February 15, 2013
Accessible door opener for the Post Office was an uphill climb
Marian DeSanta was mad at herself for choosing Cortaca Jug Saturday to go to the Cortland Post Office.
The Cortland woman was using a walker, after having open heart surgery, but knew she could get up the handicapped accessible ramp at the Main Street building.
But when she got up to the door, she couldn’t open it.
“You can’t hold a walker and open that door. That’s heavy — And (carry) mail to mail. It just doesn’t work. It was awful and embarrassing,” she said.
The students were partying down on the sunny day “doing what they do,” DeSanta said. The owner of the Dark Horse bar came over and opened the door for her.
Fran Pizzola heard DeSanta’s complaint and as community educator and outreach coordinator for Access to Independence, she asked the Cortland Post Office postmaster to install an electric door opener.
The two women were happy to see that a new electronic door opening system is now in place, completed at the end of 2012, according to Willie Tollner, Cortland Postmaster. He is pleased with the work.
“It’s much better. It works wonderfully,” DeSanta said.
But the project was a two year endeavor.
“It takes a while to make something change,” said Pizzola. “I want people to know what goes on and how long it takes to make something happen.”
This is the first time Pizzola, an advocate for people with disabilities, sought help from the federal Access Board in Washington, D.C. to get help with a building modification.
“It was exciting for me. It’s the first time I filed a complaint with the U.S. Access Board,” she said. “Now we know if we can’t do something on a local level, you can go to the federal level,” she said.
“I don’t feel that we were asking for something that was unreasonable,” said DeSanta, 62.
She felt others could benefit, as well.
DeSanta talked to Pizzola after that Cortaca Jug day in 2010. Pizzola contacted the Cortland Post Office by letter in November 2010, asking for electronic door openers. She followed up by phone. She said though the post office installed the ramp around 2008, the ADA law did not require electric door openers in this instance. But she never got a response from the post office.
“I never got any letter from her,” said Tollner, who started at the Main Street office in July, 2010. And he never got the calls, he said of Pizzola. And he never heard any complaints from residents having a problem getting in the building. Pizzola provided a copy of her 2010 letter to Tollner.
Tollner said it’s a long process to have any change done in a federal post office building. He would have to contact the Syracuse Post Office maintenance office, which would seek approval from the Albany Post Office, which in turn would contact the Northeast post office for work approval.
And that work is contracted out with a formal bidding process, he said.
“We were notified that a contractor was coming in to install this,” he said.
Tim Burr, a Governour contractor, installed the door openers, completing the project around November, he estimated.
“He did a good job,” he said.
Tollner said if a person has an accessibility issue with the Cortland Post Office, he has an open door policy and is willing to talk.
Pizzola said she filed a compliant with the U.S. Access Board in April 2011.
“I never heard back,” Pizzola said. “I don’t know who got the complaint letter,” she said. She followed instructions and sent the complaint form to a general address with the agency. She was then out on medical leave from August 2011 to November 2011.
“In all that time, we never received anything back from them,” Pizzola said of the Washington office. “We followed up again in 2012,” Pizzola said.
“On Jan. 12, I faxed ...the complaint form that I sent back in 2011,” Pizzola said.
But Dave Yanchulis, public affairs specialist at the U.S. Access Board, maintains the board never received a complaint before Jan. 12, 2012, in looking through the paperwork on the case.
“We pride ourselves in opening a case pretty quickly. It doesn’t take us long to do that. Our turn around is pretty short,” he said.
He wondered if Cortland access officials sent the paperwork to the wrong place and recommends that people deal with the Access Board directly, not the entity they are seeking a change from.
Pizzola showed a Complaint form she downloaded from the board’s website dated April 2011. This was a form she sent again to the Access Board in January 2012, this time to a specific person in the office, she said
The board investigated the matter from that point on and found that the building, though built before 1969, and thus not required to make accessibility changes under the Architectural Barrier Act of 1968, found that the entrance was modified in 2004 and again in 2010. The act says if a facility is altered with federal funds after 1969, it has to be accessible. The Access Board found that the door way was hard to use and would need the instant door openers.
Yanchulis said the board worked with the U.S.P.S. Field Operations Facility Division in Washington D.C., to get the information it needed and make sure the work was done.
Pizzola said because the building is a federal building, she could not get help locally, through the code office or local officials here, to get a resolution.
“It’s lots of paperwork, phone calls, follow up,” said said. “It’s kind of like CSI, but with no dead bodies,” she said.
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