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A subway system unsafe for the blind – New York Daily News


As a blind New Yorker who walks with the help of a cane, the May MTA board meeting was disturbing for me on multiple levels. I learned that on May 18, a blind cane user fell onto the tracks at the Grant Ave. station on the A line in Brooklyn while on his way to work. Thankfully, there were two police officers in the station who were able to rescue him from an oncoming train.

What is most infuriating about this event is that it could have been avoided if the Grant Ave. station had tactile warning strips installed on the platform edge. These strips, also called truncated domes, serve as a tactile warning for a blind person that they are close to the platform edge. The bright yellow domes serve as a warning for sighted folks as well.

What makes this situation even more upsetting is that the MTA’s press department conveniently left out of their propaganda-filled press release the fact that the Grant Ave. station is missing tactile warning strips; the dog-and-pony show of a press conference where the two heroic officers were honored did the same. Nor did MTA officials immediately answer a very thoughtful question from a reporter — the Daily News’ Clayton Guse — when he asked if the station had that specific feature installed as per the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is simply not fair that only about a quarter of our subway stations are wheelchair accessible to those of us with disabilities. Nor is it fair to blind New Yorkers that there are still almost 100 stations without tactile warning strips, which are a basic and easy-to-install feature. MTA Chair Janno Lieber remarked at the May Transit Committee meeting about “how difficult it is to resume normal life if just getting around is frightening.” I realize Lieber was referring to crime, but as a blind person I must also contend with the additional safety concerns that the lack of accessibility presents while attempting to “just get around.” If typical New Yorkers have feelings of trepidation about traveling on the subway, how should a person with a disability feel?

I personally will ride the subway when I feel safe doing it. While riding the train of late, I find myself thinking, how safe is it really down here? Am I at a greater risk as a blind person? How about someone in a wheelchair? In an emergency situation, what’s the plan for a person who is non-ambulatory to safely exit the system?

What other options do we have to get around our city as disabled citizens? Traditional paratransit is a joke! Access-A-Ride is not a truly viable option. It does not afford disabled citizens the same rights, autonomy, and flexibility as any other straphanger in the city; our trips must be scheduled before 5 p.m. one or two days in advance. If that is not bad enough, the number of late pickups that must be endured and the often-circuitous joy rides around the five boroughs make it very frustrating to use at best.

Disabled New Yorkers deserve better; we deserve equal rights under the law. We deserve to live our lives with autonomy and dignity while feeling safe doing it.

As transportation remains a major barrier to employment for the disabled community, what options is the MTA offering disabled New Yorkers? We need tactile warning strips, working elevators or ramps wherever possible. Accessible signage with large, high-contrast print and correct Braille, placed in a predictable and convenient location, to be commonplace features in all of our subway stations. Additionally, it would be nice if all subway and train announcements were actually audible. Finally, Access-A-Ride should evolve into a viable option, with the ability to schedule a pickup as needed on-demand, affording disabled citizens the same rights, autonomy and access to opportunity as all other citizens in this city.

In the name of equity and safety, the MTA needs to pick up the pieces and seriously start addressing these issues. They’ve been talking ad nauseam about these matters over the years, with far too little action. Talk is cheap; we want transparent results. Disabled or not, it’s about time that we are all treated fairly. Let’s invest in true equal access, improving outcomes for all. Let’s enable disabled New Yorkers, helping people to live the lives they want and deserve, facilitating more contributing taxpayers and thriving citizens throughout our great city.

Pedulla is a supervisor for Educational Vision Services at the New York City Department of Education as well as a member of the Advisory Committee on Transit Accessibility. All opinions here are his own and do not represent NYCDOE or NYCT.

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