Approximately 40 people, including a number of elderly people with canes and walkers, staged a rally outside the downtown Aberdeen post office Saturday morning to highlight the need for an entrance that is accessible to people with disabilities.
The group stood outside the front entrance, which is only accessible via a set of concrete steps, as postal customers went in and out. Several children and their parents could be seen among the crowd, too.
People held signs bearing slogans such as "Build a ramp, not a wall," and "Ramp!! Now!!" They got a few honks of support from drivers heading along West Bel Air Avenue.
"I came out because there is a need for some access to the post office for handicapped individuals and senior citizens," Aberdeen resident Maxel Denson said.
Denson, 80, who walks with a wooden cane, said he visits the post office at least once or twice a month, and that it is "very, very hard to get up and down the steps with a cane."
Mayor Patrick McGrady, who has been working since 2010 to get a ramp built for the facility, led Saturday's rally.
"This affects everybody, not just you, not just 'old people,' not just people who have disabilities, this affects moms with strollers," McGrady, who was elected mayor in 2015, told the crowd. "This is a real problem and we're going to fix it."
The mayor said later that he and other city leaders met Friday with the U.S. Postal Service's Baltimore district manager, which started a "good dialogue" between city and postal officials. He noted earlier efforts, such as letters from him and City Council members have been "rebuffed."
He has had no luck getting a ramp built, even working through area representatives in Congress. Offers to build a ramp with donated materials have been denied, too, on the grounds that the facility, which was built in 1936, is a historic building.
McGrady urged people in the crowd to "keep the pressure on to get this ramp built so we can have access for everybody."
Tom and Kathy Ruth, of Aberdeen, took part in the rally. Tom Ruth, 70, said he worries about people with disabilities or parents trying to get babies in strollers up the steps.
Ruth walks with a cane and said he has pain in his knees. He visits the Aberdeen post office to mail letters and said he can get up the steps as long as he can hold on to the railings.
That is much harder to balance if he or his wife want to mail a package to their children or grandchildren, so they go to the post office in Havre de Grace to send packages.
Theresa Kaper-Nordell, 52, of Aberdeen, rested her protest sign on her rolling walker. She said her mother, who died in 2014, had a post office box in Aberdeen for years, but she could not visit the post office during the final years of her life because she could not get up the steps.
"She was on oxygen, and she couldn't get up the steps," Kaper-Nordell recalled.
Kaper-Nordell lives with back, hip and ankle pain, and said "some days I can't make it" up the post office steps. She sends her packages at a package delivery outlet next to the Shop Rite supermarket off of Beards Hill Road — the package store has a "ground-level" entrance.
She said a ramp is "long overdue."
The post office ramp issue precedes McGrady's tenure by many years. Ruth Elliott, who was Aberdeen's first elected mayor in the 1990s and served on the City Council from 2005 to 2015, was part of the rally crowd Saturday.
"It is ridiculous that we all have to go through this just to get a ramp," said Elliott, who noted it was an issue when she was mayor 25 years ago.
The building had a side entrance decades ago, an entrance that was accessible to the disabled, but it has since been bricked over.
"It's been an ongoing issue, and we hope something will come of it this time," she said.
Aberdeen resident Dick French, 69, said he can get up the steps even with his arthritis, but he's "just not crazy about it."
"If I had a wheelchair, God help me," he remarked.
French said a federal building such as a post office should be an example of complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"This place is going out of its way to avoid that example, even when people have offered to donate to fix it," he said.
Representatives of U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger were among the crowd. Both staffers gave The Aegis written statements from the legislators.
Van Hollen called the situation "a prime example of bureaucracy run amok."
"The bottom line is that seniors and people with disabilities in the Aberdeen community deserve to have access to their local post office," he stated. "The USPS response is unacceptable and defies common sense."
Staffers with Van Hollen, Ruppersberger, as well as Sen. Ben Cardin, have been trying to work with the Postal Service to find a resolution.
Ruppersberger noted in his statement that the Aberdeen post office was built prior to the passage of the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, which requires facilities built using federal dollars to be accessible to people with disabilities.
"While the Postal Service may not be legally required to construct a ramp and provide accessible parking, it is certainly the right thing to do," the congressman stated.