It's hard enough for most of us to get to work on time using the subway — but imagine if you only had access to less than 20 per cent of stations. That's the reality for wheelchair users in New York, for whom getting around the city is sometimes a near-impossible task.
The passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act — which happened 25 years ago this year — hasn't had much impact on the New York subway system. After the anniversary of ADA rolled around this summer, a number of compelling posts about the flaws in the act included links to an interesting map drawn by Matthew Ahn, a New York-based lawyer and subway enthusiast (and the holder of the subway challenge record for visiting every station on the map the fastest, at 21 hours, 49 minutes, and 35 seconds).
The map below shows only those stations that are accessible. As Ahn told me, he got the idea for the map after he discovered the MTA's official "night map," a beautiful blue-tinted version of the MTA's subway map that shows altered night service. "I found it odd that the MTA was willing to put together a map for this purpose but not for accessibility purposes — although considering the number of inaccessible stations, it makes a lot of sense," Ahn told Gizmodo.
Here's the current MTA map:
And here's Ahn's map of the stations that are accessible to wheelchairs, which was very easy to make, he says. "All accessible stations are marked on the main map, so it was actually pretty easy to take it one by one and decide 'do I erase this station? yes? ok.'"
Of course, as he points out, the opening of the new 34 St/Hudson Yards station in the time since he drew it means that there's one accessible station missing.
While the MTA is struggling to literally keep the lights on in its 100-year-old switch system, updates to the system's accessibility have been slow. Meanwhile, the bus system is fragmented, and accessible cabs are tough to find. In an in-depth report looking at the problem on the anniversary of ADA by the Huffington Post, we learn that the problems extend far beyond the subway. Uber, for example, doesn't provide any accessible cars at all. And as the ride-sharing service begins to seriously supplant the taxi system, the chances of getting a wheelchair-accessible car is getting even worse.
William Peace, who blogs about accessibility and the rights of the disabled on his blog Bad Cripple, also noted the disparity in August. In his post, he rails against the general celebrations surrounding the ADA, pointing out how the law has done precious little in many cities:
The ADA was a start, nothing more than a start that has not been supported by the general population of the United States. What I hear again and again is the ADA is an unfunded social mandate. This disturbs me. The ADA is Civil Rights legislation designed to protect the rights of people with a disability. Frankly, the law is weak, poorly written, and ignored.
It's been a problem for decades — but as new transit infrastructure emerges in the form of new lines and new apps, like Uber and Lyft, it's time for us, and our government, to revisit the law and fight for one that actually affects change.
[ SupraStructure; Bad Cripple; h/t The Society Pages. Image: Michael Harris, executive director of the Disabled Riders Coalition, in a wheelchair second from left, enters the Brooklyn Bridge City Hall. AP Photo/Tina Fineberg]