notes, NYU Portfolio

What New York Subway Stations Lack, Disabled Pay

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On a recent Monday afternoon, sitting in a wheelchair at the top of Carroll Street’s subway station, Justin Pines, 31, needed his brothers help to roll him backwards down the steps so he could catch the F train. He then traveled to 34th Street, the closest stop with an accessible elevator to his destination, the Ace Hotel, on 29th street.

For Pines, a former New Yorker, and other disabled people, navigating the subway system takes planning and reliance on others. Pines, visiting from Denver, had left New York after five years in 2016 when a skiing accident paralyzed him. He uprooted life to Denver where public transit provides full accessibility to wheelchair users and street layout is far more wheel chair friendly.

He still visits the city for work every six to eight weeks, and says Uber or Lyft are his preferred methods of travel. When he does take the subway, he maps out his commute by double-checking accessible stations and then MTA’s website to confirm elevators are working.

“I usually try to travel with someone in the case we need to call an audible and pull me up some stairs,” said Pines.

That lack of accessibility and unreliable elevators has resulted in two class action lawsuits that charge the MTA violates the city’s human rights law by not adding more accessibility.

In one suit, plaintiffs pointed to the lack of elevators in over 350 stations. In the other suit, plaintiffs detail unreliable elevators and lifts at stations that were supposed to be accessible, according to Rebecca Rogers, a representative and staff attorney from the Disability Rights Advocates.

Since 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, New York City renovated 100 stations with elevator lifts, said Rogers. This still leaves out roughly 75 percent of the 472 stations that fail to meet the ADA’s requirements.

“The MTA may believe that 100 stations are enough but it’s not, and they have no plan to do more,” said Rogers.

To renovate and satisfy the Federal Disabilities Act would cost an upwards of $1 billion to update 25 more stations, and an additional $334 million on replacing existing elevators and escalators, MTA spokeswoman Beth Defalco told The New York Times.

The MTA is expected to answer complaints on July 7, and settlements are currently being negotiated in the cases concerning inaccessible elevators, Rogers said.

Rogers admits that to make the entire subway system accessible it would probably take decades. “Even if it does take decades, as long as there is a plan that we can work with that is the biggest concern,” said Rogers.

So for now—and likely a long time to come—the lack of accessibility leaves disabled people to work out their own methods of getting around using the subway.

“New York is definitely not welcoming to the disabled community,” said Georgiana Burnside, a friend of Pines and an Arkansas native, after a recent visit.

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Because Burnside’s spinal cord injury requires her to use leg braces and walking sticks, every subway ride involved worrying about tasks most people consider mindless. Whether carefully stepping down the stairs in fear of stalling people behind her or trying to walk through the turnstile fast enough, her every step was led by intimidation.

Although her physical abilities have steadily progressed since her 2015 skiing accident, she still finds herself at a setback when it comes to public transportation, whether having to ask someone to give up their seat on the subway or waiting in a stalled station elevator that reeks of urine.

“It’s quite troubling to be the minority that is never heard,” said Burnside.

She finds New York a paradox because although it is accepting of so many different ideas and people, the city excludes the disabled. Despite her frustration with the lack of accessibility, she said it motivates her to keep moving.

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“The handicap community is a group of overcomers,” said Burnside. “We overcome loss everyday… but our response to these setbacks is what makes the community strong and inspiring. We overcome.”

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NYU Portfolio, q&a

Q&A: Michael Fusco-Straub

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In some ways Michael Fusco-Straub and his wife, Emma, are the ideal couple to open a bookstore. He’s a graphic designer and she’s a novelist. So when their beloved BookCourt closed down, they decided to create a new hub for Brooklyn bookworms. They opened Books are Magic on May 1 in Cobble Hill, hoping to be the new pulse of the reading public. Emma curated the shelves and Michael designed the modern and unique space to fit the name, with wooden bookshelves and exposed brick.

On a recent Friday morning, Michael was restocking books in the back of the shop and he took time to chat.

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What interested you in opening a bookshop in Cobble Hill?

We were at BookCourt almost every day. Actually Emma worked there for four years, and so we had a relationship with the owners. When we found out that it was closing, we instantly felt like it was our job to take this on and to make this happen, and we did.

Why the name, Books are Magic?

We both felt like the kind of energy and vibe that we want to be transmitted is that books are fun. Everyone should have them in their lives, and it’s not some kind of technology that’s going out of style. The term ‘books are magic’ is something that we truly believe.

What inspired the design of the store?

Right when we were deciding to open this bookstore, Emma and I took a trip to Portland, Oregon, and we went to this restaurant called “Tusk,” and I walked in I was like ‘This is how I want our bookstore to feel.’ Mainly, I was responding to the color palette, and the sort of airiness of the place and so that’s what I wanted to capture here; sort of light, white, soft pinks, and lots of air. A lot of bookstores feel claustrophobic. I wanted it to feel clean and modern, but also warm and inviting.

What about competition with online booksellers like Amazon?

I think we’re in a unique situation where we live in a neighborhood where people really care about local businesses and make an effort to come out here and support us. That alone is part of the reason why I feel like this is working. Also, we can get any book for anybody in a day, more or less. Most of the time—90 percent of the time—you come in looking for a book, we don’t have it, you get it tomorrow. That’s a good thing, I mean, that competes with whatever is going on online.

What is the process in curating the books?

Because Emma is a fiction writer, when we first opened the store, the fiction shelves were stacked and it was awesome. Then the nonfiction stuff had all these gaps, and we’re still trying to fill them. It’s just because it reflected what Emma knew, but now you know we’re listening to our customers’ special requests. People have been asking for a sci-fi shelf and we’re working on that.

Where do you see Books are Magic in five years?

It’s funny because that is something I haven’t thought about, because you know before we opened all I could think about was opening, and now that we’re open all I’m thinking about is what’s right in front of me. In five years, what I hope is that we’re right here doing what we’re doing and things are running in a slightly more efficient method. I mean things are pretty efficient now, but I think we’ll just get better at doing this.

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**edited for length and content

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