Campaign opens doors

A yearlong effort results in a post office that is
more easily accessible.
Friday, September 26, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:04 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What started out as a bad day for Peter Freidin snowballed into a yearlong struggle for accessibility to the downtown post office.

Freidin has multiple sclerosis and had begun using a wheelchair in October. He had only been in the wheelchair a couple of weeks when he hit a pothole and went flying onto the pavement one afternoon.

Already in a bad mood, Freidin then went to the downtown post office where he encountered another frustration: no automatic doors. “Trying to maneuver a wheelchair and hold open the doors at the same time doesn’t work out too well,” he said.

Freidin went home that day and decided to do something about it.

He first took his complaint to organizations that deal with regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and soon his campaign was in motion.

“I e-mailed and called anybody and everybody, straight on up to the president of the United States,” he said.

Freidin learned that he was not alone in his battle for the installation of automatic doors at the post office on Walnut Street.

Services for Independent Living, Grass Roots Organizing and Voice-Health Advocates and Women’s Resource Center, along with numerous individuals with disabilities, joined the cause. These organizations, along with post office representatives and an aide to U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, gathered outside the post office on Thursday afternoon to dedicate the new doors, which cost about $5,000.

Hulshof aide Tim Freeman commended the local collaboration.

“You all let us know there was a need,” Freeman said. “And the postal service was very cooperative with us.”

Groups involved wrote letters to multiple levels of government agencies to gain support.

“We helped with petitions and found more people that were empathetic, if not needing it directly,” Mary Hussmann of Grass Roots Organizing said. “These doors are for everyone.”

Hussmann said the proposal ran into difficulty because, technically, the old doors met ADA guidelines because they only required five pounds of pressure to open.

“But that still made it impossible for many people to access the post office,” she said. “The people didn’t give up. They went into a more intense campaign to make this need known.”

Freidin said Hulshof eventually took a vested interest in the project.

“Representative Hulshof wrote letters on my behalf,” he said. “There was a bunch of red tape we had to go through.”

Bob Pund of Columbia, a quadriplegic who has used a wheelchair for 14 years, also wrote to Hulshof.

“On a cold day, I would have to wait for someone to walk by and open it for me,” he said at the dedication. “If you’re not able to get into the post office, you’re not truly free to take part in the economy and society.”

For Freidin the dedication was a celebration of the doors and the way people came together toward a common goal.

“It all started with the pothole,” he said.

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