April 17, 2006

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

Posted on April 17, 2006