Working for New York City Transit in the ADA Compliance Office, conflicts between the transit and the disability commmunity regarding issues of compliance


So, here I was, burning out, and feeling it's time to move on. Terry mentioned that job, and I said, "I think that's the job--this person came over from Transit to have us disseminate information on it when we were next to the Transit Authority." Sure enough, it was. I called up, I submitted my resumé, I got interviewed, and I got the job. Almost nine years later, here I am. I started working for the ADA compliance office. There were things that I knew, like about communication access. It's funny--that was the other funny thing, we were doing a presentation on ADA at the Bulova center, and I had just been hired, but I hadn't started yet, and my new bosses came to see the presentation. I was so nervous. It was like, "Oh my God, this is going to be so difficult." You haven't even started the job yet, what if you blow it now. It's been a trip. No one could have told me I would have worked for Transit.

The point I was making before in talking about the Transportation Disabled Committee from working on that committee with Transit people, we had really formed a good working relationship. That sort of continued on. With ADA we really tried to--one of the reasons I was hired, obviously, is I've been an activist. My boss, I think I told him that I had been in a sit-in at the MTA, and I had held up a bus. I think I told him that. I think on the interview, when we were talking, I didn't want him to be surprised, because there would be people at the Transit Authority who actually knew my history. It was very funny. So I got hired.

Somehow The [New York] Times was doing a story on disability rights back then and where it is now, so I got interviewed by The Times. The then president of the Transit Authority asked me to come up and see him. I certainly noted that I never expected to work for the Transit Authoriy, but over the years, we had developed a working--Terry, all these people that were major activists, EPVA had sued the Transit Authority--we had developed a working relationship. It was coming into a huge bureaucracy. You go from a center of twelve people to a 48,000-employee employer. It was a change in a lot of ways. But it was good. I got to do ADA complaince from almost square one. They had done the transitional plan before I got there, but I started working on a brochure to inform the employees of their rights as disabled employees, and make the nondisabled employees aware of ADA responsibilities.

It was interesting, because we were reaching out to the community. We started a newsletter. I also really had information to share with them, because they understood what needed to be done physically with the subway stations and all that, because they had engineering backgrounds and all that. We had an architect, several engineers in the ADA group. What I brought to the office was the employment responsibilities, the

communication responsibility, alternative formats and things like that. I also learned about some of the difficulties in implementing ADA in our station.

It's been a very interesting time. I've enjoyed working there. I've also been frustrated working there, because sometimes things happened that we ended up in a conflict with the disabled community. One example--this people know, so I'm not speaking out of school--we had purchased buses, and we kept hearing from people in DIA really, that the buses were not compliant. So my boss brought a bus; we had a meeting. We used to have these quarterly meetings with the community, but we also had these internal ADA meetings to make sure everybody was doing what they were supposed to do in all the departments and all. So, they brought the bus; I tried the lift. This woman who was talking to me, it wasn't clear exactly what the problem was, because they have to be compliant. The company had said they were compliant. I think they were our TMC buses, or the Nova bus. At any rate, when I tried the lift, I said to my boss, "This is very steep." I said, "I think she's right. I'm coming down too fast, and it's hard going up."

So we were out in East New York, that's one of our depots. We've got lawyers. We've got engineers. We've got systems safety, and we're trying out--I'm like the crash test dummy--we're trying out the lifts and everything. Everybody's looking at it and all. They were right. We had to get that company to retrofit several hundred buses. One of the things that happened was we had been meeting with the disabled community. A lot of this was DIA people. We had met, and what we had worked out was we were going to have to retrofit the buses. We asked the community to basically have patience, because we needed a certain amount of time to do this, but what was happening was the retrofitting wasn't happening that fast. We're getting towards the winter.

We had also gotten a promise from the Department of Buses--we were ADA; I wasn't in Department of Buses then--that, if anybody had to wait more than thirty minutes for a bus--the buses come with certain headways between them--that they would adjust that, and then we're getting complaints as the weather is getting bad. People are waiting more than thirty minutes, and they're upset. We kept saying--myself and this other disabled person who worked there--some of this may have to wait for ten years to come out. The community needs to be told about what we're doing to correct this. Basically, they were writing letters to the disabled community from our group. We weren't asked to do the letters, I knew and this other disabled person knew, these letters would not satisfy anybody, because what they [the community] were asking for was time frames. The Transit people were feeling that they're trying to trap us into something that we couldn't commit to. What our people were really saying was, what the disabled people were really saying was, "We were told this, but this is what's happening. Now this much time has gone by. We want to know when this is going to be done."

We wrote memos to our people in our unit saying what we thought. These are not bad people, but they didn't take our advice. We're hearing that there's going to be a TV [laughter]--Arnold Diaz was going to take this up. Sure enough it ends up on TV. Unhappy people complaining about--. Really, that was the other thing; they [disabled advocates] wanted to do something nice about transit, because our boss, Walter Noonan, was a very nice and decent guy. He made the commitment in good faith, but the headways--it was getting colder and people are waiting longer. We said, "This is going to escalate." Buses were held up in Brooklyn. There was more TV coverage. Everything

that they wouldn't do that we thought they should do, they ended up agreeing to when they had to meet with the community.

So that kind of stuff is extremely frustrating, because we work for you. You hired us because of our expertise in this area, that we know people in the community, that people will tell us things that maybe they won't tell you. That was a frustrating moment. It all did get worked out. They were repairing it. Our office needed to light a fire under the Department of Buses, and once it was given a greater priority the repairs were made more quickly. But it took that.


When you talk about the disabled community, who does that consist of?


It varies. A lot of times, it's DIA members. I mean, what's been kind of disappointing to me over the years, that the centers weren't as active as I felt they should have been in some of these issues. But then, a couple of years back, people from DIA, people from the Brooklyn Center, the Queens Center came aboard, I think, eventually, Bobbi's Center, I forget about the Manhattan Center. This is current, but I just have to see who came on. Basically what happened, there was some reports by the public advocate about some of the problems with Access-A-Ride. There was an advisory committee, paratransit disabled committee.

This again is my opinion; people might see this differently. I felt that the advisory--this is not everyone on the committee, but when you would raise issues, it's your job to make sure that the things that you're raising are followed up on. By that, I don't mean that you wait until the next committee meeting. You write a letter. You ask for time frames. Some of the information that people would ask for wasn't provided, but it's up to you. This is not a course in Advocacy 101. You are in the advanced course, as far as I'm concerned, for many of these people. I think what happened was--what did happen, that's an opinion that sometimes the community has not followed up the way it used to follow up or needed to follow up. The squeaky wheel does get the oil. There's so much going on and so many different issues, that things can get lost in the shuffle without people intending that to happen.