I was recently spending time with a friend who uses a wheelchair on a daily basis. Each time we hang out I am reminded of just how much more needs to be done to make our city accessible to those who are in wheelchairs and/or need assistance getting around the city.
For example, I attended Columbia University for graduate school and occasionally teach in the policy school. When I have invited my dear friend and colleague to guest lecture, I am embarrassed by the fact that the Columbia University/116th Street station on the No. 1 line is not handicapped accessible. That is, the premiere university in the largest city in the nation does not have an accessible station for students, professors, staff, professionals, visitors, or even people who live in the neighborhood.
I couldn’t even begin to think of what a full-time Columbia University student who primarily uses a wheelchair would need to do to attend the university and travel off campus. I could not believe the lengths to which my colleague had to go in order to join me on campus. First, he would need to go to the 125th Street A,B,C,D station and hope that both elevators were in service. One elevator that brings him from the subway platform to the turnstile and the other elevator that brings him from the turnstile to the street level. If either elevator is out of service, the station is no longer accessible. He must then make his way up an incredibly steep hill on Broadway or Amsterdam Avenues. Besides the distance, the steep incline makes the journey quite arduous.
We must do better as a city to make sure there are more accessible subway stations for New Yorkers who use wheelchairs. We must make sure that we continue to pressure our elected officials on the local, state, and national levels to fund projects that make the city more accessible for all.
When I spend time with my friend who uses a wheelchair, I am reminded of all of the things I take for granted. Restaurants that claim to be accessible, however, have “just two steps” to get inside, thus rendering it impossible for someone using a wheelchair to access. Or the myriad of sidewalks that lack the slope leading into the street to the curb thus making the “step” to the street incredibly dangerous for anyone who uses a wheelchair.
I implore you to begin to observe your city with a pair of fresh eyes, eyes that are on the lookout for the ways we can improve accessibility in our city, beyond subway stations and transportation. We should also be on the lookout for shops and restaurants in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make sure New York City is a welcoming place for all.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.