It’s been coined The City That Never Sleeps, The Big Apple, and my personal favorite, “Concrete Jungle Where Dreams are made of” (courtesy of Jay-z and Alicia Keys). Yes, we are talking about New York City, the entertainment and cultural Mecca of the world. New York has so much to offer; there are world class restaurants, legendary landmarks, celebrated tourist hot spots, iconic museums, amazing shopping and who can forget the bright lights of Broadway. Excitement awaits you at every corner (literally). It is definitely a ‘bucket list’ travel destination for millions of people around the world.
So with all that it has to offer, why does New York City seem to be a relic when it comes to wheelchair accessibility? While many other parts of the country and the world have transitioned into the 21st century, The Big Apple still seems stuck in the 1950s when it comes to accommodating people in wheelchairs. I realize that the northeast region is the oldest part of the country and wants to maintain that sense of elite history and vintage sophistication, but I think there needs to be a major overhaul in the wheelchair accessibility of New York City’s transportation system.
The New York taxi is an iconic image and a visual trademark of The Big Apple. Look down any street and you can see a blanket of bright yellow from one street corner to the other. Step to the curb and all you have to do is wave your hand in the air and within seconds a taxi is at your “beck and call” ready to whisk you away to your destination. To the average person it seems as though there is an overabundance of cabs in New York City. Well, this may be true for all able-bodied passengers, but those of us in need of wheelchair accessible cabs, have a much more difficult time.
Living just two hours north of The Big Apple in Massachusetts, I frequently venture into the city for a weekend with friends and family. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to live a mere ‘stone’s throw away’ from one of the greatest cities on planet earth. I look forward to going to shows, taking in the fabulous nightlife or simply having a picnic in Central Park; however, my excitement begins to dwindle when I have to plan my transportation for the weekend. The key word in the last sentence is “plan”. It is completely unfair that those of us in wheelchairs have to reserve a taxi more than twenty four hours in advance in order to insure a ride from one destination to another. In essence, those of us in wheelchairs are not able to able to enjoy the same spontaneity of a normal vacation or getaway. In advance of my trip, I have the tedious task of calling cab companies to see if they, A.) have wheelchair accessible cabs and B.) are readily curbside available like the average taxi. While I am always able to find cab companies that do offer wheelchair accessible service, it is virtually impossible to find a cab that does not require at least 24 hours advance notice.
It has come to the point where I completely neglect the idea of using transportation instead choosing to navigate the streets in my wheelchair. Don’t get me wrong, I love being outside in New York but this option proves more challenging when my intended destination is 50 blocks away or when mother nature decides to dump buckets of rain or snow midway through my journey.
Case in point, I was in New York a month ago to celebrate my birthday with my cousin, who lives on the upper west side, and a bunch of my friends. We had a fun night planned consisting of dining at a posh Belgian restaurant and hitting up a few bars, you know, the typical social life of a 20 something year old girl. Reserving a cab did not even enter my mind because I did not want to be under the unnecessary time restraints of leaving at a certain time. I wanted to be able to enjoy my night without the tic-tock of the clock glaring down upon me. Naturally, the night of our celebration, Mother Nature decided to rear her ugly head and produce every type of weather pattern known to man. It seriously felt like the movie, The Day After Tomorrow, with the apocalypse upon New York City. I was expecting a monstrous wall of water to come barreling down Lexington Avenue. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a tiny bit, but, nonetheless, it was a very stormy night. Rain was pouring down in buckets, the wind was gusting at top speed and the temperature dropped to an unseasonable 35 degrees. There were also random bursts of thunder and lightning and a brief hail squall. Being the jolly optimists that we are, we did not want bad weather to ruin our joyous evening so we journeyed out into the stormy night. We all thought, “How bad can it be, it’s just a little rain”. Oh how wrong we were! The restaurant and bars were only seven blocks from our hotel and we thought our one measly umbrella would be able to shield us from the harsh elements. Our journey was just that, a JOURNEY. We navigated puddles the size of Lake Michigan, dodged blowing trash that was being swirled around by the wind and winced in discomfort as ice cold horizontal rain pelted us in the face and blurred our vision. The streets of New York were eerily silent because the majority of people were dry and warm in their TAXI’S! Only a few other brave pedestrians joined us on the otherwise uninhabited streets.
As you can probably guess, by the time we arrived at the restaurant I was one soggy mess from head to toe. My wet hair was plastered to the side of my face, mascara had formed its own little river down each of my cheeks and my jeans were so drenched they were literally suctioned to my thighs. Since I am sitting, my thighs took the brunt of the soaking. My feet had taken on a purple hue from the frigid rain that had accumulated in my four inch heels. The restaurant staff was extremely accommodating and gave me towels from the kitchen to dry myself off. I think they felt sorry for me since I literally looked like I had taken a shower and forgot to take my clothes off. Again, our optimism and sense of humor outweighed our frustration and we enjoyed the rest of our night. Even though I dined with restaurant kitchen towels draped over my body and went to the bars with frizzy wet hair, we managed to laugh our way through every obstacle and create a truly memorable night.
With the availability of an easily accessible cab, none of this craziness would have occurred. I have visited many other cities in the U.S. that are far more advanced in wheelchair accessible transportation, Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami and Las Vegas just to name a few. These cities are miles ahead of New York and allow for a stress free vacation or getaway. Unlike New York, these cities provide a multitude of wheelchair accessible cabs that do NOT require 24 hour advance notice and can be called just minutes before leaving for your intended destination. I know that there are many others out there who have had similar experiences with wheelchair cabs and echo my sentiment. Please comment below and share your transportation nightmare. Let’s spread the word and force NYC to initiate major improvements in their wheelchair accessible transportation.