The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law on July 26, 1990, 26 years ago this week, was designed to remove barriers for handicapped people in a variety of areas and public spaces. Among other things, it paved the way for reserved handicapped parking spaces, prohibition of discrimination in housing and the workplace and the placement of curb cuts on all public streets to facilitate people in wheelchairs.
Despite now being more than a quarter century old, the law has not made some public buildings in Delaware County less challenging for handicapped people, particularly those in wheelchairs.
But few are more challenging than the federal post office buildings in Chester and Darby Borough as confirmed by actual tests conducted by The Spirit.
At the Chester City Post Office, 500 Edgmont Ave., in the city’s downtown area, wheelchair-bound visitors are unable to enter at the front door because there is no ramp. Instead, they are forced to go to the back of building, which is a half-a-block away from the front, to begin the process of accessing a ramp.
The only ramp on the premises is at the far end of the rear of the building, located in an active parking lot used daily by mail trucks and other delivery vehicles. Wheelchair-bound citizens must be cautious when reaching the ramp because the mail trucks, filing in and out of the parking lot, have many blindspots.
In addition to the potential danger of being hit by a mail truck, disabled people must also navigate their wheelchairs on cracked, uneven asphalt and after trudging through those obstacles, the ramp poses yet another challenge.
What looks to have once been for industrial use, but repurposed to accommodate the disabled, Chester’s post office’s ramp is uneven with the concrete having a depressed center throughout the length of the ramp, causing wheelchairs to lose traction. The concrete slabs are also uneven, creating a makeshift step virtually impossible for wheelchairs to go over without the help of a pusher.
The ramp also has a steep incline and violates the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), standards issued by federal agencies and required to be applied during the designing and construction of buildings.
“I try to help anybody I see struggling to get up the ramp,” an employee who wished to remain anonymous said. “God only knows what happens when I’m not here.”
Once disabled visitors successfully reach the top, independently or with help from a pusher, the person has to roll themselves across loading docks, weaving around large hand trucks, to industrial doors that read: “Doors are Locked.”
It is unknown what arrangements are made to access the building, but once inside, patrons are forced to go through a large mail room, marked for employees only, to reach the common area for civilians.
Calls to various entities about this situation were not returned by presstime, including calls to the federal General Services Administration that is responsible for government buildings.
More than four years ago, The Spirit raised this issue with members of the Obama administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) team that came to the city and touted its ability to use federal resources to help solve problems.
Team members took notes. Nothing whatsoever happened.
Although wheelchair-bound patrons are not relegated to moving around the cargo area at the Darby Borough Post Office at 801 Main St., and are provided the right to enter at the main entrance with able-bodied patrons on a smoothly paved ramp, the disabled may still face difficulties negotiating the ramp because of its steep angle.
A reporter found walking the ramp difficult with regular, flat shoes on. The ramp, while not appearing to be as steep as Chester’s, was steep enough to cause a wheelchair-bound patron to become tired before reaching the top which could result in the wheelchair rolling backwards and the patron to suffer potential injuries.