July 14, 2012 -- NEW YORK -- It all began when I got word that the MTA was making the Kings Highway subway stop on the Q & B line, wheelchair accessible. I was thrilled! Finally, I would be able to use the NYC subway system! A whole new world of options has been opened up to me.
As you may or may not know, not every NYC subway station is wheelchair accessible. There are currently 73* wheelchair accessible subway stations out of 423*** in NYC (30 in Manhattan, nine in The Bronx, 19 in Brooklyn, and 15 in Queens.) Some of those are fully wheelchair accessible, while others are partially wheelchair accessible (like the Avenue H station in Brooklyn which is only accessible going southbound.)
Now, for those who might be unfamiliar with the term “wheelchair accessible,” let me take a moment to break down what this means (in regard to subway stations). Basically, any time there is a station that has a flight of stairs and no ramp or elevator, that station is not wheelchair accessible, meaning that a person in a wheelchair would not be able to use (and/or have access to) this station.
Wheelchairs were simply not designed to go up steps (not even one). In addition, the gap between the subway car and platform can be not be too wide, and the ledge (the part that sticks out of a subway car by the doors to minimalize the gap) must be fairly inline with the platform, so that the wheelchair can go into the subway car smoothly. If not, it is essentially a step and a wheelchair would not be able to enter the subway car.
In addition to checking what stations are accessible or not, one must also check the elevator status of the system, as well as checking any construction that might effect one’s trip**. After all, the last thing you want to do, is go on your way, only to find out the elevator isn’t working, or that your subway is running on another line that isn’t wheelchair accessible.) However, if you prepare ahead of time (and double check the morning before you leave because things can change) you should be able to have a safe and smooth subway ride in the NYC MTA subway system.
This is what the MTA tells you, however it is simply not the case. Not consistently anyway, which is nothing short of dangerous and inexcusable.
I’ll give you an example. On July 10, I took the subway to the Dekalb station in downtown Brooklyn to show my support for unions and to take some photos of the Con Ed Picket Line. Going there was fairly flawless and I had a great time, but after three hours of being in the strong sun, and hearing the enthusiastic drums and horns of the picket line, I decided it was time to go home. I head back to the Dekalb station, pay my fare and make my way (via the elevator) to the platform to get the downtown Q.
At this point in time, I look to my left and I look to my right. I have learned to make sure that I am not waiting too much towards the beginning or end of a subway platform. You see, I once learned the hard way from a previous experience that the Kings Highway subway platform is curved towards the beginning and towards the end. This results in a wider gap between the subway car and the subway platform. Cut to my wheelchair wheel going INTO the gap, (and my wheelchair getting stuck). Thankfully I was with a friend at the time, who as able to push me from behind. However, it should be noted, that there was no warning on the MTA website. No signs on the platform. I was left to figure this out on my own. (and yes I filed a complaint to the MTA, but more on that later in the article.)
So, I am waiting in the middle and I see a B train head towards the station, but for some reason the ledge (the part that sticks out of the subway car by the doors, so the gap between the car and platform is minimalized) was rather high up. I was looking at it and it just didn’t look wheelchair accessible. “Must be a fluke” I thought to myself, “I’ll wait for the next train.” And so a Q train pulls up, but it’s the same situation. “Maybe it’s more accessible then it looks?” I thought to myself. After all, I went on the MTA website. It said it was. I did all the preparation that you’re supposed to do, and I didn’t have this problem heading into downtown Brooklyn. So I decided to give it a go.
Well, cut to my chair getting stuck. and I don’t mean a little stuck where I could back my way out. I mean STUCK. Stuck, where the chair was tilted back and I was unable to move forward or backwards. Immediately, four complete strangers, jump out of their seats on the subway to help me. It took two burly looking men to push from behind, to even get me onto the subway car (the other two spotted from the front). And while this does speak of the generosity and humanity of NYC residents (who sometimes get a bad rap), this was a station that was supposed to be wheelchair accessible. It is listed on the website as wheelchair accessible. There was no construction going on the line (that was reported) that would effect my route. Nor where there any signs in the station : The Q & B platform is temporarily wheelchair inaccessible. Nothing. I was left to find this out by myself, which not only put my chair at risk, but I could have been seriously hurt.
The look on the people’s faces in the subway car was one of fear (because it looked as dangerous as it felt) and shock that it even happened. I even said to the people who helped me “This is supposed to be wheelchair accessible. The MTA lists this station as a station that is wheelchair accessible”. They just shook their heads and looked at me with sympathy as if to say “That’s not right. That shouldn’t happen.”
And it’s not right. There should have been signs warning me, the MTA employees should have been notified and instructed to help a person out in my situation, but there was nothing.
Every time, there is something wrong with the NYC subway system, where they say on the website, it’s safe to go this route -- and it’s blatantly not, I have emailed my complaint to the MTA because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Each time, I pretty much get the same response. Thank you for taking the time to bring this to our attention. Customer satisfaction is very important to us. And sometimes they’ll add that they will forward this email to the appropriate supervisor.
And then... nothing changes.
And I began to realize, there is no competition for the MTA (regarding subways) that would force them to take care of this issue. They don’t have to. They’re the only game in town.
I also began to realize that nothing will ever happen if I continue to just file my complaints to the MTA. And that is why on July 10, I decided that I have had enough. I decided that am going to fight back. However, I am just one average citizen fighting a large corporation. I don’t have the wealth or big connections on my side that major corporations have. That is why I am asking you to join me in the Mind The Gap campaign. A campaign designed to raise awareness and bring attention to this situation on a city-wide, and perhaps even nationwide level. I also hope to bring this campaign to the attention of the mainstream and alternative media, because while the MTA may not be too bothered by one NYC resident, they will take note of negative media attention, and the voice of a united people.
This is not just about a NYC girl in a wheelchair. This is not just an issue of safety. This is about corporate accountability. The MTA should not be allowed to get away with this. A person in a wheelchair (who does all the proper preparation) should be able to safety ride the subway system, and the stations that are labeled as wheelchair accessible by the MTA, should BE wheelchair accessible.
Thank you for take the time to read this article. Please sign the petition, write to the MTA, share your stories on our tumblr blog and pass this on. Together we can make a change.
* source: MTA website: http://mta.info/accessibility/stations.htm
** source: MTA website: http://advisory.mtanyct.info/EEoutage/