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Simple, familiar problem has no simple solution

Anyone who has tried to enter Boulder City’s post office with packages in their hands knows what it is like to juggle them, or wait for a nice person to help with the two sets of doors — which, of course, have an awkward space in between them. And don’t forget the third set inside, if you want to reach the part of the building to actually mail stuff at the counter.

Imagine the difficulty if you are in a wheelchair or scooter or using a cane or a walker. It makes you wonder why this public building is without power-assisted doors and what can be done about it.

With Christmas behind us, we now can set down those packages and pick up a pen to sign a petition.

The push for power-assisted doors first came up at a listening session for the Boulder City cluster of Nevadans for the Common Good. Valleywide, NCG is an advocacy group devoted to big issues such as homelessness, public transportation and education funding. The big problems are an ongoing battle. But this one specific challenge? It seemed like something “uniquely Boulder City” and achievable for the local cluster on its own. (While there are 42 organizations in the valleywide group, the local cluster of NCG draws its membership from Boulder City United Methodist Church, St. Andrew Catholic Community and St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church.)

That was more than a year and a half ago.

In that time, NCG learned that a lot of those stereotypes about bureaucracy and Catch-22’s are true. There is no money in the federal budget for power-assisted doors. The post office building is just slightly too old to fall under the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act of the 1990s. And the fact that the doors swing open fairly easily does make them compliant with older regulations from 1968, which doesn’t give those holding the purse strings a lot of incentive to make further changes.

There’s not even an encouraging sign that a fundraising campaign would be allowed if NCG decided to appeal to civic-minded donors — a classic case of “Sorry, we won’t pay for it, but we can’t let you pay for it either.”

However, the long process of research and meetings did pay off. NCG’s initiative, accompanied with action by Rep. Susie Lee after NCG spoke with her,generated a request from the U.S. Postal Service district manager in Colorado to use budgeted money to convert the doors. Yes, the request was rejected, but it’s at least on record now, and shows “the natives are restless” here in Boulder City.

And the U.S. Access Board, which enforces accessibility standards at federal buildings, pointed the way to filing a complaint that the post office doors violate the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which states that “no qualified individual with a disability” shall be excluded or denied the benefits of federally funded programs and activities.

NCG is taking an “all of the above” approach. To bolster Lee’s efforts and to give more clout to the access complaint, NCG is organizing a petition drive. The request is simple, and the petition includes these simple but powerful bullet points:

■ The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 supports actions that make access to public buildings, including federal post offices, available to all.

■ U.S. Census data indicates that just under 30% of residents in Boulder City are age 65 or older and approximately 16% of residents are disabled; 67% of those with disabilities are age 65 or older.

■ A significant percent of residents with a disability have an ambulatory disability often requiring the use of a cane, walker or wheelchair.

■ The double set of entrance doors are closely spaced making it difficult to enter the building while manipulating a walker or wheelchair.

If you want to sign the petition, an NCG member will be in front of Boulder Dam Credit Union each Friday in January from approximately 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The petition should also make its way to the Senior Center of Boulder City and to January meetings of several civic groups.

Members of First United Methodist Church, St. Andrew Catholic Community and St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church will have the opportunity to sign before or after Sunday services.

In the meantime, keep smiling at that empty-handed person walking up to the post office at the same time you’re juggling those packages. And, of course, be that nice person when it’s you who can lend a hand.

Mike Weatherford is a resident of Boulder City and member of Nevadans for the Common Good.

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