MTA Honors Incapacity Rights Fighter Edith Prentiss With a Plaque

Edith Prentiss, a disability rights attorney who died earlier this year, was known for clashing with the MTA over lack of accessibility. The agency honored her with a plaque on Thursday.

At 175th Street station in Upper Manhattan, MTA officials and board members, local political leaders, and several disability rights groups gathered in front of the elevator in Prentiss’ former home station to unveil the new plaque bearing the name of contentious and righteous advocates.

“When you open a new elevator or close a gap in a platform or see accessible art in our system, you know Edith Prentiss made it possible,” said Quemuel Arroyo, MTA’s chief accessibility officer.


Prentiss’ relatives look at the board at the train station

Marc A. Hermann / MTA

Prentiss was known for calling the MTA about the lack of working elevators and inaccessible stations during board meetings and community forums, and through multiple lawsuits that her group, Disabled in Action, joined. She also helped found the Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility, a volunteer group that worked with the MTA on accessibility issues.

Four active complaints are currently being filed against the MTA for lack of accessibility. These include allegations that the agency is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York Human Rights Act. The complaints stem mainly from the time the agency was doing major renovations but not adding elevators, as well as allegations that existing elevators were not being serviced.

Edith Prentiss in the wheelchair points to the stairs, which she cannot use


Edith Prentiss at South Ferry in 2013

Max Rivlin-Nadler / Gothamist

“The badge is nice [but] Edith herself would no doubt argue that lawsuits would be much better, ”said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “It’s a bit bizarre for the MTA to honor Edith, who up until her last day really fought for more accessibility in the subway system.”

The MTA said it had no comment on any pending litigation.

“Edith was brilliant, taking no prisoners and neglecting the finer points, but her heart was so generous. It pushed for accessibility by public transport and in police stations, restaurants and public parks and changed the city, “said Gale Brewer, president of Manhattan borough.

The agency plans to install 70 elevators across the system, but that depends in part on funds from congestion prices, which are still in the planning stages. Part of the work can be covered by federal funds.

The MTA said it also plans to modernize 78 elevators in the subway system.

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