Bay Ridge resident and disability rights activist Jean Ryan believes more can be done to make the city accessible for people with disabilities.
Before a nervous system disorder set in 20 years ago, Ryan was a runner, swimmer and black belt in karate. By the late 1990’s, relegated mostly to a wheelchair, Ryan was forced to retire from teaching at Hunter College and took up disability activism fulltime.
“I decided I was too young to just totally retire,” said Ryan, a Brooklyn resident for the better part of four decades. “I decided to become a disability rights activist and so something with my time.”
Ryan now serves as the vice president of the advocacy group Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, and as the vice president of the Taxis For All Campaign. She is also an Access-A-Ride advocate.
She said the city’s cab and public transportation system is unfriendly for disabled people who use wheelchairs. Many subway stations don’t have elevators; transferring from one bus line to another is cumbersome.
“It’s not practical for me to go anywhere outside my home,” said Ryan, who nonetheless leaves Bay Ridge regularly to advocate for disability rights. (She testified against increased Access-A-Ride fares at an MTA hearing earlier this year, for example).
The goal of the Taxis For All Campaign is to make the city’s taxicabs and private livery cabs wheelchair accessible, said Ryan. Currently just a few hundred cabs are disabled-friendly, she said.
Most are found at airports. Elsewhere, “hailing a cab is almost impossible,” said Ryan. If more cabs were wheelchair friendly, she said, disabled people “could get around our city like everyone else.”
Though disability rights issues are largely absent from public transportation policy debate, Ryan said the two actually go hand-in-hand. She said as the Access-A-Ride system improves, hopefully more attention will be drawn to disability rights.
“To me transportation activism and being a disabled rights activist fit together because its so hard to get around,” Ryan said. (Daniel Bush)