Struggle for Access

A post office in Norwich doesn't have to accommodate the handicapped, due to the law.


Getting stamps in Norwich can be a laboring process for many people with disabilities.  The town's main post office is more than one hundred years old and without a ramp for handicapped people to use.

Rita Waddell relies on bus service to get around Norwich, including trips to the post office.  The bus drops her off in front of three flights of stairs at the post office.  But according to Waddell, those stairs might as well be “to the moon.”

"It was almost impossible for myself, but it's absolutely impossible for others," Waddell said.

Waddell suffers from arthritis in her back, hips, knees and feet.

NBC Connecticut News saw no ramp and no other public entrance at the post office besides a door at the top of the stairs.

Rita showed us how she struggles to walk up the stairs and we saw others with disabilities tackling the same steps.

The US Postal Service confirms it is not bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires most new and existing buildings to be handicapped accessible.  Instead the Postal Service is bound to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, which states buildings built after 1968 that are leased by the federal government must be accessible.

But the Postal Service owns Norwich facility.  It has occupied the building since 1905.

Connecticut's Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (P&A) told NBC Connecticut federal law requires the Postal Service to make its services, like stamps and package pick-up, accessible.

"This doesn't mean that they necessarily have to build ramps and put in elevators," said P&A assistant director Gretchen Knauff.  "It means that they have to, when an individual with a disability comes to them, provide the accommodations that are necessary for that person to have access to whatever the program is."

The Postal Service said it makes special arrangements for disabled customers.  However, it does not conduct retail transactions outside the Norwich facility due to safety concerns.

Waddell questions why she and others with disabilities must struggle up the stairs in 2012 for something as simple as buying stamps or mailing a package.

The Postal Service has no current plans to build a ramp at the Norwich facility.  They urge customers to purchase stamps online, mail packages from home or visit other accessible post offices within a few miles of Norwich.

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