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Disability Etiquette in NYC Subway? Fuhgeddaboudit

April 6 2009 | by

NYC Subway sign

A Brooklyn man who went on crutches after hurting his foot has questioned how nice New York City subway riders can be when it comes to giving up their seat for the disabled. His answer: Not nice at all. When Matt Muro tried to transport himself to work on crutches from his home in Williamsburg, he frequently had to stand, despite seeing seemingly able-bodied people sitting down in priority seating for the disabled. To channel his frustration, Muro created a website called People Who Sit in the Disability Seats When I’m Standing on My Crutches. The site was linked to by VH1, and received more than 100,000 hits in the first three days. Muro used his Apple iPhone to take pictures of seated subway culprits, who, he says, are either buried in books, have their heads down, or simply don’t care that he, and presumably, other people with disabilities, are standing up.

The website has been inundated with comments and criticisms, particularly from people with disabilities who make some very valid points. One, that not all disabilities are visible, such as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia. “I’m glad you seem to have perfected your gimp radar,” says one commenter, clearly upset that Muro takes pictures of people in priority seats who look “really athletic, perfectly healthy.” Two, that if you want a seat on a New York City subway and you’re disabled, you need to ask for it. “Stop crying and ask,” says another commenter. Another commenter wrote in about her friend in London, who has cerebral palsy. “Every day people abuse her for standing on the wrong side whilst on the escalator, but since she can use her other hand, she has to either break the rules or fall over.”

I have observed subway etiquette as well as logistics in many metropolitan cities, and New York is one of the worst in both categories. Many stations aren’t wheelchair or walking-aid accessible; there are large, dangerous gaps between the platform and trains; there are no visual aids for the hearing-impaired. The list goes on. Indeed, priority seating is a foil for an overcrowded system and a lax MTA policy, which reinforces riders’ ignorant attitudes.

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