The wealth of jobs and other opportunities in major U.S. cities is unparalleled. Yet, people with disabilities cannot always easily access sidewalks, office buildings, and transportation. (Even with federal legislation which exists to protect the disabled.) Too many people with disabilities lack handicap-accessible accommodations.
This issue impacts people with disabilities across the country. People with disabilities often find they cannot get where they need to go because they use a wheelchair or scooter. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is “a response to an appalling problem: widespread, systemic, inhumane discrimination against people with disabilities,” those who reside in major cities know that serious barriers to equal access remain.
A March 2017 survey of 554 Americans living with disabilities found that 20 percent of those individuals encounter a barrier to a building, a service, or transportation at least once per day. Nearly 12 percent say it happens multiple times per day.
In places like New York City and Washington, D.C., most people have no choice but to rely on public transportation. Yet even in D.C., where the ADA became law, wheelchair users risk their lives to get to their bus stop.
Wheelchair users in D.C. neighborhoods must occasionally travel in the street. The same goes for cities with heavy snow in the winter, which can make sidewalks impassable for wheelchairs and scooters. Even when there are crosswalks available, it can be a challenge to reach the signal button. As a result, many wheelchair and scooter users must rely on the kindness of strangers.
Washington, D.C. is not the worst major city for handicap accessibility. (D.C. was #57 on WalletHub’s list of 150 best and worst places for people with disabilities). New York City fares far worse, coming in at #130 on the list. This spot is justified believes disability advocate Sasha Blair-Goldensohn.
New York City
After a freak accident eight years ago, Blair-Goldensohn became wheelchair-dependent and had to navigate NYC streets. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, “New York Has a Great Subway, if You’re Not in a Wheelchair” he writes, “New York’s subway is by far the least wheelchair-friendly public transit system of any major American city, with only 92 of the system’s 425 stations accessible. That means fewer than one in four stations can be used by people in wheelchairs when elevators are working—and they frequently are not.”
Accessible New York City buses do not run after certain hours. And NYC’s paratransit service, Access-A-Ride, often won’t schedule late-night transports. Despite the fact that people with disabilities have transportation access protections. Finding accessible transport is difficult even under ideal circumstances.
This is a huge problem for the more than 535,839 New York City residents who live with an ambulatory disability. They have mobility challenges, which affect where they can live.
Broken Promises to People with Disabilities
Recent reports have found that the New York City Housing Association (NYCHA) has completely failed in its promise to make just five percent of all of their housing units fully accessible for the disabled. In 1996, NYCHA struck a deal with the federal government to make around 8,900 of their apartments accessible. But 20 years after the original agreement, NYCHA upgrades consist of only one-third of that five percent. In other words, only 2,953 apartments meet accessibility standards.
Even more startling is the fact that 47 percent of NYCHA’s buildings are inaccessible for wheelchair users, and according to the organization, most of them cannot be made accessible due to structural issues. Unfortunately, around 20 percent of NYCHA’s 400,000 tenants are seniors over the age of 62, many of whom have mobility issues.
Of course, it’s not just New York City. Around 36 percent of all those surveyed live in a home which is not wheelchair accessible. Of these people, 70 percent have steps leading into their home; 51 percent cannot afford to make the necessary modifications for wheelchair accessibility; and 16 percent say that their landlord, homeowner, or condo board will not allow modifications.
Where’s the Humanity
Clearly, lack of financial means is a huge hurdle in making spaces more accessible, both for individuals and local governments. But so is the fact that many people simply don’t seem to care. Whether building owners decide upgrades aren’t necessary, or choose to blatantly disregard the law, Americans with disabilities are expected to just live with these difficulties.
While there are certain U.S. cities which have been deemed disability friendly (thank you Denver), Americans with disabilities should be able to live anywhere they want to. With a new administration in the White House, the future of the current disability protections—inadequate as they may be—remains uncertain. It seems likely that disabled Americans will have to continue to fight for even those protections granted under the ADA, and that U.S. citizens will have to come together to make sure these essential rights are enforced.