Andrew Niemic, a disabled Annandale resident, finds it ridiculous that a Social Security branch office in Falls Church, which has disabled and elderly clients, has no facilities for the handicapped.
Niemic has filed a formal complaint about the office's lack of parking for the handicapped, its lack of ramps for wheelchairs and a doorway he claims poses problems for the handicapped.
His complaint has caused the General Services Administration to provide one parking place for the handicapped next to the building that houses the Social Security office at 701 Broad St. in Falls Church. The space is expected to be available this week, a GSA spokesman said.
The rest of the alterations will have to wait until January when the GSA renews the lease for the Social Security offices.
Niemic is not satisfied. "What good is a parking space if you can't get into the building?" he asked.
"It's the same attitude the handicapped find everywhere, even in government agencies that are supposed to be helping the handicapped," Niemic said. "Only the handicapped can understand the kind of problems somebody in a wheelchair faces when they confront a flight of stairs or can't reach an elevator button. This is just another classic case."
Peter Lassen of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, a group under the Department of Health, Education and Welfare that takes complaints on failures to provide access to the handicapped, said the Social Security branch office is "potentially in violation" of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and definitely would be in violation beginning next year.
"It does seem absurd that something like Social Security doesn't have handicapped facilities," he said.
Niemic said his complaint resulted from a visit he made to the Falls Church office in February. Niemic, who walks with difficulty, said he had to park illegally to get close to the building and noted there was no ramp over a step into the building for wheelchairs. In addition, he said, the elevator was broken that day, and he was exhausted by the time he climbed several flights of stairs to the Social Security office on the fourth floor.
"I saw other people holding their chests," Niemic said. "And I saw two other people in walkers; I don't know how they got in."
But employes at the branch office say they seldom see see anyone in a wheelchair or persons who are otherwise "mobilely disabled" at the office. Nora Andrews, the office supervisor, said she has seen no more than "five or six" people a year in wheelchairs, and said she has received no complaints from the handicapped on the office facilities.
"It's been my experience that people who are seeking benefits are unlikely to complain about anything," Niemic said of Andrew's remark.
Andrews said the office serves about 11,000 people, most of whom are over 65, and 3,000 of whom are "possibly disabled."
"But it's my impression that probably very few are mobilely disabled," said Andrews, adding that the office serves by phone those clients unable to come to the office.
"I can appreciate there's a parking problem," she continued. "GSA spent two or three years looking for another location, but most of the places they found were even more inadequate for the handicapped. And most of our other branch offices have the same problem we do."
Lassen said the GSA has assured him that all physical barriers to the handicapped will have to be removed from the building before the lease for the Social Security office is renewed in January.And Niemic said the GSA told him it would attempt to secure two or three handicapped parking spaces at the same time.
Lassen described the Social Security office facilities as a "chicken-and-egg situation."
"They probably would get more handicapped coming to the office if it were easier for them to use the building," he said.
Meanwhile, Niemic said he wishes the improvements would be made before January.
"I hate to see things take so long to get done," Niemic said. "Believe me, the two worst things to be in this country is elderly and handicapped."