheted off a locker and severed Mr. Langevin's
spinal cord. Mr. Langevin's dream of a career in the F.B.I. was gone in an instant.
Mr. Langevin's community rallied around him, aiding his family
and encouraging him to go on. Mr. Langevin did not relish all the attention back then.
But now, as he prepares for his first term in the House, he realizes that his political career would not have happened
without the accident and the overwhelming community response that seemed to propel him into a public role.
"I had all these people coming out and rallying around me and
my family," he said recently, visiting Washington for freshman orientation. "It thrust
me into a public life, whether I liked it or not. And I didn't like it at the time, after having this devastating accident that changed the
course of my life and having to get around in a wheelchair."
Mr. Langevin has made gun control one of his signature issues.
He endorses many of the proposals pushed by House Democrats, including background
checks, waiting periods, trigger locks and tighter restrictions on sales at gun shows.
It is true that such restrictions would probably not have
changed what happened to him on Aug. 22, 1980, at the Warwick Police Department.
But Mr. Langevin says he knows better than most how dangerous guns can be.
"My accident happened at the hands of two weapons experts on a
police SWAT team," he said. "And if they can have an accident with a gun, then
anybody can. I don't want to see what happened to me happen to a small child. These kinds of accidents do happen."