New York

Think your subway commute is bad? Try navigating it on crutches

” I never understood how bad commuting was for disabled commuters before my injury,” said the author, pictured.

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, I was crossing the street along 6th Avenue in Manhattan. I was trying to make it early to my morning job as a social media intern at Democracy Now! I stepped off the sidewalk and felt myself falling. I tried catching myself, stumbled around for a few steps and then felt my left ankle twist. I tried to take a few steps off the sidewalk and couldn’t. The pain in my ankle went up to my stomach, so I used a cab to get to the office and hobbled to a seat.

When I told my supervisor that I had hurt my ankle, we got my shoe off and my left ankle was swollen. My foot looked pregnant. I went to an urgent care, got a few x-rays, crutches and an air cast. On the cab ride home, someone from the urgent care called me and said that I didn’t have a sprain, I had a fracture. I needed to go to an ER or a specialist. I went home and made my dad take me to NYU’s emergency room.

The reality of commuting with a fractured ankle and a bunch of messed up tendons hit me that week. The L train station by my house has an elevator, so I used that to get to the 8th Avenue stop in Manhattan and then took a Lyft to the office. The next week, I had to figure out getting home from an appointment near the First Avenue stop of the L train. I was in a boot and on crutches by then. I slowly tried to hobble down the stairs and caused a traffic jam. The next day I tried to go to work and made it to Eighth Avenue just fine only to find out that the elevators weren’t working.

Commuting on a fractured ankle is hard. This is supposed to be a temporary injury and it has already made working, socializing and doing just about everything as an adult became 100 times harder and slower. I knew that it would be harder to get around on an injured ankle when the doctors told me I had fractured it, but I didn’t expect for everything to be so frustrating.

I wrote a series about MTA buses earlier this year for City Limits and in one of my stories, I focused on the elderly, disabled commuters or commuters who deal with injuries. I spoke to people about how hard their commutes were and how bad it got whenever the weather was bad or whenever bus or train service ended early, or when an elevator wasn’t working. I even took someone’s route to see how exhausting it was. And it sucked, but at the time I had two functioning ankles and there was the option of not having to see that route through. But now, I have limited options. I never understood how bad commuting was for disabled commuters before my injury. While writing that piece I learned that advocacy groups had sued the MTA for not having 100% accessibility, especially in a city where so many don’t have access to cars. It’s frustrating to feel like agencies aren’t doing their best to provide a system that works for everyone.

Injured commuters, older commuters and disabled commuters deserve to commute. We deserve to have options other than a handful of train stops with elevators (that are sometimes closed) or slow buses that make us late. We go to work. We run errands. And often, we have to attend a ton of appointments due to our injuries or anything else that comes with why it’s hard for us to commute in the first place.

There are lovely people who have held doors open for me while I hobble around on my boot and my crutches. People have helped me carry my bags and who even hold the train for me to be able to get on in time. I am more likely to get a seat now (though not always). But nice people who sometimes help me don’t make up for how inaccessible transportation is for me. I’ve almost fallen while trying to go up and down stairs in stations with no elevators. I’ve put pressure on my ankle by trying to hurry to catch a train after taking so much time to safely go up or down a set of stairs.

It’s not financially possible for me to take cabs everywhere. City and State politicians need to prioritize transportation for all commuters. What is supposed to be my reality for another month or so has been many others’ realities for a lot, if not most of their lives. That can’t keep happening. This city needs better transportation, not just in a year or whenever else it’s promised, but now.  
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