Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service, which many activists for the handicapped have attacked for not moving fast enough to improve the accessibility of postal facilities, last week proposed to consolidate and clarify in one rule all its policies to prevent employment discrimination against the handicapped, promote accessibility and handle complaints. The proposal of these rules -- known to cognoscente as "504 rules" because their authority derives from section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act -- marks a concession by the USPS, which for years contended its own anti-discrimination guidelines made a new set of 504 rules unnecessary.

Right in the preamble, the USPS's defensiveness on the subject is evident. The preamble states four times that USPS had appropriate regulations all along and never discriminated. Among the highlights of the proposal: postal facilities that are now inaccessible will be provided with a ramp, elevator or other appropriate means of entry and exit if the certain other (unspecified) features of a building are being modified; other facilities will be modified at USPS discretion, taking into account construction costs, the number of people served, the number of people inconvenienced and, among other things, "any other factor that might be relevant and appropriate to the decision."