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HILC makes 125th Street accessible for everyone

Jasmin K. Williams | 5/25/2011, 9:23 a.m.

"Most people think that if you sign, you can go anywhere and sign. But this is American Sign Language. A lot of people are under the perception that if you are deaf, you can lip-read. No. The best lip-reader only gets about 50 percent of what's being said. The rest of it is knowing what the conversation is about and watching body language. I lead the conversation a lot so I know where we're going with it.

"But what makes us different and unique is the fact that we live here, as opposed to someone in another center not being from that area and not really knowing what goes on in that community. We know because we're here 24/7. We understand it and we hear it. We know the culture," she said.

Curry vigilantly polices 125th Street and is quick to come down on a business that is not wheelchair accessible. As a result, the entrance of every business along the main thoroughfare is wheelchair accessible.

Last summer, Curry walked along 125th Street with a young woman in a wheelchair to teach her more about being aware of accessibility.

"I wanted this person to walk with me and see what was and was not accessible along the 125th Street corridor," Curry said.

"You're in a chair; tell me how this works for you. I have a cane and I know what works and does not work for me. We went to Nicole's and GameStop. They had big steps in front. We forced the issue to get them to get ramps. The two stores now have portable ramps and decals in the window to let people know to ring the bell for the ramp. It's about access for everyone with all disabilities. We were going river to river, taking a block a week, making sure that everything was accessible.

"If you come out on St. Nicholas, you'll see a sign on each corner that says, 'Blind Person Crossing.' We were able to show that we have a heavy number of blind people in this area. The train stop is right there. A lot of people use the same guided method as our former governor. They use human guides. They don't use the dogs and don't always use the cane. I noticed people having a hard time crossing the street.

"The other thing that we did was at Popeye's. It used to just have that one entrance with the step. Everyone has the right to have access to greasy food. I love the biscuits, but that step up front was tedious. What caught my attention was the number of people in wheelchairs outside of Popeye's giving money to people asking them to get food for them. I went up and asked if they were OK with it not being accessible. They never thought about it because it had been that way since it opened," she said.

"We contacted the New York City Office for Civil Rights. We had people who were disabled call them and file a complaint, and then they came and saw it. It took a few months because they had to make a door with a permanent entrance ramp right in front of the entrance to the subway, but we got it done. People with walkers, wheelchairs and strollers have access."