Bully Pulpit: NYC? Don’t Even Try

When I finished interviewing Christopher Reeve in 2002, I dropped off my rental car in Newark, then rode a train into New York City and somehow found a rare accessible cab that took me to my hotel and on to Yankee Stadium, my one Big Apple excursion.

If I had driven into the city with my Oregon disabled parking placard, I would have been ticketed, maybe towed. New York City does not recognize disabled parking permits other than its own, not even New York State permits. And the process of getting a NYC permit is “onerous and discriminatory,” says Nora LaCorte, a wheelchair user from Carlsbad, Calif., whose visit to the city was a nightmare.

“Please change New York City’s policy of discrimination due to its non-recognition of out-of-state placards for disabled drivers,” wrote La Corte in a letter to Mayor Bloomberg. “I got no response from anyone to this letter,” she says in a handwritten note on a copy of the letter sent to New Mobility. “Please warn readers. I received a big fine and my appeal to the Mayor was denied.”

You can apply online for a NYC disabled parking permit, but you must satisfy 11 requirements, among them: provide a valid copy of your driver’s license or ID card; provide copies of registration of all vehicles in which your city placard may be used; provide certification from your physician that you have a severe permanent mobility impairment (a New York City Department of Health physician must also approve the certification); and appear at an assessment center for a required certification assessment appointment.

Your state’s disabled parking placard is honored everywhere in the United States but in New York City. Discriminatory? The city’s subway system is worse. On Oct. 13 United Spinal Association brought a federal lawsuit against NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority and the New York City Transit Authority, alleging discrimination in subway access against wheelchair users, the elderly and others with mobility impairments.

The class action suit alleges that the MTA has not allocated funding for accessibility improvements like installing ramps or elevators even though the Dyckman and Nagle Street subway station is currently undergoing a $20-million upgrade, a clear ADA violation. That’s just the tip of the discriminatory iceberg. According to the lawsuit, only 86 out of 468 subway stations in the city are accessible. “It is an absolute disgrace,” says Julia Pinover, a Disability Rights Advocates attorney involved in the case.

Without subway access, “the MTA makes travel next to impossible for New Yorkers with physical disabilities,” says James Weisman of United Spinal Association, “and prevents them from getting to work or seeking employment.” Weisman says the lawsuit is even more critical than it appears because the MTA has eliminated bus routes and restricted eligibility to Access-A-Ride.

If you live in the Big Apple, this is old news. Local advocates such as Disabled in Action have been fighting the city for decades on public transportation issues.

Thinking of visiting? Think again.

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