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.