On August 8th, NYPD police officers arrested several wheelchair users who were peacefully demonstrating outside of Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City’s mayor. Each year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sponsors the event, which “celebrates” the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sponsored by Occupy Wall Street’s Disability Caucus, the ADA anniversary celebration protest was focused on the mayor’s outspoken opposition to making the NYC taxi fleet handicap accessible.
In June, the federal appeals court ruled that New York City did not have to ensure that every taxi is wheelchair accessible. In the decision, the court stated that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires meaningful access, but not 100% access.
It was statements like the one below that have disability advocates in an uproar in NYC:
- Bloomberg stated that “it’s too dangerous” for wheelchair users to hail a cab in NYC, and that most cab drivers would “pretend they didn’t see them.” He also said wheelchair users “sit too far from the driver to establish a dialogue” and, therefore, “they would not tip well.”
- “One of the things is that accessibility means different things to different people,” the mayor responded when asked why he gave the impression that he did not want the Taxi of Tomorrow to be accessible. “For all of these things there are compromises, and we’ll keep working on them.”
- “The Court correctly found that nothing in the ADA compels the City to require that taxis be wheelchair accessible,” said Mayor Bloomberg in hailing the decision. “This ruling is consistent with common sense and the practical needs of both the taxi industry and the disabled, and we will continue our efforts to assist disabled riders,” he said.
According to Ynestra King, one of the protestors from the August 8th event, demonstrators gathered outside Gracie Mansion chanting “Taxis for all!” and singing solidarity songs led by the Raging Grannies, when the arrests began unexpectedly. The first to be arrested, to the surprise of the crowd, were not those leading the demonstration from their wheelchairs, but rather the non-disabled supporters at the rear of the group.
To stand their ground, the wheelchair users shut down their machines and refused to move, shouting to the officers that they were the “principals and instigators of this demonstration.” Rather than arrests being made, negotiators were sent to attempt to reason with the disabled protestors. The negotiators first told the disabled protestors that they were free to leave, then implored the group to disburse.
After a one-hour standoff, NYPD had no idea how to facilitate arresting the protestors, as no handicapped accessible vehicles were available to take the protestors to the police station. Eventually, the police department “commandeered” Access-a-Ride vehicles (New York’s paratransit service for people with disabilities) to take the group to jail. The regular drivers of Access-a-Ride refused to be party to the arrests, and supervisors in the mayor’s entourage were forced to step in to operate lifts and drive the protestors to the precinct.
Access-a-Ride is the problematic New York City paratransit service for people with disabilities. When the police decided to release the group of wheelchair users, they learned firsthand what a challenge arranging accessible transit can be in the city, as Access-a-Ride told the police department they would need to make reservations at least one day in advance if they wanted transport to take the protestors home.
Do you live in New York City? What has your experience been with Access-a-Ride and wheelchair accessible taxis, and how do you feel about Bloomberg’s position on the issue? Did the protestors do the right thing?