(Elizabeth Tew/Brooklyn Ink)
For Dustin Jones, heading to work isn’t as simple as jumping on the subway. Jones lost his left foot in November 2011 to what he calls a “freak accident,” after a small cut turned into an infection and doctors eventually had to amputate. In a wheelchair now, he compares his daily commute to an obstacle course.
The accident, Jones says, “changed my life in good and bad ways.” “I think differently, I move differently, I respond differently,” Jones said. “You’re so used to walking around on two feet and doing things the way you want to do it and now things have to be done dramatically differently.”
Especially when it comes to traveling across New York City. A new report from an activist group, the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, shows that of the 421 stations in the city, only 110 are accessible for people living with disabilities. This means that for the roughly 90,000 people in the city living with disabilities, getting around is harder than it should be.
The Center is pushing for more accessibility improvements than are planned. Only 19 subway stations are slated for improvements to accessibility, which will include new elevators and braille signage, through 2020—meaning tens of thousands of passengers will be without equal access for possibly decades to come.
Susan Dooha, director of the Center, said access is further hindered when elevators are out-of-order, a common problem. “I don’t think that the city of New York has made people with disabilities a priority,” Dooha said. “And I don’t think the city of New York understands the economic challenges that people with disabilities face.”
Challenges like getting to work, going out to eat, or even running errands, Dooha said. The Center documented these struggles and more in a report released earlier this year. The group is seeking support of lawmakers to petition the MTA to make changes to improve accessibility at a quicker pace.
“We really are trying to help policymakers see that we are tired of waiting,” Dooha said. “That change and removing barriers is going too slowly, and that segregation in the subways is still a very real and persistent problem.”
The MTA’s $32 billion dollar Capital Program, a project scheduled to occur over 2015 to 2019, is designed to improve various transportation methods in the city.
For access for the disabled, the project will add the final 11 ADA accessible subway stations out of the total 100 of what the MTA calls “Key Stations,” or high traffic and geographically important stations. In Brooklyn, these stations include Bedford Avenue/Canarsie, 59th Street/4th Avenue, 86th Street/4th Avenue, Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum/Eastern Parkway, Greenpoint Avenue/Crosstown, and Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway/Canarsie. New elevators at 13 stations in addition to the “Key Stations” will cost the city $561 million, an MTA spokesperson said.
Dooha said adding only 11 accessible subway stations out of the available 100 “Key Stations” is inadequate. She said the MTA hasn’t made enough changes to significantly improve accessibility and likely won’t without continued activism on behalf of the disabled.
“This affects all of us, because all of us with disabilities need to be able to be a part of the same community, the same system that people without disabilities enjoy,” she said. “The more we are segregated, the more stigma flourishes.”
For people like Jones, the daily hassle of getting around the city will continue. For example, “When I want to come to Union Square, I’m unable to take the 5 train straight here because there’s a wall that separates the station from the elevator,” Jones said. “The only way to access that elevator is going up and down the stairs, which I can’t use because of the wheelchair. So now I have to take the 5 to 42 Street and take the N-Q-R train to get to Union Station.”
The only 100 percent accessible subway in the country is located in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.