A Civil Right
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Feb 01, 2018
If you haven’t seen Access Denied, the 11-minute documentary by filmmaker Reid Davenport that’s presented by BraunAbility, please, please do. In the film, Reid Davenport — a power chair user with cerebral palsy — navigates New York City, land of a million taxicabs, ride-share vehicles, subways and buses (tinyurl.com/accessdeniednewyork).
Spoiler alert: Davenport tries supposedly accessible transportation options one by one, and each one fails mightily. The documentary unexpectedly takes on a thriller vibe when an “accessible” subway car’s doors open, and the car’s floor is 6 inches higher than the platform where Davenport waits. Can his friend and two bystanders hoist him and his chair into the car before the doors shut and the subway starts moving?
Real accessibility is not hair raising, it’s mundane. In a truly accessible world, there is no wheeling an extra quarter-mile to find a curb cut. No rolling through an alley full of dumpsters to get to the lone ramp into a building. And wheeling into a subway car doesn’t require three people to channel the Avengers.
But in the film, attorney Dan Ackman justifies the woeful lack of accessible taxicabs in New York City.
“It’s very unfortunate anyone has to be in a wheelchair, and I admire people who can manage their lives despite having that handicap,” Ackman says, making obligatory mention of how inspirational people with disabilities are, right before dropping the second shoe. “But the fact is only a very small percentage of the population needs wheelchair-accessible cabs. Even cabs that are wheelchair accessible are serving, 99 percent of the time or more, people who don’t need a wheelchair-accessible cab. So it really doesn’t make sense to have 100 percent of the cabs or even 50 percent of the cabs wheelchair accessible when really, luckily, so few people need them.”
This country believes in equal rights under the law. How often an accessible cab is used by a wheelchair user is irrelevant. A wheelchair-using passenger has the same right to access as a passenger who moves on two feet. And I bet we’d see more wheelchair users hailing cabs if those cabs were more reliably available and accessible.
February is traditionally a time when Mobility Management focuses on accessibility. So many limitations are not caused by disability, but by lack of accessibility. And a lack of understanding. Accessibility is not an option to be included when it’s convenient. It’s a civil right. All the time.
Turn to the inside back cover — opposite it, actually — to see a new column called 5 Minutes With…. Each month, we’ll feature a different member of the complex rehab industry, and industry veteran Ming Chang does us proud with the first installment. Enjoy.
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.