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Mind the Gap: One woman’s mission for subway accessibility

Michele and her wheelchair Betty

Michele Kaplan wants us to mind the gap. The space between a subway car and the platform might not seem like a big deal if you’re bipedal, but it can pose a safety hazard if you’re using a wheelchair, cane or walker. Michele got fed up on July 10 when she tried to board a train in a supposedly accessible station and her powerchair got stuck in the gap. She was forced to rely on “two burly-looking passengers” to get her chair out of the doors and onto the train. When she got home, she decided to fight back. Michele started up a Tumblr and set up a petition, and she’s been putting the word out ever since.

Subway accessibility is a game of Russian roulette, as she aptly puts it, as wheelchair users in any major city who deal with public transit can tell you. Typically, not all stations are accessible, and if stations are designated as accessible, that doesn’t mean they actually are, between broken elevators, construction and other unexpected surprises along the way. What Kaplan encountered was another example of everyday inaccessibility, and it has to do with the cars, not the stations.

“If you go onto NYCSubway.org, you can see that the MTA has purchased different models of subway cars through the years. You see it everyday. Some subways are more modern, while other subway cars are clearly older and less hi-tech. Right then and there, it shows that not all subway cars are the same.”

Cars have varying heights from the platform, which means that sometimes a car is inaccessible when it pulls into a station and sometimes it’s fine. That’s a real pain for disabled travelers, who don’t want to have to wait around for the next train, or the next, especially if they’re trying to time a trip, like many commuters do. Michele’s asking the MTA to hold up its end of the deal; when it says stations are accessible, they should be accessible, and if there’s a problem, passengers should be provided with information to that effect.

She’s also hoping to raise awareness across the country about subway accessibility, because New York is far from the only city with hit-and-miss accessibility on its trains, and it’s high time for that to change. We’re pushing with you, Michele!

Photo credit: Mind the Gap

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