“You should’ve gotten off at the last stop,” he said from where he was repairing the bottom of the escalator. “There’s an elevator there.”
I didn’t respond. It was the end of a long day and I just wanted to get home.
“You shouldn’t put those on an escalator. It’s dangerous,” he continued, gesturing at my son’s wheelchair.
I know I’m not supposed to take the wheelchair on an escalator. But when using a transit system in which less than half of the stations are accessible, I have been known – carefully – to put Deane’s wheelchair on escalators.
“Just go back to the last station,” he said again.
In fact to get to an accessible station, we would have to go five stations passed our stop, use the elevators to switch platforms, take that train passed our stop to the previous stop the mechanic suggested we use. Then we would get to walk 15 minutes to our house, which is a block away from our station.
My stubborn nature overwhelmed my exhaustion. I picked Deane up and started up the three flights of stairs. The three guys working on the escalator picked up the wheelchair and came after me.
I’m not sure that was setting the right example for my daughter and the other kids I was with. Hopefully they know there is a bigger principle behind it.
I really appreciate the parts of the system that are accessible. Deane is an enthusiastic transit user. He loves pushing the buttons in the elevators, riding the buses and sitting on the regular seats on the subway. Retrofitting a system is expensive – I get it. The vast majority of buses and 31 of 70 stations are wheelchair usable. When you are using those parts, it is fantastic. It works the way the system works for everyone else.
There is a dedicated wheelchair transit system but my limited experience with it is that it is very difficult to book. If you can get a booking, your pick up time is based on a group of people near you heading in the same direction. I have seen many people waiting great lengths of time for a pick-up. As long as you’ve got lots uncommitted hours, I’m told it does work.
It’s this attitude that frustrates me. All of the elevators in the transit system have a sign posted beside them with suggestions of what to do if that elevator is out of service. In the rare instance, it as simple as using an elevator at the other end of the platform. Usually it is more like what the escalator repairman suggested to me. The recommendations often involve taking a train and a couple of buses in order get to where the elevator would take you if it was working.
I understand that the signs are an attempt to help. But what has always struck me is the disregard for how long one of these detours would take. What if the person had an appointment? Or a job?
Even with the strides that have been made to create accessible services, you need to build in extra hours to get from one place to another. When it comes to the disabled, apparently they have nothing else to do with their time than adapt to the peculiarities of a faceless bureaucracy. The only way things are going to change is when disabled people’s time is considered as valuable as that of everybody else.