By Steven Friederich – The Daily World
Wednesday, July 2, 2008 10:49 AM PDT
Tony Morris of Raymond was confined to a wheelchair because of his muscular
dystrophy a year ago. Now, he can’t go up the stairs of his local post office.
He asked his postmaster why there wasn’t a wheelchair ramp and was told to
talk to his congressman. That’s what he did Tuesday night and Congressman
Brian Baird said he’d see what he could do to help.
SOUTH BEND “Tip” O’Neill, the longtime Speaker of the House, once declared, “All politics is local.”
So when Congressman Brian Baird came to South Bend for a forum, high gas prices, recession worries and the war in Iraq walked hand in hand with a local problem:
The Raymond Post Office doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp.
The federal building is not handicapped accessible, and when residents complained to their local postmaster, they were told to tell it to their congressman.
So that’s exactly what a standing-room-only room crowd did Tuesday night when the Vancouver Democrat fielded questions at the Pacific County Courthouse Annex.
At first, Baird thought it might be just one concerned resident. Then another turned up. Then another. The complaints just kept coming, and the congressman looked flummoxed. He promised to look into the problem and asked residents for their patience because he has a full plate.
“With all of these important things coming up, I feel kind of foolish, but I am 95 years old and I’d like to get that ramp there before I die,” said Wilma Panders of Raymond.
“For you to go to the Post Office should be your right as an American citizen,” Baird emphasized.
The Raymond Post Office is designated as an historic structure and is therefore exempt from having to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Baird said.
“If the legislation is saying that in order to preserve the appearance of our Post Office some of our citizens can’t access that Post Office, we need to find some way to remedy that,” the congressman said. “And I will check into that. But it may take me a while ” a long while “to change it.”
“I went to the postmaster yesterday and he said to talk to you,” Morris told Baird.
“And I’m glad you are,” Baird replied.
Morris said that to get his mail or buy stamps, he has to call on his cell phone and let the Post Office know he’s outside.
“That’s rain or shine,” Morris said later on the sidewalk outside the Post Office, which he says has become one of his biggest obstacles as he learns to get around in his wheelchair.
“Can’t you just picture me out here with an umbrella,” Morris said, rolling his eyes. “The Post Office doesn’t even post its phone number on its door, so what happens if someone else with a disability needs to get their mail or drop off a package?”
Anne Louise Grimm said she’s tried to climb the marble stairs in the rain and slipped. She demanded that Baird help clear the hurdles to install a ramp, too.
The congressman asked members of the audience of 50 or so to raise their hands if they had an issue with the Post Office going ahead and adding the ramp anyway, despite historic guidelines.
Not one hand was raised.