Tackling Inaccessibility in Seattle & NYC: My Travels on 4 Wheels

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Nighttime view of the Space Needle in Seattle, WA.

This month has been full of so many phenomenal things.  September is a special time for me for two reasons:  my birthday and the start of autumn.  

For both my birthday and the season changing, I was bi-coastal – I spent the first full week in celebrating year 32 in Seattle and then set off to tackle the Big Apple.  

Seattle allowed me to be in the same place with every member of the Rooted in Rights team, and boy, did we have a blast.  Of course, there was work to be done, but it was nice to finally be able to see everyone that I have gotten to know since I took the position as Digital Manager in May.  Seattle was giving fall vibes before the season came to be; vastly different from the 80+ degrees I was enjoying in South Carolina.  

Photo of me smiling into the camera with the best pizza of my life plated in front of me. Who knew Seattle had good pizza?!?!

Right when I came back home this past Sunday, I got a day to breathe before I was jet-setting to NYC to speak on a panel for NYU School of Law.  The panel was made up of 4 individuals who discussed the complications of employment and disability, and provided real-life examples of how systemic barriers hinder our community.  I was very proud of the responses I received regarding what I shared about SSI, Voc Rehab, how we view productivity and worthiness, the disparities of disabled people of color and unemployment, and my own experiences in seeking employment.  What made me feel as if I did a good job was the responses from actually disabled people who attended the event – what I shared pertained to the issues and challenges they also endured in gaining employment in their state and how access has impacted their ability to not only retain work, but also supports in education and transportation.  

Snapshot of the image of the program for the NYU School of Law event. My photo plus biography information are provided.

Wheelchair User Woes

One of the things I love and hate about traveling is the constant worry about accessibility, particularly navigating an unfamiliar area and not knowing what is or is not wheelchair friendly.  In both Seattle and NYC, I encountered inaccessibility that looked differently due to the structural makeup of the areas and how much of a “priority” has been given to be accessible.  

What were the differences I encountered?  

Inaccessibility Throws A Monkey Wrench In My Plans Every Time

For Seattle, two words:  steep inclines.  I cannot explain how it feels to be falling forward due to gravity… when you’re not falling at all.  As a manual wheelchair user, I am pretty good at handling myself with hills, but these were not normal hills – these were man-made death traps.  I knew it was a setup when a colleague and I have been discussing how bad the inclines were since this trip had been planned.  

I was not ready.  

Thankfully, I did have assistance the first day these inclines were tackled, but it left me leery of venturing out on my own after that.  I mainly took Uber or the accessible cab service for the rest of the trip, and luckily had my friend Dara Baldwin with me when we explored the city.  Seattle has beautiful views of its harbor, but it is not so nice on these 4 wheels of mine.  

Me & Dara Baldwin in front of the Public Market Center in Seattle, WA.

NYC did not have the steep hills, but did have cracked, jadad sidewalks that welcomed this Southern belle with open arms.  As I learned from a friend, I definitely was not in the “touristy” part of NYC – I saw the REAL NYC, lol.  

Being from the South, I have seen many areas redesign their sidewalks to make it more accessible.  Even in my hometown, the downtown area has been renovated and the sidewalks are navigable without many issues.  

In the area I was traveled with a friend after the panel event, the sidewalks were a mess.  The crowded sidewalks did not bother me much – I am used to walkers (what I call those who do not use assistive devices) being in my way.  However, it was the broken and/or raised areas in the sidewalks that got to me and had to wheel around.  Also, finding the curb cuts was a challenge since they were not colored in some areas.  (This was also an issue I saw in Seattle, particularly in the areas that were not downtown.)  Having the curb cuts colored with a bright color makes them easier to spot and helps us determine which way to go in crossing the street.  This may seem like a minor detail to you as a walker, but to someone like me (and many others), this feature means a great deal.  

The one thing both cities had in common was me encountering wheelchair inaccessible venues.  In Seattle, I tweeted to Subway about the huge step in one of its establishments that was near my hotel.  For a chain like Subway, it was indeed unacceptable and upsetting to not be able to patron with ease.  In 2017, I should not have to stay in the doorway to have my order fulfilled because of a step.

In NYC, the Italian restaurant we chose to dine at also had a huge step.  Though I am not a fan of being picked up, I did allow it because I felt safe in the moment.  The staff was nice and took good care of us while we were there, so that was a bonus for me.  

Refusing to be Second-Class Because of Accessibility Issues

Yes, I did frequent these places because their lack of thought to include people like me is not going to prevent me from living my life as I desire.  Your steps will not keep me out – I will make you find a way to serve me as a patron.  27 years after the ADA, and now with the ADA being threatened with the HR620 bill, and I am STILL fighting to get in and be recognized.  Let that sink in.  

Traveling to other parts of the country has, and will, afforded me to examine how cities and towns have or have not prioritized being ADA compliant.  I plan to document my traveling adventures on here and on Patreon (which will be up soon!) because I will be leaving tire treads in many cities in the upcoming year.  

Despite the headaches of travel when it comes to getting around, I am fortunate to now have the chance to see the world up close and personal.  Nothing, not even raggedy behind sidewalks or inconveniently placed steps, can take those awe moments away from me.

Get ready – these wheels may be coming to a city near you.   

4 Years Going Strong:  RYV! Anniversary Reflection

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Image description: Top of a chocolate cake with candles lit. Candles are curved and multi-colored.

Image description: Top of a chocolate cake with candles lit. Candles are curved and multi-colored.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Ramp Your Voice!  The past year has been filled with so many opportunities, connections, partnerships, and articles that has resonated with individuals within and outside of the disabled community.  

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Why “Claws” Autistic Character Dean Should Be Played By An Autistic Actor

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Harold Perrineau as Dean. (Turner Press / CLAWS)

Harold Perrineau as Dean. (Turner Press / CLAWS)

A new summer show favorite has been CLAWS, which features the incredible Niecy Nash as Desna, a woman who has big dreams of owning a high-end salon and caring for those she loves.  A surprise in the series is the character Dean, who is autistic and Desna’s brother.  Dean is a complex character, mainly due to the fact that the portrayal is a cripping up one; Dean is played by Harold Perrineau.

I had hoped that someone would write about this conflict, and Monique Jones gave her perspective earlier this week.  I wanted to boost the thoughts of someone who’s Black and autistic on the blog, and am gracious Monique gave me permission to cross-post her article on RYV!  

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BuzzFeed, Dating In A Wheelchair, & Representation:  Interview with Lolo

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Screenshot of the title of the video:  “Thoughts You Have While Dating In A Wheelchair” (Buzzfeed)

Screenshot of the title of the video:  “Thoughts You Have While Dating In A Wheelchair” (BuzzFeed)

Buzzfeed is known for creating videos about diverse life experiences, and it has recently produced one that I can wholeheartedly relate to.  The video is “Thoughts You Have While Dating In A Wheelchair” that features vlogger Lolo.  Lolo’s performance spoke deeply to my spirit.  It was the first time I saw a Black disabled woman talk about dating in such a way that resonated with my own experiences.  In her role, Lolo brought the funny with her “heels or boots?” question and gushing about how her date was so strong when helping her in the Uber.  The thoughts and concerns Lolo portrayed are ones that were too realistic – I could not stop laughing at the truth gems dropped in the video.  

I reached out to Lolo because I had to know who she was, and I am grateful that she afforded me the pleasure of interviewing her for the blog.  In the following interview, Lolo shared with me about how she got the role, why doing this video was important to her, and her ambitions as a disabled vlogger.  

Without further ado, here is Lolo, in all of her Black disabled girl magic glory:

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Disability, Slavery, & The Call to #PickUpUnderground

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Aisha Hinds as Harriet Tubman (WGN America)

Aisha Hinds as Harriet Tubman (WGN America)

Social media was abuzz with shock earlier this week when we learned that the critically acclaimed show Underground was canceled on WGN America after two seasons.  I was incredibly upset that this dynamic show and its compelling depiction of slavery would no longer be returning for a rightfully earned third season.

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The Hashtagversary of #DisabilityTooWhite

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Image of a drawn character in a wheelchair wearing a cone party hat against a solid black background. To the right of the character reads the words: "It's a hashtagversary!" Underneath the character reads the words: "#DisabilityTooWhite"

Today is the hashtagversary (hashtag anniversary) of #DisabilityTooWhite.  I cannot believe it has been a year since the hashtag went viral, and how it changed my life and the dialogue in the community.  

It still astounds me that something I created from an impassioned reaction to an article stirred up so much conversation and controversy.  The hashtag forced me, and others, to discuss the elephant in the room – the racism, invisibility, erasure, lack of representation, and othering of disabled people of color.  Our community can no longer feign that we do not recognize the inequality that exists within; the hashtag has the “receipts” of the injustices enacted on those of us multiple-marginalized.  The hashtag allowed people to understand that they are not alone in how they have been mistreated, abused, and ostracized in the community.  That realization validated their feelings and experiences, which was a powerful confirmation so many received.  

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#IAmAPreExistingCondition: Medicaid is the Lifeline that Saved Me

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Image of a stethoscope and pen lying on top of a medical chart.

I owe my health and ability to live in this disabled body to Medicaid.  It is the social program that is will be under attack if the Senate accumulates enough votes for the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  The AHCA is the replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare.  There are provisions within the AHCA that will impact those of us with pre-existing conditions and/or utilize Medicaid.  

The disabled community, including myself, have been very vocal as to the harm the AHCA could cause for us.  I’ve taken part in discussing my own story & urging our Senators to vote “no” by using the #IAmAPreexistingCondition hashtag, and being interviewed by Al-Jazeera along with other advocates about the bill (click to view Part I and Part II).  

I wanted to share the article I wrote for the Center for Disability Rights this month that outlines why Medicaid matters so much to me, and why the AHCA would be dangerous for my people.  We need more disabled voices proclaiming that healthcare is a human right that should not be deemed as an optional circumstance to acquire.  

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Flexin’ My Melanin & Talking About #DisabilityTooWhite at the NABSW Conference

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White background with drawings of 4 Black women from the shoulders up of various skin tones and hairstyles. Each woman is wearing an alternating pink or purple top.

I took a hiatus this month from blogging to prepare and attend the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) conference in National Harbor, Maryland.  It was the first time I attended the conference, as well as presented about #DisabilityTooWhite to my social work colleagues.  I was ecstatic to attend a conference where I would be surrounded by melanin, and it was the spiritual and emotional rejuvenation I needed.  

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#BlackDisabledGirlMagic Series: Keah Brown, Entertainment Journalist Using Her Words to Empower

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Photo of Keah Brown, a brown skinned young Black woman. Keah is looking directly into the camera and smiling. She has her hair straighten and parted to the side, and wearing a white, red, and denim colored sweater.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this series was to capture the diverse lives of Black disabled women. Very few spaces have given us the opportunity to discuss what it is like to be a triple minority, much less by someone who possess those same identities. Providing an environment where people can be candid about the obstacles they face while navigating the world and embracing who they are is an important part of my advocacy work.

Keah Brown is a 25-years old entertainment journalist, writer, and essayist from Western New York. She recently created the #disabledandcute hashtag that went viral in February. This hashtag allowed disabled people to proclaim and display the diverse beauty that exists in our community. Keah is a dynamic writer and friend, and her presence in the community cannot be ignored.

Here is Keah in her own words about learning to accept herself and using her work to empower other Black disabled women:

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