So You Think Navigating Through NYC is Hard? Try Doing It in a Wheelchair!

So You Think Navigating Through NYC is Hard? Try Doing It in a Wheelchair!

Recently, there has been a lot of uproar among New Yorkers about the subways experiencing constant delays. But for me, a person in a wheelchair, those delays are the least of my problems.

Having grown up in the suburbs of New Jersey, I was excited at the prospect of going to college in New York City. Unlike most of my peers in high school, I didn’t have the privilege of driving myself around town because I have cerebral palsy, which makes driving dangerous for me. But in New York City, there’s a great public transportation system, and so after 18 years, I could finally get myself to places independently. I thought, “wow, there are these systems of trains and buses that run 24/7… I can go wherever I want, whenever I want!” Well, that’s what I thought until reality settled in soon after I moved into my dorm at Barnard four years ago.

One of my first memories in college is having to call public safety to come pick me up from my way to a party downtown because there weren’t any accessible subway stations in that part of the neighborhood. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and upset. After waiting about an hour, my school’s public safety van finally came and picked me up. My night ended there, while my friends’ nights were just getting started. That was the first time I realized that the city was not made with people with ambulatory disabilities in mind.

After that night, I knew that I had to do research if I was going to have a life in the city, outside of my campus, over the next four years. What I found out was absolutely astonishing. Out of the 425 subway stations in New York, only 92 are accessible… that’s not even 25%! My campus was on 116th Street and Broadway, and the nearest accessible station was on 96th Street and Broadway, which is about 20 minutes away by wheeling my wheelchair. I’d lose a ridiculous amount of time commuting to and from my internships. And as a full-time college student with an internship and other involvements, time was a very limited resource.

Out of those 92 stations with elevators, half or more of the elevators are out of service at any given time of the day. That makes traveling throughout the city really a gamble, because the chances of me getting stuck underneath a subway station relatively high. When that happens, I need to go back in the train to go to next nearest accessible station, which can be 20 blocks away. To make matters even worse, the trains are usually must higher than the platform edge, making it extremely hard to jump over the gap in a wheelchair. I have to rely on strangers to help me get on the train… thank goodness I only weigh 100 pounds!

A trip that would take an able-bodied person 25 minutes could take me 90 minutes. Sure, I could always take a bus since they’re all accessible, but to get on a packed bus in a wheelchair during rush hour is just impossible. At that point, I am better off wheeling myself to my destination.

Taxis are a completely different story. According to the 2014 Taxicab Fact Book, only 2% of taxi vehicles are wheelchair accessible. At the end of 2013, NYC has agreed to make 50% of taxis accessible… that’s 13,000 cabs! It’s already mid 2017, and although I’m seeing much progress, I definitely do not see the city reaching its goal in three short years. Even with the increase of accessible cabs, it is still difficult to hail a cab because the cars don’t go to certain neighborhoods. And even when by some miracle I hail a cab, most of the time the drivers claim that either the ramps are broken or they don’t know how to use them.

I am tired of being treated like a second-class citizen. As a 22-year-old recent grad, I am venturing out to start my career, and NYC is considered as a land of tremendous opportunities, especially for journalists. It is disheartening that the city puts limitations on me, limitations that I had never allowed my cerebral palsy to set on me.

It’s time for NYC to opens its eyes to the struggles that thousands of people with disabilities face every day.

New Endings & New Beginnings

New Endings & New Beginnings

Contrary to my own belief, I did not cry hysterically at graduation. I really thought I would. I even packed a stack of tissues in my purse. Yes, I definitely cried when it was announced that I had won the Bryson Award (and two months later, I’m still in shock) at the Barnard Commencement. But I was trying my damn hardest to hold back my sobs because there were cameras flashing everywhere.

After the ceremony ended, everyone scattered away all too quickly, and there wasn’t a complete closure to the ceremony, the day, or the past four years. And after a night of celebration, we had to pack up the four years (and get out of the dorms by noon the next day) and move onto the next stage of our lives. Everyone thought I was insane I was starting my internship-turned-into-a-job position the very next day, but to be quite honest, I think that was the one thing that was holding me together. The familiarity, the only aspect of my life that was remaining the same. And if it wasn’t for that, I’d had the time to think about what had happened to me the weeks prior – having emergency surgery, somehow finishing all my final papers, and miraculously attending all the senior events and graduation-related ceremonies – and that would’ve been just too much.

But since I only have four more days at this job, I’m beginning to feel all the feels, and it’s overwhelming and scary. It’s incredible to think the one 15 hours/week internship had a HUGE impact to my senior year of college my life. It was the first writing internship I ever had, and swear to god, if it wasn’t for the internship, I don’t know if I’d had the guts to apply to journalism school. So you can imagine how much it pains for to leave such an incredible place. It’s so hard to say goodbye to people and things that have been so good to you.

And I have the tendency to pile up all of my emotions like Jenga, and it’s always that one block that makes it all come crumbling down.

As cliche as this sounds, college was really the best four years of my life (and to be real, it’s the thing I’ve been striving/working toward since middle school. #GrowingUpAsian). Sure, I had excruciating growing pains, heartbreaks, and one too many existential crises, but the amazing people I befriended, the strength and resilience I developed, and the life-changing experience definitely made up for the bad times. And I miss it all. I miss the place, the people, the experience.

I think I have been subconsciously reassured by the fact that I’m returning to Columbia for my journalism program in August. I’m totally aware that it’s going to be an entirely different experience than undergrad was. But I’m just realizing now how true that is. It’s definitely not going to be the same, and will have a shitload of unfamiliarities. I feel like this summer has been a prolonged closure to college. And I’m becoming aware of that nothing gold can stay. All of these changes are happening way too quickly. And once again, I find comfort in familiarities. 

But I guess life is a continuous cycle of new endings and new beginnings, and sometimes you just have to allow yourself to feel in the midst of it all.

A Fleeting Memory Once Loved

A Fleeting Memory Once Loved

Whenever I try to erase a memory from my head, it does not go away, but rather reinvents itself into something bolder, yet ever-changing. Efforts of deleting that memory turn into efforts of reframing it to match to current mood; the memory is highly malleable. However, the first draft of that memory has become unrecognizable with all of its elaborate edits and fabrication. Due to this constant revision of a memory, it has become an immortal creature that lingers around in my head like a parasite varying in its form. That being said, here’s my current recollection of this particular memory:

***

It was one of those early springs night when the temperature goes below the level of which it is comfortable to stand at the corner of a street without a coat, despite the warmth that filled up the air a few hours earlier. I was embraced in the arms of this man whom I knew so little of, but I could see his motherland and its history when I looked into his eyes. Oddly enough, I saw more of me and less of him in those dark pupils. I could easily get lost for days in that sea of darkness. I’m not sure if it was the few glasses of wine I had at dinner, but I felt my heart racing and my flesh getting warm.

We finally hailed a taxi and handed back to campus. I thought we had talked about everything the rules of a second date allow us to talk about, but I was proven wrong. I couldn’t help but to get the impression of that this person is both a boy trapped in a man’s body and a man trapped in a boy’s body. His stories of his origin were full of frankness, honesty and pain, and somehow I felt like through his stories I could be understood.

I’ve escaped New York, life as I knew it, when I was listening to his stories, yet I’ve never felt so connected with life until now. Although our paths had never crossed until now, there were a plethora of parallels, and it felt strange feeling so connected with a person who grew up eight thousand miles away from me.

Once we got out of the cab, he offered to walk me back to my room. But this was much more of an invitation than an offering. An invitation from him, for him to enter my vulnerability. I’m not sure whether I was the inviter or invitee, but I accepted it and I allowed it. We rode the elevator up to my floor in complete silence, but in silence we communicated as we were looking into each other’s souls, and I was miles deep into him. I don’t remember unlocking my door, but before I knew it, we were in bed and his body seemed like a mountain compared to my petite frame.

As I heard and felt the zipper running down the line on my back, I was preparing myself for what was about to come. He was different from any other man I’ve been with, and this all seemed natural rather than forced. I was surprised that my post-traumatic stress disorder didn’t fare up, but this comfortability seemed so foreign to me, yet so welcoming. Each stroke of his touch felt so gentle, yet passionately heated. I allowed him to come into me, and I came, as well, all through the peaks of the night and dawn of the morning. We traveled to the moon and back all in one night.

From that night on, we’d make love as if it was the end of time. The desire to love came over me, and I let my guards completely down and hushed away the demons in my head, the demons that had paralyzed me for countless years. For the first time ever, my past didn’t affect my current emotions or my ability to love. I lost the notion of time whenever I was with him, as if the bond between us was stronger than the principle of time that governs human beings. His love made up for every bad thing that had happened to me. I thought I could hold onto this element for years to come. This stranger was becoming a big part of me and I let it happen; I didn’t attempt to fight love because, after all, love conquers all.

***

Today, I touch the phantom that lies next to me in bed and wondered what it could have been. I had never thought loneliness feels like a razor-sharp blade as well as a wave that crashes through my whole body. Even though I’ve erased every trace of him from all aspects of my physical life, his ghost haunts me during the darkest hours of the night. He appears when I’m making love to another man, or about to fall in with someone else. As much as I wish my mind could be spotless of recollections of him, I find the beauty in this excruciating suffering.

The True Meaning of Inclusion (Disabilities Edition)

The True Meaning of Inclusion (Disabilities Edition)

I came across Jay Ruckelshaus’ op-ed in the New York Times, “The Non-Politics of Disability”, a day after the Women’s March a few weeks ago. While I agree with Ruckelshaus on the need for disability issues to be politicalized, I must be acknowledged that, even though he has a disability, he still comes from a privileged background, being a white, male graduate student at the University of Oxford. Therefore, he cannot possibly take a stance for all people with disabilities, since a vast majority of them are underprivileged in many aspects, such as not having a college degree, living in poverty, and for some, living in isolation and confinement. Even within the disabled community, men with disabilities are more than twice as likely than their female counterparts to participate in political engagements and to voice their concerns. You experience a “double handicap,” or a double discrimination, if you are a woman with a disability; the layers of discrimination triples if you are a woman of color with a disability. The advocacy and creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 were largely led by male lawyers and politicians. Although the ADA brought disability issues in the national spotlight, the organizers of the movement failed to realize that many of the issues experienced by people with disabilities overlapped with women’s rights issues. For example, both parties deal with a wage gap, low representation in leadership roles in the government, and the risk of poverty. Thus, before disability issues become a matter of politics, the disability rights movement needs to be more inclusive of all people with disabilities, and have a more visible and loud appearance in society.

Perhaps this unrealized connection inevitably, and unknowingly, created the exclusion of women with disabilities in mainstream feminist movements. Besides the Women’s March on Washington, there was a severe lack in representation of women with disabilities in corresponding marches in other cities, both in terms of participants and rally speeches. Speakers and marchers emphasized the notion of women’s rights being the same thing as human rights, which means the right of owning our own bodies, loving whomever we choose, and practicing whichever religion we follow, along with immigration rights and protection. However, there was very little dialogue about disabilities, and even when a speaker mentioned it in a speech, it seemed like merely a footnote.  There is an apparent detachment of disabilities in the discussion of diversity, which centers on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, gender, and sexuality. Why are disabilities still a taboo topic to talk about? Women with disabilities experience the exact same hardships and problems women without disabilities experience, and often times on a magnified scale. For example, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2012, women with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than women without a disability.

Before we bring disability to the frontlines of politics, society as a whole must recognize that issues experienced by people with disabilities are just as important as issues experienced by other minority groups. Ruckelshaus argues that in order to get people talking about disability rights, there needs to be some level of controversy surrounding it. I beg to differ. Before there are any disagreements, people first need to recognize the gravity and urgency for a disability rights reform. In fact, people with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in the United States, but they receive the least amount of attention from society and the government.  Instead of constantly picking out the differences in each other, society needs to start realizing that there are many intersectionalities in our individual identities, in terms of gender, class, race and disabilities. So, when tackling issues related to women’s rights, poverty, and racial discrimination, discussions about disability rights should be woven into those activisms and advocacies, since people of those respective marginalized identities could potentially have disabilities as well.

There is not one simple solution to the lack of recognition for disability issues, as Ruckelshaus admits, “I’m still thinking through how this might work, and I recognize that any such efforts will require real trade-offs and difficult conversations. Politics — when put into action — always does.” However, the fundamental change has to come from the thought patterns of our society. We should not uphold a mechanic solidarity, which Durkheim defined as social cohesion from the homogeneity of individuals, but rather an organic solidarity. In organic solidarity, social cohesion comes from the dependence individuals have on each other and focuses on the interdependence that arises from specialization of work and the complementarities among people. Society needs to start viewing people with disabilities as equal contributors, rather than burdens. A recent example of the power of allies and solidarity is the fight that eventually got gay marriage legalized in the United States. Such a movement was as successful as it was because of the support of the allies, which amplified the voices. This battle was far too big for the gay people to fight on their own, and it became as successful as it was because there were allies to help them carry the weight. If there are more allies and supporters fighting alongside people with disabilities, their unheard voices will be heard and their unrecognized problems will be recognized and addressed.

Along with many other marginalized groups, the disabled community were offended by President Trump’s unethical and demeaning comments about people with disabilities. However, those comments did not receive as much attention or backfire as his offensive comments about other groups have. Throughout Trump’s campaign, people associated only his instance of mocking a reporter with a congenital joint disorder to the President’s nature of ableism. But the conversation about how his presidency would affect the disabled stopped there. There was nothing said about how the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would disproportionately affect people with disabilities; what defunding Planned Parenthood would mean to women with disabilities, who are at a greater risk of being sexually abused than their non-disabled counterparts; or how privatizing education would further complicate the access to schools for student with disabilities.

Ultimately, because disability issues don’t create a partisan divide that other issues, like race, religion, and reproductive rights do, there is no motivation to include them in the political arena. Today, the country is severely divided by opposing political views, and that is somehow attractive to news media outlets and their viewers. Other underprivileged groups must check their privilege and incorporate disabilities in their platforms and movements. When disability rights are included across platforms, there will be an apparent common denominator in all of their respective missions. They should take advantage of the fact that most people (hopefully) are going to be pro-disability rights, and that both parties are going to agree that disability policies is an area that needs work. If disability rights are advocated by all kinds of social groups, then it will be amplified throughout the realms of politics. Perhaps this common agreement can make the country regain its unity and democracy. This tactic will be more effective than having a bunch of white, college-educated men marching to Washington and demanding change, without taking into consideration the highly intersectional identities all the people in the disabled community encompass. Although it is very crucial to have educated, white male allies and advocates, there should not be the sole faces and voices of the movement because that doesn’t create adequate space for hidden voices to be revealed and heard.

Inhaling to Exhale

Inhaling to Exhale

Inhale. Exhale.
As my two feet completely touch the earth below, I become more aware of my existence, my place in this world. I feel validated. My feelings, thoughts, pain, suffering, joy, lust – they all become validated. I feel a part of nature – as if I can be flown in the same direction as the wind, just like the crisp, newly-fallen leaves follow where the big wind blows. But before it’s too late, I revert my attention to my balance and not let my body be defeated by the strong force of the wind. I am as strong as I am weak.

Inhale. Exhale.
When I start to walk, my heels are no longer touching the earth, and my feet are in pointe position. Except – I am far from being a ballerina. Each step weighs a million pounds, and sweat starts to drip down my face, although I’ve taken only a few steps. It feels as if boa constrictors have replaced the muscles in my body. My muscles tightly contract with every inch of movement I make. I see my breath in the air and my hands are numb, but my back is soaked. Although my body erratically tenses up, the pain I feel is a reminder that I am alive.

Inhale. Exhale.
I am far along in my walk and I forget about the tremendous effort each step requires. Instead, my brain overflows with thoughts – intoxicating thought, debilitating thoughts. I somehow back in my ten-year-old body again:

I am alone in the house and I locked myself in my room. I was crying into my pillow as if I was never held enough as a baby- no one there to rock the infant to comfort her, to protect her. That feeling of vulnerability and abandonment lingered throughout my life. I was crying so much that it came to the point where I had trouble breathing, but the suffocation almost felt good. I was slowly losing feelings in my legs and arms, and my lungs were short on oxygen. I was on the thin line between life and death, but for the first time in my short ten years of life, I felt something. I continue crying into the pillow to further suffocate myself until I was so close to death that I begin to feel fear. I lift myself up to gasp for air, and I started to breathe again. But the crying continued, and it echoed throughout the hallow halls of the house. That ten-year-old girl was contemplating suicide but – no one there to rock the baby to comfort her, to protect her.

I close my eyes and try to erase everything – erase the memory, erase the pain. The tempo of my walk unknowingly speeds up, and the thudding rhythm of my heart makes me forget. It makes me forget.

Inhale. Exhale.
I find the nearest bench and I sit down. I put my head in between my thighs to bring myself back to equilibrium. My heartbeat starts to slow down and I breathe normally again. I remind myself that the reason I continue to go on these walks is to regain agency over my own body, over my own life. The physical pain distracts my phantom pain, and then the pain feels manageable. Walking is the symbol of my survival and it’s the source of my hope. I inhale toxins and poisons, but I exhale antidotes and tolerance.

I Do Not Feel Safe, But I Will Not Let Him Smell My Fears

I Do Not Feel Safe, But I Will Not Let Him Smell My Fears

I could not sleep one bit last night (Election Night), and my day started off by hearing an old white man say to me:

Well, you’re definitely screwed.

It hadn’t even been 12 hours since Trump was announced as the president-elect. But the sad truth is that the senile man was somewhat right (keyword: somewhat). As a first-generation Asian-American woman living with cerebral palsy, depression/anxiety, and PTSD from various forms of abuse and bullying, there is no way that I can feel safe in a country that’s under Trump’s power. And I’m not alone.

What do we tell young girls when the so-called president does not respect their bodies? How do we console thousands of women who have been victims of sexual violence when we have an alleged rapist running the country? For many of them, it took years before they could come out with the truth of what had happened to them, due to shame and hopelessness. And even when they finally conjure up the courage to speak up, they are often times not served the justice that they deserve. I am terrified to be living in a country where its people voted an alleged sexual abuser/assaulter into the Oval Office, especially when the man is proud of himself for dehumanizing women. How in the world can we find peace within ourselves now? Is there anyway that we can be not triggered whenever we hear his name, see his face, or hear his voice?

Ever since the start of humanity, people with disabilities have been treated like shit – “second-class citizens” to put it in niceterms. But Trump treats us like complete dirt, even less. He openly mocked a news reporter with arthrogryposis, called a deaf actress “retarded,” kicked disabled veterans off public sidewalks near his buildings, and ordered guards to take a boy with cerebral palsy out of his rally in Florida, and that’s only the beginning. Not only will he socially degrade people like us, but he will strip us away from the personal and medical services we need. His words are destroying us, but his actions could actually be deadly to many.

With his plans to cut back on the major source of funding for Medicaid and other federal financing for disability and aging services, many could become deprived of the medical and personnel services they need to survive. In particular, women with disabilities already have an extremely difficult time getting access to gynecological services and even basic physical exams. But with Trump’s plan to eliminate legal protections for disabled people in the healthcare system (basically the ACA), access to these services will be nearly impossible for us. He also highly stigmatizes mental disabilities, and he has little to no concern for those of us who are the most vulnerable.

Many families, like mine own, left their motherlands to provide freedom, a better opportunity for themselves and their children. But if Trump follows through with his immigrant deportation plan, many of these families will be shattered into pieces, and life as they know it will never be the same again. What can parents tell their children when they themselves don’t even know what the imminent future is going to be like? How are they supposed to feel validated as parents when everything is out of their control and they are as scared (or even more) as their kids are?

Trump is a huge threat to every single marginalized group. He judges people by the color of their skins (basically he considers you as a foreigner if you’re not caucasian) and by the religion they follow, he does not let people love whomever they love, or express their genders/non-binaryness or sexuality in the way they deserve. He is the worst xenophobic, trans-/homophobic, ableist, racist, Islamophobic – basically every identity-phobic that doesn’t apply to him – of all times. By not accepting our identities, he is invalidating our existence, our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But we cannot let him do this, destroy our self-worth. We have fought so hard to get this far to let one man eradicate everything.

We have the absolute right to feel depressed, anxious, worried, angry, scared, and disappointed. But we cannot sit here and point fingers at who didn’t vote or who voted for Trump. Nor is violence the answer. That will take us nowhere. Take time to practice self-care and recover from this tragic night/day. It really sucks that it has to come to this, but when we are ready, we will fight this battle harder than we have ever before in the history of time. We will trump Trump and prove that he is wrong in every way possible. We will achieve that sweet victory. Now more than ever, we must depend on each other, our communities, and the local and state governments more than ever. Get to know your state representatives, vote in local/state and midterm elections, and push for a clear agenda. Build up organizations that support your causes to stand stronger and mightier. There’s a whole lot more of us than there is of him. We must remind ourselves as we the people of the United States, have the greatest power of all, and we must use that power in productive ways and keep moving forward.

At least for me, this is what I’ve known my whole life and has motivated me to get to this point – proving people wrong from left to right. I deeply value my identity as an Asian-American women living with cerebral palsy and depression/anxiety/PTSD. I am a survivor of many  uncompromising, tragic events, I am a college-educated nasty woman, and I am already making my mark on the earth. And I will not be stopped, especially not by this man. In my books, Trump will never be my president. So, to the senile old white man who told me I’m screwed:

You’re hella wrong because you have no idea what I am capable of. Just wait and see.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s sure as hell not going to be an easy four years, but we will come out of it only stronger than ever before.

Finding Peace on Subway Rides: The Need to Disconnect to Reconnect with Self

Finding Peace on Subway Rides: The Need to Disconnect to Reconnect with Self

Whenever my iPhone vibrates or beeps, I get anxious. Whenever I see an email notification on the upper right corner of my MacBook screen, I get increasingly stressed. Whenever I hear the ding from Facebook Messenger, I just want to close out of the Google Chrome browser. Although it is validating that I am needed and wanted, I disdain the idea of that technology is becoming an extension of myself. This feeds into the dangerous hunger of validation from peers, and the need to taint our lives to make it appeal to the public eye. I cannot tell you how many times I post a Facebook status or Instagram a picture just because I’m feeling depressed. It is as if every “like” or comment I get will give me an ounce of happiness. I filter pictures as if it can cast a filter of brightness and optimism onto my actual life. This artificial happiness flees as soon as it comes, as it is built upon an unsteady and phony foundation. This addiction to connectivity is the most dangerous of all, but only a few see the death trap.

Ironically, this need for connectivity and public validation forces me to disconnect from myself. Seeing snippets of my life on social media creates a sense of detachment from my life, as I know it. It is as if I am viewing the details of someone else’s life. The physical gap between the laptop screen and me transforms into a much larger gap between my private self and my public self. I see someone else in those selfies and statuses I post, a tamed monster. Most of the time, that person is unrecognizable. I know her life backwards and forward, better than anyone else, but through those posts, she feels like a stranger. She is extremely close to me, but I am unable to touch her. She is a cheerleader, but I’m just the girl next door.

But I am slowly digging myself out of this technological existential crisis. I found the beauty in New York City MTA subway rides. I deeply appreciate the fact that the posters are very much lying when it says Wi-Fi is provided in subway trains. While I see people’s faces of extreme boredom or faces of frantic anxiousness when their cellphone signals drop, I cannot be more relieved. Those 15- to 45-minutes of no texts, emails or notifications grant me a sense of mindfulness that I cannot find anywhere else. And I growl when my phone vibrates at the short moments of connectivity at some subway stops.

Sure, I could always just turn my phone off or activate the “Do Not Disturb” mode, but I feel guilty actively disconnecting myself from the world, when the wireless connection is still intact. That’s too much power in my hands. However, in subway trains, the power to disconnect is not in my hands, but rather in the underdevelopment of the subway world. Those 15-45 minutes are the proper doses for me to be alone with my thoughts and myself. Any longer than that, I cannot be with myself, and need to silence my thoughts by blasting music through my earphones. Also, if I’m disconnected for any longer, I will get anxious because I’m unreachable and god forbid something happened to my friends or family. But during those 15-45 minutes, I keep the earphones plugged into my ears without music playing (to signal to other people that I am unavailable), and I think my deepest thoughts. And in those thoughts, I see my candid self, unfiltered and unpolished.