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Disability Discrimination -- Alive and Well in NYC

by Jean Ryan.

I rode subways for 25 years until I became disabled and a wheelchair user. There is no subway elevator within six miles of me, and none planned until 2020. The elevators that are on the subways are unreliable.

I ride NYC Transit express buses between Brooklyn and Manhattan. During non-rush hour they run only once an hour. We have problems with poorly trained New York City Transit and MTA bus drivers. We have poorly maintained equipment. And we have angry passengers.

Finding an available, accessible
taxi is like an Elvis sighting.

A few weeks ago the driver of the X28 bus refused to let me board, because I could not safely board backwards on the lift. Although New York City Transit policy says we can board either forward or backward, this bus driver wouldn't allow me to board forwards.

When I insisted, he called a supervisor, and we waited.

The other passengers got off to get on another bus.

As they came out, they formed a line. Their eyes were full of hate. Many cursed me: "You selfish b----!"

I was crying.

They blamed me for the driver's refusal to let me on. I was making them late to work.

"You people should not take the bus!" one shouted at me. "You should take Access-a-Ride!"

Taking one trip on Access-A-Ride costs taxpayers over $50 a trip. It's for people who cannot take the bus or subway.

Another yelled, "Take a taxi!"

Taxis are expensive. As of today, only 25 out of 12,787 of yellow taxis are wheelchair accessible. I saw my first accessible taxi a few weeks ago in Manhattan after more than a year of looking, but it wasn't available.  Finding an available, accessible taxi is like an Elvis sighting.

They didn't think I had a right to take the bus, but I do. We all do. It is our civil right, one we had to fight for, and evidently still do.

I was late to work, too. I finally became the only passenger on the bus, as I waited with the driver for the supervisor. That took 30 minutes.

When the supervisor arrived, the driver was ordered to let me on the bus going forward on the lift.

It sometimes takes 4 to 7 minutes to get a wheelchair user onto the bus. When it takes longer for us to board -- because of a mechanical problem or because of poor driver training -- we, not the transit authorities, are unfairly blamed for the delay. Some drivers and passengers say we should be left on the sidewalk to wait for the next bus.

People with disabilities experience discrimination daily. We often can't get accessible housing and jobs. We often can't get the equipment we need or get it repaired quickly. Doctors' offices, dentists' offices are inaccessible. We cannot get into public meetings.

We try to get into office buildings but only doors that are unlocked are the revolving ones.

Restaurants and stores often have a step at the entrance. Sometimes it is new step, newly added along with new flooring.

I'm still going to ride the bus. I will not be a disabled person stuck at home behind closed doors so others don't have to be inconvenienced.

MTA bus rider Jean Ryan is Vice President of Disabled In Action and Vice Chair of the Taxis for ALL Campaign


I visited NYC for 4 days last weekend and did a
sit-in on the M-103...because I refused to turn my wheelchair off...supervisor called...SOS...I was hungry and pissed as were the passengers who
changed buses...hopefully the driver learned the
real rule, but I doubt it...
DIA needs to start documenting these atrocities
and needs to file a pattern and practice lawsuit.
That is what Denver did...and the buses are better. Yes, discrimination is alive and well and
I know DIA doesn't mourn, but organizes.
Contact me if you need help finding lawyers but the first step is to document, document, document.

Good luck.

As Ms. Jean Ryan found out....in New York discrimination against the disabled is alive and well.
Judges of courts still discriminate against the disabled and refuse disabled people's request for reasonable accommodations and access to the courts.
As one judge said..."if you don't like it appeal." Such is the attitude of Judges, Courts, and the City of New York officials.
All these so called Disabled Advocate Groups are all full of themselves and refuse to "get involved".
The US Dept of Justice response to Title II ADA complaints is, "we are overwhelmed with complaints and cannot help everyone."
So there you go.
What needs to happen is we as disabled people need to follow the footsteps of the great Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
Make the buses stop running if a person cannot access it. Protests need to be conducted in front of courthouses until they honor requests for disabled persons. Dr. Kings way to bring about attention was mass peaceful protests.
We need to follow his footsteps until America learns that disabled people have protected "civil rights."
Until there is unity there is division.

You referenced a lawyer...well...one of the most famous civil rights attorney's, Ron Kuby (trained by the famous William Kuntsler) never heard of Tennessee v Lane. And many so called civil rights lawyers do not want to get involved. One told me to take a van to and from court from upstate NY as it would be cheaper than hiring an attorney.
So much for civil rights lawyers.
Sorry if I am negative...but that is the experience I have becoming disabled and making requests pursuant to my civil rights as a disabled citizen of this country. Heck, the illegal aliens have more rights than us.
I became disabled in the line of duty working as a police officer. I devoted my entire adult life in my career (25 years) and I have never witnessed the gross discrimination against disabled people like I have ever.
Heaven forbid if cops violated someone's civil or constitutional rights....we were fired, suspended or lost hundreds of hours in vacation time.
Judges, Courts and the City are impervious to law suits and fail to follow the laws that protect a certain group of people (the disabled). Their attitude is if you don't like it sue.....or appeal....!!

Hi Jean
I live in England and disabled people here have been led to believe that we are years behind America when in comes to facilities and services.
ALL London buses and ALL taxis are wheelchair accessible now. Most of the buses in the city where I live are not yet accessible, but the council provide us with taxi vouchers to help out. We still have problems with some public buildings, but by law they have to make the building wheelchair accessible unless it is absolutely impossible i.e. an historic building.
Keep up the fight.

Good for you, Jean. I am sorry this had been hard on you emotionally and that the other passengers chose to blame you instead the driver for the delay. We need more people like you willing to stand up for their rights accorded to us by civil right laws and not be put aside by indifferent and impatient abled citizens who don't care about our rights.



I am so sorry to hear about your experience.
May I suggest to readers that they write a message in the "Contacting the Mayor" page for NYC Mayor Bloomberg by going to:


I did. Messages from lots of us may cause some stir...

DIA has a long history of organizing, lobbying, protesting, and lawsuits. All actions are necessary to create change.

I remember a protest we did in Toledo many years ago (it established us as legitimate, a group to listen to) where by studying the system we discovered where routes converge (most systems have this). By attempting to board using their stated policy - the WHOLE system shut down even though we only accessed 6 buses. Most riders didn't even see us, so couldn't throw epithets at us.


I'm sorry you had to experience this, but it will make you stronger for the next time. And maybe there won't be a next time for this issue. I find once the drivers and supervisors know they have a rider with a disability who knows the law, they think twice before they try to slip one by us.


Fortunately, not all NY judges discriminate against disabled:


Trial Judge Upholds $2.5 Million Jury Award for Employee Perceived as Disabled
A New York trial judge has upheld a $2.5 million jury award to an employee with multiple sclerosis who claimed she was terminated because her employer perceived her to be disabled. Jordon v. Bates Advertising Holdings Inc. (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2006).

Kathryn Jordan alleged that she was ridiculed and subjected to hostile comments because she needed to walk with a cane due to the degenerative effects of her MS. She was called a cripple and was pressed to get rid of her cane. No action was taken against supervisors who ridiculed her. She was urged to "get better soon" because one of the firm's advertising accounts "wanted its team to be
somewhat athletic and youthful."

Eventually, Jordan was discharged. At trial, a jury awarded Jordan $2 million in economic damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. The
defendant requested the trial court to set aside the verdict, which the judge refused to do, finding that there was ample evidence that
Jordan was discharged because the company perceived her as being disabled.

The trial judge based his decision on evidence that supervisors called Jordan a cripple and no action was taken in response, Jordan was pressured to get rid of her cane, and at a presentation an agency manager knocked over her cane and called her a cripple.

The judge also held that there was "extensive" evidence that the nondiscriminatory reasons given by the company for Jordan's termination were pretextual. While the company claimed it fired
Jordan in a merger-related staff cutback, it took six employees to do her work after she was terminated. Furthermore, in response to the
company's claim that she was terminated because of a client complaint, the court noted that Jordan was never advised of the complaint, contrary to company policy, and there was no documentation of the complaint.

Finally, the company relied on its antidiscrimination policy as a mitigating "safe harbor." However, the trial judge said that "simply promulgating anti-discrimination policies and having them inserted in the company's policy book cannot serve as a mitigating factor."

Employer Notes: It's important to recognize that the finding of discrimination in this case largely rested on comments made by supervisors and the failure of the company's president to discipline supervisors whom he heard call Jordan a cripple. Employers must take action against personnel who harass and ridicule others or they face huge liability. Also note that, in most jurisdictions, an employer is responsible for accommodating an employee who it perceives has a
disability, even if the employee does not actually have a disability.

Finally, this case illustrates that having an antidiscrimination policy will do you little good unless you actually enforce it.
Supervisors and managers must receive training on harassment and discrimination policies and must have impressed on them that complying and implementing such polices is an essential function of their jobs.

3/29/2006 2:14:14 PM

Try suing a Judge who refuses an ADA request.....you will not get the same results.
That is the point.
There was a jury trial and the judge ruled in the case you posted.
But what I am talking about is making a request for accommodations under the ADA and see what happens.
So far....I have had four (4) different judges refuse ADA requests.
Queens County told me to get there (to Queens) anyway you can (I live very far away from Queens). I cannot drive. Nor can I walk. Another Judge told me to take my case to Florida. Yet, another Judge outright refused to change venue for a hearing.
And there is nothing you can do about it. The USDOJ says that they cannot help as they are overwhelmed with ADA complaints.
I tried the Governor and Mayors office and had was told they have no jurisdiction.
There isn't anyone that can or is willing to help.
The NYS Courts must be sued for ADA violations just like in Tennessee and brought about much needed change.
The Judges are laughing at us disabled folks making these requests as they do so with complete immunity.

About twenty years ago, when ADAPT was having a
'lift on every new bus" demonstration in Atlanta, a company had brought its sample new bus to show us. This model did not have to kneel or unfold a lift because its floor was already at curb level. A short mechanical "drawbridge" just slid out to meet the sidewalk. Boarding took far less time than a lift takes and the system was far less vulnerable to breakdown. In fact a rider could have slapped down a short piece of plywood to get on. This was a full size city bus, not a van. The large engine was at the rear, covered of course, and there were a few elevated seats on top of it that walking people could access by taking a stepor two up. The rest of the floor was entirely curb level. I have often wondred why this superior design didn't become the norm.

I have found Elvis and I have his business card.

I haven't tried him yet except for that pickup: he says he needs an hour lead time. So, I dunno...

Let me know.

This is Jean Ryan. I am back to report the follow-up on my complaint:

Besides complaining to the Bus Customer Relations and ADA Compliance people at NYC Transit (I did that while I was waiting for the supervisor to come, while I was on the bus, and after I got off the bus), I wrote a detailed letter to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), explaining what happened, and adding my demands and suggestions.

This was the first time I have gotten a letter back from the MTA that really answered my concerns/demands and was not defensive.

In the letter, the MTA apologized to me, and said that:

1. They retrained that driver and sanctioned him.

2. They re-instructed the "console"/transit control people the drivers call on what lift boarding policy is.

They are also making a poster for every bus depot, depicting a wheelchair user (me) entering forward and backward. The text on the poster says it is transit policy that we can enter whichever way we like. I volunteered my time to go to the depot one afternoon to be photographed.

However, they are dragging their feet on putting decals on the windows of the express buses like they have on their "regular" buses. These decals say something like "You must give up your seat to a wheelchair user."

But they have promised to put them on and eventually, I think they will. Actually, soon.

They are also dragging their feet on putting big wheelchair symbol decals on the outside of the lift door, but, again, they have promised to put them an and eventually, I think they will. Actually, soon.

The purpose of both kinds of decals is to sensitize riders and drivers that we are going to be riding the buses, to sensitize riders as to which seats our wheelchair spaces use, and to educate the riders and general public that these buses are wheelchair accessible -- because, from outside, they don't appear to be.

The MTA also says it will require drivers to be proficient in the use of the lift to pass their yearly certification test.

There are two bus divisions now under the MTA umbrella. So far, one division has agreed to train drivers that they are not to apologize to the ambulatory riders for taking on a wheelchair user or other person who requires use of the lift. I have yet to ask the other division about this but I do not expect any resistence.

It is too bad that the riders on the bus who jeered me do not have to apologize and be retrained. However, I will still continue to ride. Maybe it's a good thing that I don't know who they are or what they look like.

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