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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Taxis New York City Style

I hope Mayor Bloomberg sees this video. This is an accurate assessment of the taxi situation in New York City. A person that uses a manual wheelchair has a chance to hail and enter a cab in the city. It is not easy but possible. A person that uses a power wheelchair is screwed as this video shows. I rarely take cabs in NYC. When I do I have a friend hail the cab--a friend that is bipedal and well dressed. I hide between two parked cars. When I emerge from between the parked cars my friend opens the rear door and then moves to stand in front of the cab so he cannot drive off. The result is I am able to ride in a taxi with a driver that will either be silent the enter time or will berate me the entire drive. Yes, this happens. This is why I use the MTA bus service which is reliable, though slow, and the majority of drivers polite and actually know how to use the lift. Still you would think I should be able to hail a cab like I do in many other cities across the country. Mayor Bloomberg should be ashamed--ashamed he is knowingly violating the law. If the Taxi of Tomorrow that he is backing with all the power he can muster is put in use I know I will not be able to use a NYC taxi for the next decade or more.       

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chen Guangcheng: Bad Ass

Last week my son sent me an article from the Huffington Post about Chen Guangcheng. He was following the news about Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese activist, who he described as a being a "bad ass of epic proportions". Why was Chen Guangcheng a "bad ass of epic proportion"? In my son's estimation he was a real life Rutger Hauer as in the Grade B 1980s movie Blind Fury. I am not a fan of this movie. We watched it together a long time ago. After the film I explained to my son why I had serious reservations about the content. I explained it was based on a faulty premise and followed a well worn super cripple belief used throughout film history. My son listened politely and said "Dad, its just a cool movie, you know the suspension of willing disbelief and all that stuff". 

I was reminded of this exchange because in the last week dozens of stories about Chen Guangcheng have appeared in nearly every news media outlet. As I hoped, Stephen Kuusisto has chimed in at Planet of the Blind and is quoted in a very good article by Alan Greenblatt. Greenblatt notes that central to all stories about Guangcheng is the fact he is blind. He wonders if Chen Guangcheng is in the news because of his activism or because he is blind. This is a damn good question. Kuusisto is quoted as stating "His blindness did not give him any particular bravery or insight. It is just a factor in a much larger life". I completely agree with this statement. Predictably tabloids have had a field day as they are prone to when it comes to any sort of disability.  I perceive no change in the way Chen Guangchang is described--there is always a reference to the fact he is blind. Kuusisto is quoted as noting "Blindness stands as a kind of metaphorical intensifier. The cleric [Omar Abdel Rashman the so called blind sheik] is angrier than other people because he is blind. In that way Chen is more miraculous and heroic because he is blind". This is in part exactly why my son was so enamored with the movie Blind Fury. Rutger Hauer was not an ordinary bad ass. He was an epic bad ass because he was blind. Chen Guangcheng is no ordinary activist, he is as Kuusisto observes a miraculous and heroic activist.

When people I know, and the many I do not know, note my assessment of how far people with a disability have come in terms of disability rights is inherently negative stories such as Chen Guangchang come to mind. Have we made any progress since the 1980s--progress here in a cultural not legal sense? Legally yes culturally no. Many laws exist that are designed to protect my civil rights. On bad days I think there these laws are useless because there is no social mandate to enforce them. I am distressed by people in positions of power who hold an antiquated view of disability. Here Mayor Bloomberg comes to mind and his all out effort to have the so called Taxi of Tomorrow approved in spite of the fact it is not accessible. Bloomberg is simply one of many that think providing basic and what are known as "reasonable accommodations" is a matter of choice not law. And this is the real problem, American culture--something Robert Murphy noted when he wrote the Body Silent. In short, progress is taking place but at a glacial pace.