Able News Column June 2024 – How Do We Make Change? By Showing Up.

Read the entire June 2024 Able News Issue

In the first week of May, Disability Rights Advocates was in federal court in New York City, not one but two times, to move forward a couple of our longest standing and most important transportation access cases. I was there, as was Able News Editor Emily Ladau, as were dozens of clients and supporters with all types of disabilities. Why did we all show up in court for these hearings? Showing up is a critically important part of change-making. Especially the type of titanic, systemic, change-making that DRA specializes in. Being there with the community – in the courthouse hearing arguments and outside the courthouse talking to the media about the critical importance of transportation access, filled me with gratitude, pride, and hope.

The two cases in court hearings were: Taxis For All Campaign et al. v. Taxi & Limousine Commission, and CIDNY, et al. v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (or as we call it, the subways elevator maintenance case).

As I discussed in a previous Able News Column, the Taxis For All case is a long-running case against New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC). The parties reached a court-ordered settlement a decade ago to make the City’s iconic yellow medallion taxi fleet at least 50% wheelchair accessible, but despite an extension of time to fulfill its obligation, the TLC has not only failed to reach the 50% accessibility threshold, but is seeking to escape any further accessibility obligations altogether.

In the Taxi case hearing, as people in wheelchairs, scooters, and with crutches (who had taken, or attempted to take taxis to the courthouse) lined the aisles, the judge heard both sides. DRA argued that the TLC must fulfill its obligation. New York City needs at least 50% of its fleet to be accessible, and drivers of accessible vehicles need to readily pick up people with disabilities, so that we have access to taxi transportation. At the end of the hearing, the Judge ordered TLC to submit a letter within two weeks with data that can be used to assess how to achieve a fleet with 50% accessible taxis.

The elevator maintenance case is a case against the MTA from 2017, challenging pervasive elevator outages across the NYC subway system for the few elevators that currently exist at stations. In 2020, the court granted the MTA’s motion for summary judgment, which would have ended the case, except DRA appealed to the Second Circuit, which overturned that ruling in 2021 and sent the case back to the court.

During this May hearing, also attended by dozens of people with disabilities who had been stuck on subway platforms, had to plug their noses in horribly soiled elevators, cancel plans, or forego subway transportation entirely, the MTA argued their motion for summary judgment on the basis that they provide reasonable accommodations to riders with mobility disabilities who encounter elevator outages. DRA vehemently opposed the MTA’s motion citing numerous examples of those accommodations being entirely unreasonable and demanding that the MTA do better. After making our arguments, at the time of writing this article, we are waiting for the court to make a ruling in this case and look forward to sharing that result when we have it.

Why do I share all of this? First, I want to underline how critical DRA’s dedicated clients are to our eventual court victories. Seismic change-making through the courts takes a massive amount of time (it’s not uncommon for one of DRA’s cases to take more than a decade to resolve), and our clients are there for the long haul. Each instance of discrimination becomes an important piece of evidence in the litigation. And the community’s passion for needed societal change and grass-roots activism underscore it all. To be at the two court hearings we had earlier this month, our clients and community members took time off work and away from their families. They talked to reporters. They shared their stories and their ambition to bring about equality and make transportation more accessible for the next generation. Showing up like this takes sacrifice and makes an incredible difference. And it takes immeasurable tenacity when the basic act of showing up requires some degree of luck in playing transportation roulette when unreliable transportation systems are the issue at hand.

Second, I want to highlight the winding, laborious, sometimes glacially paced nature of systemic disability rights litigation. Real, enforceable change can take a very long time to achieve. Our lawyers file numerous notices, briefs, and motions. They show up for hearing after hearing. Even when we win a case, we must remain vigilant to ensure that the court-enforceable remedy occurs over what is often a multi-year period of time, as we are doing in our Taxi case right now. And when it doesn’t, we have to be ready to get back in the courtroom and argue, alongside our clients, for change. This is the work. It’s a team sport, it’s time-consuming, and in many instances the only vehicle for making the massive social change needed to dismantle the biggest barriers and ensure the promise of the disability rights laws that are on the books.

As always, if you want to get into the ring and fight for change alongside DRA, you can sign up for our e-newsletter or find me on Instagram at @rebecca.williford.dra or follow DRA at @dralegal.

Read the entire June 2024 Able News Issue