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Monday, January 21, 2013

Mass Transportation NYC Style

I love to travel despite the fact I routinely encounter trouble accessing mass transportation systems. As I have detailed in many posts the airline industry is inherently hostile to any person with a disability. Trains are hit and miss at best. Buses are the most reliable form of mass transportation in my experience. Access issues vary widely from one city to another. San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle are relatively easy to navigate. At the opposite end of the spectrum is New York City. Aside from MTA buses the train and subway are difficult and time consuming to use. Forget about taxis. Mayor Bloomberg has made it crystal clear the city has no interest in making taxis accessible. While MTA buses are reliable they are slow. The most efficient way to get around New York City is the subway system. Good luck with that! I try to use the subway at least a few times a year. Rarely have I been successful. Few stops are accessible and even if an elevator is present at a renovated stop they are usually not operational.

None of the above is news to a person that uses a wheelchair in NYC.  I mention because the New York Times published a good article and video about navigating the city. See Jason Dasilva breaks no new ground here. Two decades after the ADA was passed accessing mass transportation in the city is a challenge. Dasilva, an independent film maker, lives in Williamsburg Brooklyn. In a short Op-ed film Dasilva leaves his home for the Union Square area in Manhattan, a typical trip for a resident. Dasilva's journey though is not simple or efficient. It takes him nearly 90 minutes to make a one way trip. Dasilva's friend made the same journey in less than 15 minutes.

It is films like Dasilva's and my own experience navigating mass transportation systems nationwide that make me aware of the fact I am disabled. It is not my disability that is the problem but the refusal of mass transportation systems to accommodate a wide range of disabling conditions. At no point in my life am I as aware of social barriers than when I access mass transportation. Elevators are routinely broken or simply non operational for unknown reasons. Employees are often rude and dismissive. Virtually no one has a clue about how to navigate a terminal or can locate accessible routes. Even when present accessible routes are convoluted. Curb cuts in one place handicapped parking in another. The net result of decades of hassles is that I am convinced we as a culture do not value access. I have felt and continue to feel as though I am on my own. My fellow passengers are never supportive. Employees  of mass transportation systems are not pleasant. Nasty employees are hardly uncommon. Ignorance abounds.  This is not just a "long wait" as the NY Times article is entitled. The issue is needless barriers are created and supported by a social system that does not value my presence.