The Lack of Accessible Transportation Is So Disappointing, But Are We Really Surprised?

architecture chairs city commuter
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How did we get here exactly? Well you see, we looked for accessible vehicles but couldn’t find any so we went a ways down and found something promising. Except that also fell through, so we ended up taking the scenic route to our destination. We missed our event by two hours but at least we know it’s possible to get there!

Okay, so that headline is specific due to personal experience and no I didn’t walk for two hours because even if I could speed my way down the sidewalk, half of it would be me in the road since the sidewalk was practically nonexistent.

It’s interesting that so many transportation services claim to be accessible and yet it’s either the bare minimum or it’s straight up false advertising. Besides taking the yellow, rickety bus to school, I didn’t have much experience with public transportation because I was lucky enough to have my parents take me places in the handicap accessible van.

Yet as I’ve gotten older and have had some exposure during my college years I’ve learned, from myself and from others, that public transportation just doesn’t work well for disabled people. And that realization sucks!

So I want to talk about it. The plan is to discuss a few modes of transportation that offer accessible services and see how well that actually holds up. We’re not nitpicking one particular service but rather grouping them together by type.

  • Ridesharing (Uber/Lyft/Taxis)

Other people have discussed these vehicles transporting nondisabled people or being outright ignored when requesting a ride, which is incredibly frustrating. From personal experience I was able to get a taxi to and from an intern interview back in college by scheduling it the day before. The second time I tried calling for a ride, there wasn’t one available for the next couple of hours because they had so few vans in the area even though I was living in the city.

Let’s also not forget to mention that the lack of masks is a lack of accessibility too. Some disabled people may prefer taking more private rides to minimize contact as best they can and yet drivers aren’t always willing to mask up if a rider requests it. For those who’re exceptionally vulnerable to getting sick, options are already limited and it’s very discouraging. And yes, I’m mentioning masks again because the pandemic isn’t over.

  • Subways/Trains

Right away, we’re met with the first obstacles which would be stairs and aged underground areas. Yes, elevators are part of the solution but that’s assuming they even work. So that’s not promising. And looking specifically at New York, one of the busiest cities with multiple subways, the numbers certainly don’t lie. A recent article by Joseph Guzman states that only “25 percent of the city’s 472 stations have elevators or ramps that make them fully accessible to people in wheelchairs.” But on a more positive note, that plans on changing in the coming years due to advocates pushing for an updated system. It’s stated that, “New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is committing to making 95 percent of its subway stations accessible…by 2055” (Guzman). While that’s quite a while, it’s progress being made at least and goes to show that change can be made. It just takes people having to yell and complain about it for many years.

On another note, the actual process of getting onto the vehicle is also limited in its own way. Particularly, focusing on the app that isn’t exactly accessible friendly. Imani Barbarani, a disability advocate with Cerebral Palsy, wrote a post on Twitter discussing her experience when it came to taking the subway. She goes into more detail, so I’ll link the post here, but the issue stemmed from being unable to book a trip requesting travel accommodations due to that station not being one of the major ones. While calling is another option, it’s limited for deaf or hard of hearing folks, not to mention the wait times can be atrocious.

  • Metro/Public Buses

While city buses are required to have ramps and provide proper seating arrangements, improvements are slowly coming to the stops and shelters. Many of these stops typically didn’t have coverings or seats while the sidewalks themselves were either cracked, destroyed or nonexistent. In Florida, construction is being done to fix these issues and provide accessibility as well as better safety measures to the shelters.

In Houston, METRO has committed to improving over 9,000 of its bus shelters to make them more universally accessible. This is good to see, but some are concerned that benches or seats might be removed as a result of these changes. And that’s understandable because while it’s nice that people in wheelchairs have a place to sit, seats are still necessary for others, especially the elderly and other disabled people with limited mobility. But a local school in Houston recently won a design contest to replace and improve the nearby bus shelter to make it more inclusive, safe, and accessible which is wonderful! To see the new bus stop, the link to the article is here.

  • School Buses

Yes, this has its own section. As someone who’s had to ride the bus every school year, I’ve had many experiences. All the drivers and monitors have been wonderful, but when substitutes had to drive us, unless they were the mechanics, many weren’t always properly trained on how to strap down wheelchairs. Luckily I was able to show and explain where the hooks needed to go, but some students were non-verbal so they wouldn’t be able to do the same. Not to mention, the elementary kids shouldn’t have to train the staff as that falls on the school district transportation services.

Besides the need for training, enough buses need to be provided to school districts to ensure students with disabilities also have the opportunity to attend school. In Virginia, a local school district is providing new vehicles for students with disabilities. Jossette Keelor writes, a new school bus with a wheelchair lift along with five wheelchair accessible vans will allow disabled students to attend school field trips where they might not have been able to previously. These improvements are good ways to ensure disabled students have the same opportunities as other students.

  • Airplanes

Absolutely not! Does anything more need to be said? If you have any sort of large mobility devices, run the other way while you still can!

This is one type of transportation I refuse to take because my broken wheelchair isn’t worth it. And neither is my life.

No, I’m not being dramatic as this is the harsh reality disabled people have to face each time we board an airplane. Regardless of how many precautions we take and how many reassurances we receive from airlines, there’s always a strong chance the precious wheelchair we temporarily hand over will be torn apart upon its return.

Typing in the phrase, ‘airline destroys wheelchair’ will provide countless results and stories of just that.

One of the most devasting, and infuriating, stories is that of Engracia Figueroa. This LA Times article goes further in depth about the whole situation, and I encourage you to read it so you can learn more about the situation and of who she was as well. She did so much for her community and deserves recognition for her accomplishments. But to put it shortly, in October 2021, she came back to Los Angeles after attending a rally in Washington, D.C., “only to find out her motorized wheelchair had been broken,” writes Emily Reyes. “She waited roughly five hours in a manual wheelchair that did not fit her body, which reopened an old sore, according to her attorney, Joshua Markowitz” (Reyes). Five hours, in a wheelchair that wasn’t hers, because the people that were supposed to treat her equipment with respect, didn’t.

Figueroa posted a video saying, “Tomorrow makes 30 years that I’ve been disabled. And I’ve been disabled again” by an airline (Reyes). Three months later, she died, “after worsening illness that included skin grafts, hospitalizations and an emergency surgery to pare away infected bone and tissue, according to family members and her lawyer” (Reyes). This should’ve never happened. Disabled people shouldn’t have to worry about diminishing health as a result of losing vital medical equipment and devices when they travel.

Losing our wheelchairs and other mobility devices means we lose our independence. Our legs are taken away from us and we’re left sitting in pain, in uncomfortable chairs that aren’t made for our specific needs. It’s not an inconvenience, it’s a stolen necessity that’s crucial to our everyday living. Especially when our actual lives depend on it.

I just need that last point to be understood.

Will any form of transportation be perfect? Of course not. But clearly there’s a disparity when it comes to accessible transportation when we can barely get to these vehicles let alone access and use them at all.

Have an experience or thoughts you’d like to share? Comment down below.

There won’t be a post next week. I’ll be off with the trees and flowers in the meantime. Stay safe out there. ~So Says The Disabled Dryad~

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