New York City, June 17 – Primary elections are underway in NYC and New Yorkers are thinking hard about the issues that matter most to them. Accessibility and disability and social justice are at the forefront of many minds, which makes All Riders: The Fight for Accessibility a perfect film to watch before heading to the booth. Shot the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, All Riders takes a poignant look at the intersectionality of unmet access needs within the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
Often thought of as synonymous with accessible transportation because of its extensive transit system, The Big Apple has continually fallen short of its goal to become “the most accessible city in the world.” Out of over 400 stations, less than 30% are accessible, a portion of those accessible in only one direction, and with daily elevator failures close to 25% based on data from 2014-2015, that can leave New Yorkers with less than 20% of stations accessible at any one time across the massive five borough system. This is a dismal number considering the Americans with Disabilities Act, which celebrates its 31st birthday this July, requires that all stations be accessible under federal law.
All Riders follows disabled activists Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, Co-Founder of the Elevator Action Group (EAG) at Rise and Resist, and Robert Acevedo, a Board Member at Disabled in Action and member of the EAG. The EAG’s Elevators are for Everyone campaign, the main narrative of the film, focuses on the idea of transit injustice and the segregation it enforces by preventing all New Yorkers equal access. With only 15 minutes of film time, Director Victor Dias Rodrigues does an excellent job encapsulating transit injustice for viewers as an intersectional issue negatively impacting not only the disability community, but also delivery and labor workers, the elderly, those with temporary injuries, and parents, especially those in historically Black and Brown neighborhoods who have a lower number of accessible stations. Those stations are underserviced and face a disproportionate number of barriers to transit access. The film is dedicated in loving memory to Malaysia Goodson, a 22-year-old Black mother, who died in 2019 carrying her daughter’s stroller down the stairs of an inaccessible station. She was miraculously able to save her daughter’s life. Her story is particularly stirring in All Riders as her family visits the station where she died and watch in anxiety and heartbreak as other parents carry strollers down the same stairs where Goodson lost her life just months prior.
The continued risk of these stations is why activists at the EAG are working so hard to make sure changes happen quickly. Several lawsuits are underway, politicians are taking note, and new positions are opening for disabled representation within the MTA. Side tracking like the Enhanced Station Initiative, which beautifies stations by adding artwork but does nothing to make them fully accessible, is not where activists want their tax payer dollars going.
If All Riders hits one bump, it is that the folks who were holding office at the time of filming are not necessarily ideal voices to have on your side. NY State Senator Luis R. Sepúlveda, who speaks eloquently on Transit Injustice in the film, has since been accused of domestic violence and was asked to resign in early 2021 (All Riders mentions these accusations were made after the completion of the film and are still under investigation). Alex Elegudin, the former Head of Accessibility at NYC Transit and voice for representation as a wheelchair user himself, stepped down in the end 2020 after breaking internal ethics rules (the film mentions the end date of his term but not the reason). Outside of the film, he is quoted as saying he “crossed a line” in “fighting for services for the disability community” because he felt the MTA acted “without any input or consideration from the community being served.”
Although Elegudin may not be the best voice to say it, the message of invisibility rings true for many, especially disabled and other marginalized New Yorkers. Luckily, the MTA has started to heed the need for disabled representation, and after Elegudin’s resignation, created a formal Chief Accessibility Officer position to which they hired Quemuel “Q” Arroyo, the former head of accessibility at the NYC Department of Transportation and a wheelchair user as well.
When it comes to visibility, representation is critical and All Riders does the important task of telling the story of intersectional injustice – a story that is all too familiar to some, but completely unknown to others, and even more at risk of being swept aside in the aftermath of COVID-19. To all those New Yorkers preparing to vote in the primary election, now is the chance to use your voice! New York may not be “the most accessible city in the world” now, but with the right leaders, and dedicated activists, it could be.
Get involved with the Elevator Action Group: https://www.riseandresist.org/elevator-action-group
Explore the Primary Ballot: http://whosontheballot.org
Find your NYC pollsite: https://findmypollsite.vote.nyc