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DNAinfo Ride-Along Finds Wheelchair Users Stuck on Subway

By Serena Solomon | August 9, 2011 7:20am | Updated on August 9, 2011 10:15am
Chris Noel, a disability advocate and subway user.
Chris Noel, a disability advocate and subway user.
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Serena Solomon/DNAinfo

MIDTOWN — The MTA has just nine years to make a lot of changes.

By 2020, 100 key stations must be accessible to mobility-impaired passengers. As of February 2011, only 73 of the city's 468 stops made the grade.

Last month, the authority agreed to add an elevator at northern Manhattan's Dyckman Street 1 station — but only after the United Spinal Association's filed a class-action lawsuit against the MTA for its failure to meet the needs of the disabled.

DNAinfo took a ride with disability advocate and wheelchair user Chris Noel, 36, who pointed out that even where the transport system was accessible, it was often far from ideal.

"You don't feel a part of the overall occasion of being a New Yorker," said Noel, who was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident when he was 29 and who works at a center helping disabled residents live independently.

There is an elevator at his local station at 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. When it's working, it's usually filthy and so stinky he has to hold his breath.

“It’s horrible. There's a lot of germs and bacteria,” he said. “It’s not healthy.”

When it's not working — which he estimates happens once a week — he has a 10-block journey to the next accessible point at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue.

Though the MTA has a regularly updated list of out of order elevators, that does little to make his 10-block trip easier.

“You feel bad if you are late to an office meeting because an elevator is broken," he said. 

You think, ‘Wow, if I wasn’t injured I would have used the stairs and turned up on time.”

Things like access to public transport are crucial for allowing disabled people to participate in employment, according to Noel.

Other problems he finds are steeply sloped walkways, gaps between platforms and trains and elevators that only access one platform — meaning he has to ride in one direction to get to a station where he can board a train going the other way.

“They [the MTA] are just covering themselves. They are not solving the problem,” said Noel.

Noel is also concerned for disabled people or senior citizens who visit the city as tourists.

“The main thing is with non-working elevators, for someone who is a senior or new to the city, it would put them into a tailspin,” he said.

In a statement, the MTA said, "(We are) committed to providing transit service to everyone who needs it."

The statement cited the Access-A-Ride transit service, an accessible bus fleet, elevators at some subway stations and a service that informs users when those lifts are out-of-order.

"We make every effort to maintain a clean environment and encourage customers to help us by disposing of refuse properly," the statement said.