Access-A-Ride (AAR) is in turmoil right now, at least from the perspective of the riders, their bosses, their families, doctors, and their friends and colleagues. While the idea of paratransit is a good one, Access-A-Ride, the alternative mass transit van service run by the MTA, is often leaving riders frustrated, tired, and stranded. Efforts of the Paratransit Advisory Committee (PAC) to bring about change have not succeeded, largely because the MTA does not want any advice, and because the committee members have become discouraged. The two-year lawsuit settlement we had with Access-A-Ride ended on December 31, 2001.
Howard Ende, VP for Paratransit at NYCT in the MTA, like his predecessor, Pat OíBrien, is promising that the new scheduling system which is being installed will radically change things, but, so far, all it has meant are inflexible times for rides, long rides, and the usual late pick-ups and stranded riders. We still see a lot of empty vans and vans with just one person in them. I ride Access-A-Ride and I have not seen any improvement whatsoever.
We are tired of promises! The MTA has to address problems and figure out what to do! We demand that Access-A-Ride make these changes:
Right now, there are ten carriers who handle AAR passengers (8 regular and 2 supplemental), and First Transit, a private company, staffs and supervises the reservationists, schedulers, and command center personnel. That is an unwieldy system. Until the MTA runs everything, there will always be poor service and poor communication. AAR has too many layers of responsibility with no accountability. The MTA and NYCT are supposed to be running a system for everyone. Itís a public transportation system and the MTA has to meet the needs of all the people it serves.
The MTA now has 4 Ĺ years in which to plan to take over the entire service. That is the only way Access-A-Ride has a chance of being responsive to the needs of people with disabilities.
The disability community, politicians, social service agencies, and employers need to work together to apply political pressure to the MTA to get accountability and improvements in the service. We had a demonstration at the MTA on April 30, 2002, and we met with Lawrence Reuter, President of NYCT, and Peter Kalikow, Chairman of the Board of the MTA about our concerns. We will meet again to see what changes, if any, they have implemented.
Access-A-Ride must be revamped!
Just Fix It!
Photo by Jean Ryan
The Sign by Antoinette Williams
Photo by Jean Ryan
On April 30, 2002, almost 50 angry Access-A-Ride riders and other activists demonstrated in front of the MTA Headquarters on Madison Avenue and 44th Street in Manhattan. We are fed up with shoddy treatment including long waits, getting stranded, long rides, vans that violently shake, and lack of customer service.
Antoinette Williams held a sign that said,
"Stress-a-Ride." She said,
"Access-A-Ride certainly is stressful because of its unreliability and because of the way we riders are treated by drivers and AAR personnel. They lie to us and say they are there when they arenít, and then we are counted with a no-show and have to find our way home some other way or wait hours for another van!"
Danny Robert noted that Access-A-Ride has spent more money and obtained more vans, and yet service is just as unreliable as ever.
While demonstrators were outside the building, Maureen Green and Frieda Zames went inside to testify about AAR at the monthly MTA board meeting. They demanded a future meeting with Peter Kalikow, Chairman of the MTA Board and Lawrence Reuter, President of New York City Transit (NYCT).
By the conclusion of the demonstration, a meeting was promised for early June. We will insist on a taxi voucher service and quick back-up for wheelchair users, as well as improved scheduling. What is taking Access-A-Ride officials so long to fix the system?
Pamela Bates Says Fix AAR!
Photo by Jean Ryan
Simi Linton At the AA Demo
Photo by Jean Ryan
New York, May 24, 2002 (Bloomberg News) -- New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority pays $54 a trip -- more than twice the cost in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles -- to provide minibus service to disabled people that some riders and lawmakers criticize as unreliable and inefficient.
Riders said the wheelchair-accessible minibuses, which serve about 65,000 New Yorkers and typically hold seven passengers, often come late and sometimes don't arrive. Trips on circuitous routes take longer than necessary, they said. The Access-A-Ride system offers group rides with a minimum one-day advance reservation to people who can't use subways or buses because of disability, illness or old age. It provides more than 2 million trips annually. The authority increased the program's budget to $140 million this year from $108 million in 2001.
"It's taxpayers' money and they're wasting it terribly," said Maureen Green, a U.S. Internal Revenue Service systems analyst and Access-A-Ride commuter whose ability to walk was impaired by a car accident.
"Until the MTA realizes the system needs a complete overhaul," instead of "Band-Aid" fixes,
"it's never going to work like it should," she said.
Green recalled when she and a co-worker reserved rides to Manhattan from the same Queens building for the same time. Two vehicles arrived instead of one. Both were late, she said.
City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, Democrat of Manhattan, who held hearings on Access-A-Ride, said the system represents
"a policy against people with disabilities that goes beyond belief."
U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of Queens, citing customer complaints, said he is seeking a meeting with Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Peter Kalikow on the program's performance and cost. Similar programs for the disabled are $24 a trip in metropolitan Boston, $25 in Chicago and vicinity, $25.70 in Los Angeles and its surrounding county, and $40 in the Dallas area, regional transit officials said.
"We've always known things can be a little more expensive in New York City, but to be paying double what other cities are paying is begging the question `why?'" Crowley said.
Authority spokesman Tom Kelly attributed New York's higher costs to wages, insurance premiums and bridge and tunnel tolls.
Delays might result from several factors, including traffic, bad weather, mechanical difficulties and passenger illness, Kelly said. Early disruptions have a ripple effect on a vehicle's pickups for the rest of the day, he said .
To help avoid such slowdowns, Boston is using satellite technology to ensure the efficiency of minibus routes, said Bob Rizzo, manager of the city's transit system for the disabled.
Quitting a Job
"There's very little margin for any difficulties that can come up," Kelly said.
"We're always looking for ways to improve service and we're always open to suggestions."
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority covers about 73 percent of costs, the city 13 percent and a mortgage tax 11 percent, according to authority documents. Passengers pay about 3 percent -- the same $1.50 a trip as city bus and subway riders.
Jean Ryan, 57, of Brooklyn, said she quit her English-teaching job at Manhattan's Hunter College because Access-A-Ride is unreliable. Ryan, who suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a progressive neurological disorder, said the system's flaws cost an extra hour each trip.
"By the time I'd get to work, all I wanted to do was find a place to lay down and take a nap," Ryan said.
"It was so tiring, so stressful."
Ryan details each ride in a logbook. She said an April 12 trip to Hunter from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, was two hours and 15 minutes because of routing that took her five miles east after she was picked up and then 14 miles to Manhattan's West Side before the final three miles to Hunter on the East Side.
The Americans for Disabilities Act requires systems like Access-A-Ride to get customers to destinations in no more than twice the time it would take mass transit.
Access-A-Ride's trips are scheduled by Cincinnati-based First Transit, a transportation services company, and relayed to eight private contractors that operate the minibuses. Calls to First Transit's New York and Cincinnati offices weren't returned.
The system may bog down if a dispatcher gives a wrong address, a driver or passenger runs late or schedulers make poor choices, said Ken Hosen, a Bethesda, Maryland-based transportation consultant.
Drivers Are Vital
To work efficiently, such services must get the most passengers aboard vehicles in the least time.
"It's a hell of a puzzle you've got when on any given day you have to move" thousands of individuals
"with very little in common in terms of where they are and where they're going," Hosen said.
"Competent drivers and dispatchers are vital,Hosen said. Drivers of minibuses for the disabled earn 'substantially less' than fixed-route bus drivers, although their jobs are more demanding and turnover exceeds 40 percent a year," he said.
Drivers at Atlantic Express, the largest New York Access-a- Ride operator, earn $11 to $15 an hour according to the company's Web site. City bus drivers are paid $22.90 an hour, according to the Transport Workers Union Local 100.
"Managers think they're getting a deal by not paying drivers well, but what they end up with is needing more hours to get the job done,", Hosen said.
"It's penny-wise and pound-foolish."
Carr and Nadina at the May ADAPT Action
|Photo by Tom Olin|
Washington, D.C. May 13-16, 2002--- A week of long ADAPT days, fueled daily by McDonald's hamburger lunches eaten on the streets while blocking traffic and doors, ended on Capitol Hill - on an even higher note than it began. The combination press event/hearing for S 1298 and H.R. 3612, the Medicaid Community-based Services and Supports Act (MiCASSA), packed a cavernous hearing room in the Russell Senate Building with so many ADAPT members and friends that the overflow crowd spilled out into the halls and had to listen via a sound system.
Speakers at the event included co-sponsors of both bills, disability organizations and individuals from the grassroots disability community. The first speaker introduced by Master of Ceremonies, Courtland Townes III of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), was the patriarch and elder statesman of the disability rights movement, Justin Dart. Dart set the tone when he compared being warehoused in a nursing home to being held as a captive slave, and repeated the refrain,
"MiCASSA NOW! Free Our People!" Each time, the enthusiastic crowd loudly chanted the refrain back to him.
"We worked with legislative staff for months to get this event scheduled, and it had to be postponed in the wake of September 11, so today was the culmination of a lot of work and waiting," said Stephanie Thomas, National ADAPT Organizer.
"It was amazing to have thousands of people join us by phone, and to have all our partner organizations here to demand "MiCASSA Now!" with us. And, this event turned out to be such a hot ticket that several co-sponsors unexpectedly left the House floor to be here, too."
The MiCASSA press event, followed by visits to congressional delegations from 35 states, was the culmination of a successful week of action. Mother's Day saw ADAPT at the White House with a 5 ft. by 8 ft. card for First Lady Laura Bush, and in Houston, home to former First Lady Barbara Bush, with an identical card, to point out that 75% of those in nursing homes are women. Monday's action, blocking doors and 2 major intersections around the New Executive Office Building, garnered a meeting with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mitchell Daniels, Jr., to challenge his routine quashing of MiCASSA on a fiscal basis.
Tuesday's simultaneous actions against the AFL-CIO, and member unions, AFSCME, and SEIU quickly resulted in a meeting with union heads to challenge their past opposition to closing institutions in order to protect jobs. In addition, Tuesday was the day MiCASSA received an endorsement from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in a statement issued by Chair Terry McAuliffe. Wednesday after the nationwide press event, ADAPT kept the pressure on by lobbying their Senators and Representatives.
"In case anyone is wondering why we didn't hit HUD while we were here, it's because passing MiCASSA is our biggest priority right now," said Erik von Schmetterling, Philadelphia ADAPT.
"However, we did visit HUD at 5pm on Tuesday, and when HUD employees left the building they were greeted by 500 ADAPT members each sporting a mask of the face of their boss, HUD Secretary Mel Martinez. We may not have hit HUD this trip, but we weren't about to have Martinez think he was forgotten or off the hook for HUD's poor showing in its response to the President's calling for swift elimination of barriers to equality for persons with disabilities. It really was a great week!"
I want to thank everyone who attended one or both of the workshops conducted by national ADAPT leaders Bob Kafka and Stephanie Thomas. It was so gratifying that our community responded with such enthusiasm. Over 60 people attended the workshop on Sunday, February 3. The Monday workshop, which focused on the work that independent living centers must do to free our people from institutions, was attended by about 25 people.
Some of us were able to put into practice what we learned about civil disobedience from Bob and Stephie a few days later when we went to Albany and were part of the ADAPT action there. The action turned out to be very exciting and quite effective. Our message was heard --loud and clear. For the first time we had a large crowd. In past Olmstead actions, in Albany, we never had more than 50 people. This time, because many of the (independent living) people that attended the
"Our Homes Not Nursing Homes" Conference joined us, we had about 200 people. And for the first time there were arrests. Eight people were arrested, two of us from NYC - myself and Dina Niedelman (with her little dog Tiny). So the State officials now know how serious we are. We also got lots of media coverage, most of it very positive.
Bruce Darling of Rochester ADAPT & the Center for Disability Rights wrote the following report about the Albany Action and about a little action Rochester ADAPT held after the big action.
First, I want to tell everyone that I have never been prouder. We all put on a hard-edged action. Honestly, everyone (80% IL People) held together like veteran ADAPTers even after having spent much of the day in a conference. Many pushed themselves physically and mentally as far as they could go. I was awed by it. And Philly can kick butt! So can all of NY ADAPT!!!
*** Background ***
It is important to point out that this action was the result of more than a year of advocacy where we have tried to get the State to implement the Olmstead Decision. After more than a year, we had made virtually no progress. The transition project we asked for was not being pursued. They could not confirm whether they had drafted the Medicaid Waiver we wanted. No official planning process had begun. Nothing had changed. We gave the State Health Department a letter demanding that they give us a written response to our issues by February 5th. We got no response... On Wednesday, we held an Olmstead Conference from 9 AM until about 2 PM. Bob and Stephanie presented and the conference culminated in an action...
*** Wednesday: The Action ***
It was a wonderful mixture of people at the action: ADAPT, Disabled in Action, the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC), Independent Living Centers, a class of Social Work students from Keuka College, and many individuals. Special thanks to the Philly ADAPT crowd. They came a long way to help us with our fight and were willing to do whatever it took. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
Together over 200 of us marched down the concourse silently to the Department of Health Building. It seemed that everyone knew we would be doing something. We published the information in a flyer! So we expected the State Troupers would stop us, if not when we marched right past their Concourse-level offices, when we got to the doors of the Health Department's building. But they didn't. I was told that people filled the building lobby and the elevator bays like they had been practicing for years. (I was busy screaming in the Concourse encouraging people to hurry so I never got to see it myself.)
As we got in, the Troupers closed down the doors, locking the Social Work Students, signs and flyers out of the building. Once we were solidly in place, we spoke with the State Troupers and tried to secure a meeting with Commissioner Novello by calling her office. She was busy.
There were inaccurate reports that said we made it up to the Health Department offices. We never left the lobby, but we could have. It took a screaming state staffer to remind the security to shut down the elevators. With the elevators shut down, people began walking down the stairs to the Concourse. Some were angry, but a large number of people (some recognizable) made supportive comments or gestures.
We then began trying to reach Dave Wolner from the Governor's staff. Troupers told us that Mr. Wolner would meet with us if we left the building. We had played this scene before: After we remove the incentive to give us the meeting, they suddenly don't have time for us. We called Mr. Wolner and asked for a confirmation of the meeting in writing. He wouldn't do that. We agreed to speak a short while later.
This was the first chance I had to see what was happening in the Concourse hall. Looking out the doors of the Health Department, I could see people marching in a circle, carrying the protest signs and chanting. Denise Figueroa, who had stayed behind at the conference site to straighten up a bit, was marching with the group. It was good to see that someone was outside who could talk about issues. From the inside of the building, I wasn't sure who else was out there.
We did try several techniques to push the state to resolve the conflict. We blocked some doors and attempted to block the escalators. But the most effective technique was our perseverance. Our people kept up the pressure. We called Mr. Wolner back and explained that we would send our representatives to Meeting Room 6 and bring a runner who would be sent back to clear the Department of Health Building. He agreed. We repeated the plan and he agreed again. When we explained to the Troupers that the runner needed to be let back in the building in order to get people out, they seemed concerned and sent a Trouper with us.
Mel Tanzman, Nadina LaSpina, T.K. Small and I (Bruce Darling) went to meet with Mr. Wolner. At this point, it seems someone from the state decided to
"show us" that direct action doesn't work. Mr. Wolner didn't show up for the meeting. We waited nearly 45 minutes for him and then returned to the Health Department Tower where we instructed everyone to leave the building.
We exited the building and lined up in the Concourse. Kathleen Paultler was shouting,
"Grab a sign. Get in Line!" as loud as she could. We began marching to the Capital. It was awesome. The line seemed to go on forever. Looking back you were struck by the large numbers of people.
We got to the elevators that took us up into the Capital Building and a group of about a dozen people got to the first floor before the elevators were shut down. Four people had made it up to the Governor's floor by elevator when State Troupers shut it down. Nadina LaSpina (NYC), Chris Hilderbrant (Rochester), Spitfire Sabel (Philadelphia, PA), and Ann Kaplow (Rochester). Four more came up by the stairs. Dina Niedelman (NYC) crawled with assistance from Larry Fein (Buffalo). Debbie Bonomo (Rochester) was carried part of the way by Bruce Darling (Rochester) and crawled the rest. In all, eight people got up to the second floor.
The State Police tried hard to break up the groups by spreading misinformation. They told people that Mr.Wolner had been waiting for us. Police were telling the eight people upstairs that everyone in the Concourse was upset with them and wanted them to come down. The eight people were determined to stay - overnight if necessary - until the Governor met with them. The 70 protesters that were not able to get off the Concourse waited. The ONE AND ONLY JIMMI entertained the troops. They were informed that the building was closed, but they continued to wait. They held a vigil, a press conference, and even ordered food for the eight upstairs. Brad Williams stayed and was busy coordinating the media. It proved to be very effective.
People complained at the press conference that the eight people in the War Room were being denied access to their medications and wheelchairs. Almost immediately, water was provided to the people in the War Room and the wheelchairs were brought up. Reporters appeared on the second floor. It looked like it would be a long night. People in the Concourse held on as long as they could and stayed until they had to leave. It looked like they would just let us stay the night. Food was on its way and people were settling in for the night, but at 11:30 PM, the eight people in the Governor's War Room were arrested for trespassing.
The State Police handcuffed the protesters and removed them. The people who could walk were walked outside to police cars. "Spitfire" fell to the floor and was carried out in a bag designed for such emergencies. The manual wheelchair users were carried out of the building in their chairs. But the motorized wheelchair users posed a more serious dilemma; the vans were not accessible. At first the Troupers thought about using two-by-fours to get people in the vans. They realized the boards were too narrow. Debbie and Dina saw the troupers take a platform out to the van. Then state troupers came back into the building with a bunch of broken boards.
"Apparently, that didn't work," said Debbie.
The troupers also tried to convince the group of eight that their action had failed, telling them the media completely had missed their story and described them as terrorists. This tactic was old hat to Spitfire. Once she was set down on the floor of the office, she screamed from her bag,
"Psych War! It only works if you don't know they are doing it."
The group was waiting in the Concourse and cheered as each arrestee came out of the State Police Station. I was touched that Bonnie Shoultz was there waiting for us. We walked back to the hotel in single file where we got rooms for the extra people who stayed, including Larry and Todd Vaarwerk from Buffalo. We didn't get a meeting, but we knew we raised community awareness. We were congratulated by a couple of hotel staff people.
*** Thursday ***
The next morning, all of the newspapers were sold out in the hotel. Eight people had to appear in court. They looked like an action without even trying. The small open floor space was filled by people in wheelchairs. The court held a special session for the group and called us one at a time. Spitfire was the hit of the courtroom as she announced
"Civil Disobedience: I walk when I want to," and
"Martin Luther King did it. I can too." Debbie Bonomo was called twice. Apparently the State troupers booked her twice for the same incident. Later she shrugged her shoulders and told the TV camera,
"What can I say, I was double-booked." The judge adjourned the case until February 21st.
Bruce Darling, one of the eight people arrested, went from the court to the hotel and ran up the hill to meet with staff from the Assembly Task Force on Persons with Disabilities at 11:00 AM. They wanted to draft a bill and get it passed this year. This bill will create a Medicaid Waiver for people with disabilities and elderly people as well as transition 1,300 people out of nursing homes in one year. The staff were very excited by the language we discussed.
*** Friday ***
On Friday, Rochester ADAPT learned that Governor Pataki was speaking at a Senior Center very near Rochester in Henrietta! In less than two hours, they rounded up a group of about 30 ADAPT members. Three of the people who had been arrested in the Capital were able to get inside the event while the rest waited to move in.
We made friends with the seniors from the Center and chatted about nursing homes while we waited for the Governor. Finally he arrived. We had our heavy coats on to cover our ADAPT shirts. Once the Governor started speaking we took our coats off. A police officer reminded us this was a
"no protest zone." We looked innocently at him and pointed out it was warm.
During the Governor's speech, Bruce Darling interrupted the Governor and explained how he had them arrested rather than set up a meeting. The Governor quipped,
"I can see why." Asked if he would meet with us, the Governor publicly agreed to a meeting. Ryan Moses, Special Assistant to the Governor pulled Bruce to the side and assured him that the meeting would take place because the Governor had
"promised it from the podium." To leave the building, the Governor had to walk by over 25 ADAPTers who were chanting.
The best part of this action was the fact that one older woman from the senior center had taken great interest in our flyers. After the Governor left, she took them and distributed them to the other people at the event. Debbie Bonomo spent time talking to an older woman who was in the process of selling her home in order to go into a nursing home. She told the woman NOT to sell her home and gave her our contact information.
Again, thank you to everyone who participated.
Tuesday, January 15 was ADAPT's Freedom Day. For those not so familiar with ADAPT, every year a day is chosen -close to Martin Luther King's Birthday - on which ADAPT activists throughout the country hold actions to advance the goal of
"freeing our people" from institutions. This year the focus was on the need for accessible, affordable integrated housing for people who come out of institutions. Throughout the country, ADAPT groups went to their local Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices with the same list of demands to be faxed to Washington, to Secretary Mel Martinez, who heads the agency. (See list of demands below)
Because conditions in lower Manhattan since September 11 ruled out a large demonstration, only a small delegation from NYC-ADAPT visited the Regional HUD Office at 26 Federal Plaza. Everyone else was asked to make phone calls.
At exactly Noon, people started calling the HUD office asking that ADAPT's list of demands be faxed to Secretary Martinez. At the same time our delegation of seven activists (myself, Danny Robert, TK Small, Frieda Zames, Michael Imperiale, Dina Niedelman, Laura Vann-LaRusso + Danny's and TK's attendants) made their way into the building. We filed through the security checkpoint with surprising ease and went right up to the 35th floor, to the HUD reception area.
The receptionist graciously listened while TK and I explained the purpose of our visit. She told us the Regional Director, Marisel Morales, was not able to meet with us but that the Press Coordinator would see us. A pleasant gentleman soon appeared, introduced himself as Adam Glantz, and cordially shook hands all around. We told him what we were doing there and gave him the list of demands. He kept nodding sympathetically while we talked about
"freeing our people," and, when we told him we would wait there until the fax was sent, he didn't seem to have any objections.
Next thing we knew the cops arrived and told us we were trespassing.
We held our ground while the phone calls kept pouring in. All the calls in support of ADAPT surely helped tip the scales. THANK YOU all who called! It took two hours of arguing back and forth, and of waiting but finally we got what we wanted. The fax was sent, TK made arrangements with the cops to get a copy of the Police Report (they put a copy of our demands and one of our ADAPT stickers in the report), and we also got a promise of a meeting with the Regional Director.
No media, of course - this is NYC. But there should be an article in Able News. Danny's attendant took some pictures, which we were hoping to send to Able News. But at a certain point, the police noticed him and confiscated the camera.
ADAPT Demands faxed from HUD offices throughout the country to Secretary Martinez:
THANK YOU ALL AGAIN FOR MAKING THE CALLS!
If you use medical services paid for by Medicaid, please understand that there are sweeping changes coming to the New York State Medicaid system. As many members of the disability community rely on Medicaid, this is a call to protect your rights.
New York State Medicaid is trying to move all recipients into managed care programs. Medicaid is limiting the amount it spends by paying the Medicaid managed care company a fixed amount for your medical coverage per year, whether you use that amount or exceed it.
Now, Medicaid is cutting costs by restricting your ability to choose your medical facility. They are accomplishing this by changing the reimbursement rates for transportation services. These new rates will have serious consequences for wheelchairs users, people who travel with personal assistants, and people who live more than five miles from the hospital of their choice.
Under the old plan, there were four rates of reimbursement to ambulette companies, based on distance from your home to the medical facility, whether you use a wheelchair, and whether or not you have an escort. Under the new plan, escorts are not paid for, and there is one rate for trips under five miles and one rate for over five miles from your home. What it boils down to is that the ambulette companies make less money than they did before if they carry an escort for anyone and if they carry a wheelchair user five or more miles to a medical center and they make more money than they did before for carrying an ambulatory passenger under five miles.
[Because of the economics,] hospitals might have a hard time finding ambulette companies who want to [carry wheelchair users and their escorts over five miles].
I am not implying that services under the Medicaid system are becoming unavailable. I am just offering an explanation for potential difficulties in obtaining transportation services through Medicaid. As the economy starts to head south and government priorities lie in other areas, Iím afraid this is just the beginning.
Phil Beder, November 15, 2001
Editorís Note: Phil Beder used to own an ambulette company.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg is right now searching for a new director for the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD). Attempts to provide input to him from our community have been blocked. E-mails sent to him about MOPD never reach him. They are instead routed to the current MOPD director. So decisions with massive repercussions are being made about us without us!
What can we do about it? We have one real chance to reach the Mayor directly about MOPD. All it will cost is one hour a week and a test of our patience.
Every Friday, 10AM to 11AM on WABC (770 am), the Mayor takes phone calls from the public. The toll-free number is 1-800-848-9222.
I hope that a number of us can converge at the same time to assure at least one of us gets through. I suggest these methods to give each of you the best chance to get through:
"WABC,"you say POLITELY AND CLEARLY (otherwise the screener will just hang up on you) that you want to ask the Mayor about the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities and be prepared to explain its importance to millions of people in the city. He/She will decide whether to put the call through. Again, if the Mayor is particularly interested in a particular subject, conform your question to that subject.
"And now we'll take a call from [your name] in [your neighborhood],"begin to speak immediately after he says
"hello."AND THEN YOU'RE IN!
"I want the ask you about MOPD,"since most listeners won't know what you're talking about. Say
"Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities"and give full names. But try conveying the information in as few words as possible since they can always hang up on you, even in mid-sentence.
I also encourage you to call other radio call-in shows regarding MOPD and other issues affecting our community. It may be a hassle for many of you but, for the price of a phone call, or even a free call, you can reach many people.
Aric Schmidt has on occasions told me flat out he wasn't interested in disabled people and the people he works for aren't interested either. Our job is to MAKE him and WABC interested!
Meanwhile, I will keep trying. And perhaps I will get through some day. And, if I do talk to the Mayor, I will urge him to either restore MOPD to its former glory or shut it down and save the tax-payers one million dollars a year since it does nothing that the Independent Living Centers throughout the city don't do. But, if one of you beats me to him I will declare victory and move on to other issues.
Good luck to all of us.
A great weight has been lifted off the disability community with the election of the new City Council. It is not just that 38 out of the 51 members of the Council are newly elected; it is also that committees in the Council have new chairpersons and that the current speaker does not have the power that the former speaker had. (For example, the former speaker had the power to prevent a bill from being voted on by the full Council.) As pointed out in the 504 Democratic Club News,
"Under [Speaker] Giff Miller's leadership and with the consensus of all its members, [council members] will be more enabled than in the past to staff, legislate and propose changes for the betterment of the neighborhoods and the city they represent."
Another important change is the creation of the Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, and Disability Services (Committee on Disability) chaired by Margarita Lopez, a strong advocate for disability rights. The Committee on Disability was established by combining two former subcommittees, Mental Health from the Health Committee and Mental Retardation, Alcoholism and Drug Abuse from the General Welfare Committee. At the press conference called by Speaker Miller to announce the Committee on Disability, Lopez described the disability community as abandoned by the city. She also pointed out that she hired a sign language interpreter and introduced her senior staff assistant, Anne Emerman, who was Director of the Mayor's Office of People with Disabilities during the Dinkins' Administration.
Considering that Emerman was fired at the beginning of Giuliani's reign - during which the disability community was ignored - the fact that she is back in city government is both actually and symbolically significant. Actually, since Emerman is from the community, she knows the issues and the appropriate people involved. Symbolically, the fact that Emerman was selected to participate in city government indicates that our issues are once again being dealt with.
Perhaps most significant was the development of A Disability Agenda for the Budget of the City of New York (2002-2003). Initiated by Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, A Disability Agenda was created by a newly formed New York City Disability Budget and Policy Coalition. It includes the following selected issues of concern:
Obviously, crucial issues such as health care have been left out, but this first year Disability Agenda is impressive.
The political prospect of New York City's disability community has been transformed from anger and despair to hopeful enthusiasm. Both the Agenda and the Coalition were needed by the disability community in NYC for many years. Why did they happen now? Frank Bowe, a well-known deaf disability scholar, indicated that an advisor to Martin Luther King explained why struggle begins at a particular time:
"People think that revolutions begin with injustices. They don't. A revolution begins with hope."
How can you get involved? Now is the time to let your voice be heard by talking to your council member and by attending hearings, meetings and demonstrations. Contact Disabled In Action for information on hearings, meetings and demonstrations by calling Olga Hill at 718-261-3737. To get on a list to participate in demonstrations e-mail Jean Ryan at https://www.disabledinaction.org/contact_jean.html. For information about City Council hearings, call Anne Emerman at Margarita Lopez's office at 212-778-7366.
My name is Stacy LaRoche. I am disabled and use a Service Dog to help me walk. At times my condition requires me to use a wheelchair. My chair folds easily and I can transfer. I live on the border of "Manhattanís Core" at 95th and Park, and here, like the outer boroughs or areas outside of the core, there exist many barriers to service. Not all barriers to transportation are physical. Last month I sat through three denial of access cases with the TLC. I was ambulatory, with Luckyís help, during each incident. The refusal to pick up a passenger with a service dog is against the law.
Councilmember Liu mentioned one reason that there may be a lack of drivers on the street is
"the disproportionate fines levied buy the TLC". Each offense last month raised $200.00 for the TLC - a total of $600.00 and each of the drivers admitted not picking me up due to the presence of the dog. Obviously the fine is not prohibitive enough. If I am denied access to any other service or into any other public establishment, like a restaurant, the fines allow for by law for violating my civil rights are far greater than $200.00. I am aware that the TLC purchased training materials from the Delta Society, and despite the decals prominently displayed on the side of many cabs,
"Service Dogs Welcome for People with Disabilities" denial of access is still a problem. I encourage those working in "Operation Refusal" to spend a day shadowing me and my dog to see this abuse up close.
Discrimination has nothing to do with any driver shortage, real or perceived. Access is not only a physical barrier issue, and my denial of service should not be a revenue generating activity for the TLC. I have not requested a hearing for every driver that has passed us by, only recently and for the most blatant offenders. I donít wish to spend that much time at 40 Rector Street. Merely providing accessible taxis is not enough. Education, better screening of driver candidates, greater law enforcement, and stiffer fines are also necessary to correct problems in the system. If the Council places accessible taxis in service, there is still no guarantee they will stop to pick up the disabled when an able bodied fare is perceived as an easier fare, and accessible taxis in and of themselves are not an adequate alternative to a fully accessible public transportation system. That being said, I do support accessible taxis as a necessary means of travel in a city where on-demand accessible transportation is inadequate to meet the needs of the community.
Stacy M. LaRoche and Lucky (Mobility Service Dog)
Our organization, a.b.c., advocates for better communication, is a voluntary group whose mission, through education and advocacy, is to make it possible for people with all degrees of hearing loss to participate fully in society.
Our advocacy on this issue has taken almost two years. Now we can announce a substantial measure of success. We learned that in 1999, New York State adopted the International Building Code. The scope of the Building Code was expanded to the Uniform Fire Prevention, Energy and Building Code. This went into administration at the Department of State. The committee recommending this included representatives of Fire Administration, EPVA, NYS Office of Advocate for Persons with Disabilities. There was no representation for people with hearing loss or other disabilities, except for EPVA representing mobility disabilities.
In July 2000, Richard Rosenthal, Disabilities Officer for East Hampton town, told us how the International Building Code that was adopted reduces the requirements for assistive listening systems and devices. It actually requires them only where there is fixed seating rather than in terms of space; reduces number of receivers to be provided from 9% to 4%; omits reference standards for quality of FM, infrared and loops; weakens requirements for signage; and does not require certification of quality of equipment.
The Building and Fire Prevention Code that had been in effect since 1984 was a model for certain provisions of the ADA and was generally favorable to people with disabilities. It had important provisions for people with hearing loss, but the new code would reduce the requirements for assistive listening devices in some serious ways. We also knew of the RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center) study and report on large area assistive listening systems that had not been considered in making these new rules. a.b.c., and particularly the Legal Affairs committee, Paula Brown Glick and Charlotte N. Roth, sought to state our objections. We submitted comments in a more detailed statement, adding issues of visual notices and communications, quality and maintenance of equipment installed, and need for visual communication aids and assistive listening systems in any locations where communication is essential.
In October 2000, we sent our comments to the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities and to the Department of State, with copies to New York legislators and Governor Pataki. The emphasis was on the need to maintain the standards and requirements of previous laws of New York State and the ADA. We continued to look for ways to get attention for our concerns, contacting members of the New York State Assembly and Senate.
The Department of State scheduled a hearing and testimony presentation for August 20, 2001. We revised our testimony for state-wide hearings, giving reasons for our objections and explaining the importance of visual emergency communications, centrally operated smoke and fire alarms, and visual two-way communication systems. With the help of Lise Hamlin and Keith Muller of the League for the Hard of Hearing, we prepared a letter to be sent to legislators. We informed members of a.b.c., League for the Hard of Hearing, and Self Help for Hard of Hearing People of New York State of these problems and a number of people sent comments and support of our testimony.
On August 20, 2001, we attended the state-wide video conference hearings at SUNY Stony Brook. This was satisfactorily captioned (at our request) and was beneficial to all attendees because the sound quality was very poor, so most members of the audience depended on the captioning. It was interesting to see that many officers and representatives of fire control and safety organizations spoke of specific problems in the new fire prevention and safety regulations that are part of the Building Code. They wanted enhancements that had not been included. Another large group of commentators were wheelchair users who require access in housing. Except for a.b.c., hearing concerns were little addressed.
We requested that 8 of our issues be addressed in the revision of the code, and we will get three of them in the code revisions: assistive listening systems in all meeting places with fixed seating, reference standards for quality of FM, infrared and loop systems, and required annual certification of sound system quality. Three others are covered in other sections of the code and there was no response on two other issues.
The many steps and activities of the project included learning of the way that the International Building Code was used to prepare new legislation, reviewing proposed legislation, making contact with legislators and government offices, using the internet to obtain precise information on the regulations, writing up our objections and reasons, sending our comments to selected and appropriate offices and the Department of State, attending and speaking at a hearing, getting other interested people to make their comments and agree with our position, and seeing how the code was changed in its final more acceptable form.
Village Voice - May 8-14, 2002 - In a year when Mayor Bloomberg has proposed cutting school funding by $350 million, police department funding by more than $100 million, and fire department funding by more than $50 million, one small agency has escaped budget cuts altogether: the Human Rights Commission. In a strong sign of support for an agency virtually shut down in the Giuliani era, Bloomberg seems to be following through on his inauguration-day pledge to
"fight bigotry in any form, wherever it may happen" by defending the beleaguered HRC.
The Giuliani cuts reduced the size of the enforcement staff by 83 percent, which left more staff focused on community relations than on law enforcement. City funds that supported law enforcement were cut just as drastically, while outside grants designated for community relations remained stable.
In a dramatic departure from his predecessor's strategy, Bloomberg has proposed a modest budget increase in the HRC's law enforcement budget that will allow the HRC to hire six new, and desperately needed, attorneys, raising the lawyer pool to 21. Bill de Blasio, chair of the General Welfare Committee that oversees the HRC, applauds Bloomberg's support and says,
"If ever there was a case for making up for the mistakes of others, this has to be it."
Even so, the commission's budget is tiny-$7.8 million, only one hundredth of 1 percent of the city's budget. Yet Patricia Gatling, the new HRC commissioner, says that "our immediate needs have been met," and vows that under her control, the long-dormant commission will become an effective law enforcement agency.
Gatling, an outspoken African American who grew up in segregated Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, cited leaders like Thurgood Marshall and Medgar Evers as her inspirations. Gatling previously worked in the Brooklyn D.A.'s office as First Assistant D.A., where she led the Major Narcotics Investigation Bureau. Bloomberg's appointment of the seasoned prosecutor shows that from now on the agency will be focusing on law enforcement rather than mediation or community relations. Gatling has pledged to prosecute discriminators to the fullest extent of the law.
"She can be frightening to people who don't want to do the right thing," said Reverend Lonnie McLeod, a Harlem pastor who worked with her on a project called ComALERT that coordinated the efforts of community-service providers. Congressman Ed Towns said through a spokesperson that Gatling is
"compassionate, has a lot of integrity, and will bring a fresh approach."
Gatling's predecessor at HRC during the Giuliani years, Marta Varela, had a background in finance and politics (including heading fundraising campaigns for Giuliani and Bush Sr.) and none of the prosecutorial experience that Gatling brings to the commission.
Under Giuliani and Varela, the HRC did little to deter discrimination. Cases languished for years, often until witnesses and plaintiffs could no longer be located. When cases did settle, the average compensation was a mere $2000-hardly the type of punishment that discouraged discriminators or made headlines. The commission didn't initiate its own investigations and took less than half of 1 percent of complaints to trial in the fiscal years between 1998 and 2001.
"The commission will be focusing on initiating investigations and enforcing our human rights law," Gatling told the City Council in a March hearing.
"Make no mistake about it-the commission is a law enforcement agency." Revisions made in New York City human rights laws in 1991 have made them stronger than both New York State and federal laws and have widened the scope to protect virtually all public interactions and public services from discrimination. Under Giuliani, however, the HRC left large portions of the law unenforced. Unlike federal and state law, city law holds individuals liable for their discriminatory acts, and companies are strictly liable for the acts of their managers and supervisors.
Gatling has spent her first months in office attacking the 4500-complaint backlog. Gatling calls the situation
"unacceptable," and hopes to have sifted through the entire waiting list by the end of summer. She has set the goal of a one-year limit between the initiation of a complaint and its resolution. Critics commend Gatling's energy, but worry that the limit is unrealistic and even dangerous.
"The commission has to be careful," says Craig Gurian, former legal director and chief counsel of HRC's law enforcement bureau, and primary author of a scathing report from the Bar Association of the City of New York enumerating HRC's failings during the Giuliani administration. Once the HRC becomes more active and aggressive, Gurian argues, the cases will get more complex, investigations more difficult, and the one-year limit is unlikely to be enough time for to take a legitimate complaint from filing to resolution.
Hiring six new lawyers is a step in the right direction, says Gurian, who was also principal author of the revised 1991 city human rights law, but he worries that an estimated 50 cases per lawyer is too much.
In order to adequately fight housing and employment discrimination, Gatling gave testimony that the commission must have investigators out on the street conducting bias tests. Standard tests include sending black and white undercover investigators with identical socioeconomic backgrounds to real estate offices, for example, to see if they are treated equally.
Tests during the Giuliani administration were largely unproductive, as those who remember the 1995 arson in Harlem of Jewish-owned Freddy's Fashion Mart can attest.
"We were trying to assess the temper of the protesters, and we did find that there were anti-Semitic comments," Varela said at the time, but investigators who had been dispatched to the scene days before were still unable to do anything to ease the tension or notify authorities of the situation.
Before the City Council, Gatling cited daily testing as a goal, but has no timetable as to when the process will begin. Systemic or individual cases of discrimination will be investigated and possibly tried, with the defendants facing stiff penalties, the likes of which were unheard of in previous administrations. If the agency is able to prove discrimination, fines of up to $100,000 can be imposed, money that goes directly to the city.
Critics wholeheartedly agree with Gatling's call for daily testing, but argue that it is not in itself the solution to the city's problems.
"Take the analogy of having police on the street," says Gurian.
"It's not as if having one officer on the street is enough; it's just that not even having one is ridiculous. Daily testing is the starting line, not the finish line."
Gatling promises to keep the city's fiscal crisis in mind as the commission investigates discrimination, but she was noncommittal in front of City Council about the agency's revenue generating potential. She sees the HRC as playing an important, but indirect, role in strengthening the city.
"Creating and maintaining an open city in terms of housing, lending, employment, and public accommodations is a critical part of attracting businesses and individuals to New York City and keeping them here," she told the council.
WASHINGTON (AP) - New York Times - March 13, 2002 -- The Supreme Court is too quick to override Congress and is taking more power for itself than the framers of the Constitution intended, a Democratic senator told Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and other judges Wednesday.
"As someone elected by the citizens of my state to legislate, I am profoundly troubled by the extent to which the judiciary has abrogated Congress' powers in the past few years," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said during remarks at the Supreme Court.
Schumer, a liberal-leaning legislator who is frequently at odds with the conservative tilt of the high court, listed several recent cases in which the Supreme Court has struck down laws passed by Congress.
He pointed to so-called states' rights cases, in which the court found that Congress had not adequately justified its own power to make certain rules or had run roughshod over state powers.
Most of those cases were decided by 5-4 votes, with Rehnquist and the other court conservatives in the majority. Examples include a ruling striking down a major part of the Violence Against Women Act and decisions limiting the reach of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"Generally, our actions are not attempts to violate or weaken the states' authority -- they're the product of what we were elected to do," Schumer told federal judges gathered for a meeting of the policy-making Judicial Conference. Rehnquist heads the group, which meets at the high court.
The meeting was closed to the press and public, but a copy of Schumer's remarks was released afterward.
"The fundamental role of the Congress is to make laws," Schumer told the judges.
"The executive (branch) implements them. And you are nominated and confirmed to interpret and apply those laws.
"That is the balance the framers struck and it's a good one ... But now, like at no time in our past, we are seeing a finger on the scale that is subtly but surely altering this balance of power between Congress and the courts."
U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haddon, speaking for the judges' group afterward, said Schumer's remarks were received politely.
"We took what he said to heart," Haddon said.
Housing the homeless with psychiatric disabilities pays for itself, according to a University of Pennsylvania study which was released in 2001.
This landmark new study - over five years in the making - has assessed the cost of keeping mentally ill people on the streets versus placing them in housing with special services. With unprecedented access to data from seven government service systems* at the city and state level, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research, tracked the cost of nearly 5,000 mentally ill homeless people in New York City for two years while they were homeless and for two years after they were housed.
The study's central findings include:
"A considerable amount of public dollars are spent essentially maintaining people in a state of homelessness," said the study's lead author, Dennis P. Culhane, associate professor of social welfare policy at Penn.
"This study proves what anecdotal evidence has pointed to: that by putting the dollars into supportive housing, the solution can pay for itself. Policymakers could substantially reduce homelessness for a large and visible segment of the homeless population - often considered beyond the reach of the social welfare safety net - at no or modest cost to the public."
The five-year study tracked 4,679 individuals who had been placed in housing funded by the 1990 New York / New York (NY/NY) Agreement to House Homeless Mentally Ill Individuals, a joint City and State initiative that created and continues to maintain 3,615 units of affordable housing supported with clinical and social services.
The study's researchers constructed multiple control groups of homeless individuals who shared similar characteristics to those placed, but for one reason or another did not move into NY/NY housing, in order to determine exactly the extent to which the reductions could be ascribed solely to placement in NY/NY housing.
By using these control groups to determine the most conservative estimates of cost reductions across the seven systems, and then subtracting the cost of building and maintaining supportive housing, the researchers found that the annual net cost of supportive housing is only $995 per person in a housing unit year round, or less than 5% of its annual cost. In other words, reductions in incarcerations, hospitalizations and shelter use, pay for 95% of the cost of the housing. More information can be found at www.csh.org, the Corporation for Supportive Housingís website.
The Supreme Court's ADA employment rulings read as if they were drawn from the pages of "Catch-22."
L.A. Times - June 2, 2002 - During the last 50 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has played a significant role in three major civil rights movements. In outlawing school segregation in 1954 (Brown vs. the Board of Education), it helped ignite the campaign to give African Americans full equality. In giving women the right to an abortion in 1973 (Roe vs. Wade), it greatly bolstered the women's movement. And in a series of rulings on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the court seems determined to reverse the disabled-rights movement.
Because of a fear of
"cripples," ignorance or outright bigotry, the task of gaining mainstream acceptance for the disabled has proved even more daunting than for blacks and women. For example, a state refused to hire cancer victims for at least five years after the patients' last treatments because a government official mistakenly believed cancer was contagious. A public school refused to hire a deaf instructor to teach at a state's school for the deaf because she lacked
"listening skills." A zoo turned away children suffering from Down syndrome because the zookeeper
"feared they would upset the chimpanzees." These were among the more than 100 cases presented to Congress before it passed the ADA in 1990. For the disabled, the ADA was the equivalent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: It promised to change forever their status in the nation and open up numerous employment opportunities.
The act outlaws state and private discrimination against the disabled in employment and mandates that employers treat disabled applicants and employees with basic human dignity. But unlike the Warren court, which forced a resistant country onto the path of racial integration, or the reluctant Berger court that recognized a woman's place in the working world, the Rehnquist court has stepped off the civil rights path completely, siding with employers in the first five ADA cases to reach it.
The current majority apparently isn't shy about distorting the record to achieve its desired result. In University of Alabama vs. Garrett last year, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that Congress had failed to adequately investigate whether state governments have a history of discriminating against the disabled. To anyone familiar with the ADA, this was brazen nonsense. Congressional committees have investigated disability discrimination for years. The Garrett dissenters, in fact, published a 39-page list of state-by-state examples of official acts of discrimination compiled by a congressional task force.
Nevertheless, Rehnquist wrote that it would be
"entirely rational and therefore constitutional for a state employer to conserve scarce financial resources by hiring employees who are able to use existing facilities" without the accommodations the ADA requires for those who need them.
In Sutton vs. United Airlines, the plaintiffs, twin sisters, had applied for jobs as UAL pilots. They already held jobs as commercial jet pilots. They had uncorrected vision of 20/200 and corrected vision of 20/20. United required uncorrected vision of 20/100, although it did not discharge pilots whose uncorrected vision later deteriorated, as long as it corrected to 20/20.
The court held that the sisters were not
"substantially limited" in a
"major life activity" because there were many other jobs they could do (just not fly for United). The same reasoning was applied in Murphy vs. United Parcel Service. In that case, the plaintiff was a UPS mechanic who was required to drive heavy vehicles as part of his job. He was terminated because of hypertension, although he controlled his condition with medication.
Thus, even though the Sutton sisters were not hired because of a correctable vision deficiency, and Murphy was fired because of his medicinally corrected blood pressure, the court found that none of them were disabled for the purpose of employment under the ADA.
Confused? The Supreme Court's ADA employment rulings read as if they were drawn from the pages of "Catch-22." If you are able to do the job with glasses or medication, you are not disabled under the ADA. On the other hand, if you cannot do the job because of your bad vision or high blood pressure, you are not protected under the ADA. The only disabled people protected under the ADA are people who do not need protection.
For the high court, then, some people are not disabled enough; some people are too disabled; but, so far, nobody has been disabled
Ella Williams, an automobile assembly line worker at a Toyota plant in Kentucky, developed crippling carpal tunnel syndrome on the job. She was transferred to a job of inspecting paint on cars, but that job was later expanded to include wiping the cars as they passed on the assembly line. Toyota fired her when her disability prevented her from performing the new duties. Williams contended that her inability to raise her arms above shoulder level was an impairment of a
"major life activity" covered by the ADA.
Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the ADA was not meant to cover Williams because she could not do the job. Once again, the legal precedent appears to have been "Catch-22."
You might think that the obvious remedy for a large corporation is to find a less physically demanding job for a worker who becomes disabled.
Robert Barnett, a US Airways employee, injured his back while working as a cargo handler at the airline. He was reassigned to the mail room at his doctor's suggestion, but the company later told him he would have to give up the job to make room for another employee with more seniority, as required by company policy. Barnett sued.
In late April, the court ruled, 5 to 4, that an employer's seniority system cannot ordinarily be trumped by a disabled worker seeking an accommodation under the ADA.
If the court did to the 1964 Civil Rights Act what it has done to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, blacks would be living again in pre-1954 America: separate and unequal, undereducated and underemployed. As it is, the disabled cannot use
"white" restrooms, eat in
"white" restaurants or hold down
"white" jobs because the restroom is unusable, the restaurant inaccessible and the job unobtainable. They are the last hired and first fired, if they are hired at all. Worst of all, the U.S. Supreme Court shows no inclination, so far, to right the scales of
"equal justice under the law" for the disabled.
Charles Lindner is past president of the Los Angeles Criminal Bar Association.
May 18, 2002 -- There are times when a strictly local issue takes on a bigger significance. This is one of those times.
Many disabled people moved to Washington to take advantage of the accessible Metro subway system, which is managed as a quasi-govermental entity. The system consists of several rail lines, denoted by colors, such as the Yellow Line, the Red Line, the Blue Line, the Orange Line, and the Green Line, which connect the Maryland and Virginia suburbs to downtown Washington. All Metro stations are accessible by escalators and street level elevators. Metro maintains over 200 elevators.
On Saturday, May 4, comic George Carlin gave a performance at a downtown Washington theater. Jeremiah Hamilton, a Carlin fan, made arrangements to attend the performance. Hamilton, 24, lives in Wheaton, Maryland, a suburb that is on a Metro subway line. Hamilton has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Before he left home, Hamilton called a Metro recorded message to assure that the station he needed to depart at had functional elevators. Hamilton wrote the information down and planned his evening trip to D.C. Based on the
"up to date" information on the recording, Hamilton could exit Metro one block from the theater. If it had been so simple.
Hamilton got off at the designated stop and attempted to depart the rail station on the elevator. Guess what? The elevator was out of order. Hamilton made quick plans and got on another train to depart at another station near the theater. Again, Hamilton tried to exit the station. Guess what? The elevator was out of order.
Hamilton asked Metro officials for information on which station he should depart at. The officials were very helpful and they gave him the information. Hamilton boarded another train and departed at another station. Guess what? The elevator was out of order.
Hamilton could not depart the subway system anywhere near the theater where Carlin was performing contrary to the information from Metro officials and recorded messages. Hamilton got hot and began to swear loudly. Reportedly, he used the f-word. (Who wouldn't have?)
Metro official heard Hamilton shouting profanities and demanded to know the cause for his cussing. At this stage, Hamilton was not very diplomatic with the official who took offense at the swearing and slapped Hamilton on the spot with a $25 fine. A little known law makes it illegal to swear on the Metro system. In the main, the law is not enforced.
Luckily, Hamilton eventually managed to exit the Metro system, though many blocks away from his destination. On top of his fine, Hamilton had to pay for a cab ride to the theater. Finally, he made it to the theater, albeit 45-minutes late and minus $25 cash.
Enter The Washington Post with an article headlined Angry Outburst Costs Rider. Metro officials were quoted as saying Hamilton was lucky to have been fined only $25 and that he could have been fined $75. Not a politically correct response.
D.C. City Council member Jim Graham, who's also vice chairman of Metro's board of directors, took to the media airwaves to berate Metro officials over Hamilton's treatment. Graham also offered to void the fine for Hamilton.
Hamilton's case was also fodder for local talk radio hosts. One radio commentator likened Metro officials to the Transit Taliban. Several callers said they would contact Metro to offer to pay the fine for Hamilton.
The Metro system carries millions of tourists and commuters each day and no one wants to have to hear the f-word or any other profanity, especially when little kids are present. But in Hamilton's case, Metro officials obviously caused the problem by being uninformed about the availability of street level elevators.
Put yourself in Hamilton's chair for a moment. What would you have done or said in the face of such frustration? A person can take only such much then it's time to vent. According to a psychotherapist friend, venting is healthy.
The Metro subway system is relatively clean and dependable but it is expensive compared with other subway systems in other cities. Every Metro station is equipped with street level elevators for use by patrons unable to use the escalators. In fact, Metro advertises its accessibility for the disabled. For a majority of elevators in downtown Washington to be out of order is a disgrace. The recorded Metro information on which Hamilton based his trip had not been updated for a week after the incident.
There are several lessons to be learned from this case. First, Metro needs to be honest with its passengers in regard to the information given to disabled riders who depend on street level elevators to get around. Second, Metro elevators need to be up and running. This should be a priority. Third, Metro needs to be more sensitive to the needs of disabled passengers. Finally, all Metro passengers should demand adequate services because we are paying for top-of-the-line service.
As I finalized this draft for publication, there was another story in The Washington Post. This time the headline was Metro to Drop Cursing Case. Metro offered a public apology to Hamilton. Ah! The power of the press! Was the apology proffered because Metro underwent a change of heart? Hardly. It seems that Metro officials received nearly 100 complaints about Hamilton's treatment. Not only did Metro drop the fine, it also reimbursed Hamilton for his $14 cab fare. Metro had bought itself, and the city, a lot of bad publicity for a measly $25; and its decision to drop the case is just if not speedy.
Posted May 18, 2002
James Patterson is a Washington, DC-based freelance writer and advocate.
© Copyright 2002 Ragged Edge Magazine
Editorís Note: It should be a top priority of NYCT to inspect elevators several times a day and report outages as well as to fix the broken elevators immediately. The hotline must be accurate! Elevator problems in the subway are nothing new for Disabled In Action members. Recently, Stacy LaRoche, a Disabled In Action member, was taking the subway to the Manhattan Borough Presidentís meeting on Centre Street, and the elevator was broken in the subway below it. She arrived and could not get herself, her service dog, and her wheelchair up the stairs. She called the Borough Presidentís office, and someone from the staff came down to carry her wheelchair out. Time after time, we tell the MTA to get elevator problems straightened out and to update the hotline, but they do not do it.
The Department of Transportation has issued the following fact sheet to address concerns about airport security for passengers with disabilities. The basic premise is that passengers with disabilities should still expect nondiscriminatory treatment as required by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), but a thorough security screening does not violate the ACAA.
If you encounter a violation at an airport (or at any time from buying your ticket to leaving an airport,) your first request should be to talk with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO) for the airline - each airline must provide a CRO and they are entitled to act on behalf of the airline in ACAA cases. If the problem is not resolved to your satisfaction, you may file a complaint as explained in the attached document. If you have any questions or need more information on the ACAA, please contact Maureen McCloskey at PVA at
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Department of Transportation's implementing rules prohibit discriminatory treatment of persons with disabilities in air transportation. Since the terrorist hijackings and tragic events of September 11, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued directives to strengthen security measures at airline checkpoints and passenger screening locations. In securing our national air transportation system, where much of FAA's efforts have been directed to date, steps were also taken to ensure that the new security procedures preserve and respect the civil rights of passengers with disabilities. This Fact Sheet provides information about the accessibility requirements in air travel in light of strengthened security measures by providing a few examples of the types of accommodations and services that must be provided to passengers with disabilities. The examples listed below are not all-inclusive and are simply meant to provide answers to frequently asked questions since September 11 concerning the air travel of people with disabilities.
We hope this information is helpful to you. Members of the public, who feel they have been the subject of discriminatory actions or treatment by air carriers, may file a complaint by sending an email, a letter, or a completed complaint form to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD). ACPD's e-mail address is email@example.com and its mailing address is:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation,
Room 4107, C-75, Washington, DC 20590.
Complaint forms that consumers may download and/or print are available at http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/problems.htm
Issued on 10/29/01 by the Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings and its Aviation Consumer Protection Division.
Alexander Wood is the director of the Disabilities Network of New York City. If you have anything of interest on disability rights in New York City, you can contact him at:
Disabilities Network of New York City
2 Park Avenue, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10016
Telephone number: 212-251-4071
Fax number: 212-696-1039
E-mail address: AWood@uwnyc.org
A very good site on disability history and culture:
Anthony Trocchia, President of DIA has new voicemail number
Brooklyn Public Library's Books-by-Mail Service
This is a fast, convenient service that supplies books, books on tape, videos, and descriptive videos to Brooklyn residents of all ages who, for whatever reasons, are unable to visit the library.
To obtain an application, call the BPL's Service to the Aging Office at 718-376-6185 or TTY 718-336-4824. An application may also be obtained by going to http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/.
Any questions should be directed to the Coordinator of Books-by-Mail/Books-to-Go, Ann Igneri.
Remember to Call Mayor Bloombergís Radio Show
Fridays on WABC (77 A.M.) 10 a.m. -- 800-848-9222.
Project Liberty is a program that developed after 9/11 to provide a range of educational and crisis intervention services to people throughout NYC to help them deal with the stress and other aftereffects of the terrorist attacks. Barrier Free Living is coordinating these Project Liberty services for people with disabilities around the city. They have put together a group of professionals and paraprofessionals to make educational presentations to groups of disabled people about the typical effects of this type of trauma, and some strategies to deal with them, as well as to offer short term counseling (1 to 3 sessions) to anyone who requests it. These services are free.
Contact: Harilyn Rousso, CSW
of Disabilities Unlimited Consulting Services
SUPERSHUTTLE - ACCESSIBLE TRAVEL TO THE AIRPORT?
Disability Museum Online
"Few of us realize that people with disabilities have a rich and dramatic history relevant to all Americans," says Laurie Block.
"Nearly all of us know someone with a disability, and this has always been the case." An expansion of her work in putting together the award-winning NPR documentary "Beyond Affliction." The museum is a searchable, theme-based digital collection that exists only online -- offering documents and images related to disability history in the United States, drawn from public and private collections around the country.
View on-line at http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/
American Council of the Blind Seeks Changes in U.S. Currency
by Jeannine Aversa
WASHINGTON - May 3, 2002 - AP - The American Council of the Blind sued the federal government Friday seeking changes in the design of the U.S. paper currency.
The lawsuit contends individuals who can't identify currency denominations are precluded from participating in a variety of transactions integral to daily life, such as the ability to freely make purchases. All U.S. bills are the same size.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, seeks changes including the use of Braille markings and varying the length and height of bills by denomination.
The council is suing under a provision contained in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The provision says individuals with disabilities may not be excluded from or denied the benefits of participation in any program or activity conducted by the U.S. government.
"However, persons with visual disabilities are largely excluded from enjoying the benefits of this activity due solely to their physical limitations," it says.
Over the past several years, the U.S. has redesigned paper notes - except for one dollar bills and two dollar bills - including some features geared to help the visually impaired - as part of an ongoing effort to thwart high-tech counterfeiters. More changes are planned.
A GOOD WEBSITE FOR ACCESSIBLE TRAVEL
In April, 2002, there was a City Council hearing on Access-A-Ride which was sponsored by Councilmembers John Liu (chairperson of transportation committee) and Margarita Lopez (chairperson of committee on disabilities). These council members are taking disabilitiy issues seriously, and the disability community needs to attend hearings, listen and testify about the problems we face. At the hearing, the Council heard from disgruntled Access-A-Ride riders and from transit officials. Unfortunately, we were packed into the room like sardines. After hours of testimony and questioning by the councilmembers, the hearing was adjourned and will be continued at another time.
At an AAR meeting in Staten Island on April 30th, new Paratransit VP Howard Ende (Pat O'Brien has retired) announced that the plan to use several paratransit companies on Staten Island was a disaster and AAR is going back to using the RJR company almost exclusively in Staten Island. Drivers were zigzagging riders all over the island and drivers often did not know where they were going.
We tried to extend the AAR settlement in court and the judge denied it in mid-May, saying that AAR had bought many more vans and serves many more people than in 1998. Apparently the judge and AAR do not think the problems of late pick-ups and stranded riders warrant attention through the court, but Access-A-Ride riders are still being picked up very late and stranded for hours, even 4 or 5 hours before they are picked up. Access-A-Ride has to have a functioning back-up service!
Jean Ryan resigned from the Paratransit Advisory Committee in June because Access-A-Ride was not taking the concerns of the committee seriously and because most members stopped coming to meetings.
City Council Hearing:
The City Council had a hearing on certain aspects of sidewalk safety and Stacy LaRoche testified on the merits of letting hand-crank bicycle riders ride their bikes on the sidewalk instead of in the streets. The low-slung bikes cannot be seen well by automobile drivers.
Jury Duty - Some thoughts by Jean Ryan
Recently I had jury duty at Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn. When I called them for directions, the first question the clerk asked was,
"Are you sure you want to serve? You donít have to (because of disability)" When I got to the jury room, the first question I was asked was,
"Are you sure you want to serve?!" Instead of discouraging jurors who use wheels, I would have preferred that the Court concentrate on making cutouts for integrated wheelchair seating in the big jury waiting room, and on making the jury boxes accessible to everyone who serves on a jury. I was chosen for a case and had a choice of sitting in front of the jury box or getting out of my wheelchair to sit with the rest of the jury. Whatís the big deal about having the jury on the same level as the rest of the people?
DIA Members Attending Subway and Rebuilding Lower Manhattan Meetings
Several DIA members are attending meetings of the Second Avenue Subway and various meetings about lower Manhattan rebuilding in order to push for accessibility in those projects. Itís incredible, sad, and not surprising that in this day and age, 12 years after the ADA was passed, we still have to do this!
Who Does the PCAC Represent?
The New York City Transit Riderís Council (NYCTRC) of the Permanent Citizenís Advisory Committee (PCAC) of the MTA issued a report in November on High Entry/Exit Turnstiles (HEETS), in which they recommended that the MTA open up unused entrance/exits to certain stations and put HEETS there. They also recommended that the MTA put HEETS at the entrances where token booth clerks would no longer be stationed. The MTA promised to do this. Nowhere in the report does it mention people with disabilities. Nowhere! The PCAC seems to have no understanding of the issues that affect people with disabilities, especially of the problems that people have who use service dogs, guide dogs, wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, and crutches when they try to use a HEET. Itís impossible! See the report at: www.pcac.org, and while you are at it, send them an e-mail or a letter telling them how you feel.
Our Inaccessible City Hall
Now that Margarita Lopez has a Committee on Disability and Anne Emerman is a senior advisor to Lopez, we can be assured that there will be more hearings at City Hall on our issues. But can we get into City Hall? Itís very problematic. Since the renovation that the Giuliani administration made to City Hall, it is unsafe and difficult to get into City Hall. The two gates open onto extremely bumpy and uneven cobblestones newly put there during the renovation.
The ADA requires a smooth surface so that blind people, people with difficulty walking, and people in wheelchairs can safely navigate the path. There are no signs directing people to the accessible entrance in the basement as are required by the ADA. The portable metal lift that leads to the platform by City Hall Steps is unsafe, too steep, and not safely attached to the platform. It moves!
The doors into the basement are too narrow for independent access and one is kept locked. Is that so we wonít storm City Hall through the basement? Why not have electric doors. The wheelchair accessible stall in the basement womenís restroom is too small for wheelchairs to fit into it. Perhaps the menís room has the same problem.
Lastly, the hearing rooms are not set up for integrated seating for people who use wheelchairs and scooters.
Write to Mayor Bloomberg at City Hall, New York, NY 10007 and tell him we want changes at City Hall now!
Donít forget to fill out your One-Step complaint forms and send them in. If you need more, call Olga Hill at 718-261-3737 and leave a message. When you are out and about the City, make a note of places you canít get into because of one step, and get the phone number from information or the phone book. Then fill out those complaints and keep them coming in! Irma Shore is acting on them as soon as they come in, and she is working closely with the Human Rights Commission to see that one-steps get eliminated. With your help, DIA will make a difference!
by Margie Rubin
With every step comes the slam
of the edge of a heated frying pan
just below my left knee
Pain Step Slam
Pain Step Slam
Pain Step Slam
until the space between the pain
disappears as it engulfs the entire knee
Slicing pain shooting up my right ankle
shouts for attention and
brings me to a halt.
Walking isnít all itís cracked up to be and
other myths of the ablebodied.
by Carmelo Gonzalez
We met when I was young.
We met on unfortunate terms.
You were there when no one else was.
You saw me in a situation that no one ever saw me in.
You were there to carry me through.
Even when I would curse at you.
There were times that I wished I had never met you.
There were times that I didnít know where I would be without you.
You helped me play.
When I saw danger you moved me away.
You helped me see things that only you can.
Without each other we are nothing.
When we are together we become one.
I want to say thank you wheelchair for all you have done.
2000 US Census Information about Disability
The census found about 44 million disabled Americans age 20 and up. Among the largest metropolitan areas, the share of disabled is highest in San Juan-Bayamon, Puerto Rico; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., and New York. It's lowest in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
One in 12 children has a disability that interferes with daily life, as does 1 in 5 working-age adults. Forty-two percent of people over 65 report a disability.
Editorís Note: I think the number of disabled Americans is under-reported because many seniors do not consider themselves disabled when they really are.