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Woman In Wheelchair Says MTA Driver Strapped Her Into Bus Against Her Will

Jessy Yates
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Jessy Yates left

A disabled woman who uses a wheelchair says she was forcibly strapped into a bus against her will this week. Commuter Jessy Yates published a Twitter thread on Thursday detailing her ordeal aboard a Bushwick-bound B54 bus, in which the driver strapped her chair in while telling her, "you know your [sic] a liability for us."

You can read the full thread below, which we've edited for clarity and punctuation:

I listed quickly the reasons as to why I was refusing them. I told him once they broke my chair due to improper placement. He said, "Well that's just bad welding on the chair," which is unlikely, because at the time my $6000 titanium chair was only three months old.

I then said that one time, they flipped me backwards due to improper application. One time they caused abrasions on my skin and without fail, chip off the paint on my chair. These were just the quick reasons I was able to rattle off in the moment, but I have countless others.

I told him if he needed to call and report that I was refusing, then fine, but that I DID NOT want them on. He ignored me, strapped me in and said, "you know you're a liability for us."

When I arrived at my stop, I go to take off the straps only to find one of them is rusted shut on my chair. (They were the outdated seat-belt like closure-not hooks.) After about 25 minutes of the driver and I trying to pry it out he receives approval to cut me out.

He brandishes a knife behind me and saws the fabric. By this point I am in tears, a half an hour late for work, and angry. The driver rolled his eyes and made snide comments about my being emotional and continued to tell me I am a liability.

While his behavior was frustrating and inappropriate, that is not why I am writing this. I am writing this because it seems your policies are not created that recognize disabled patrons to have agency and authority over their own bodies.

The day prior to this incident, an abled-bodied friend and I decided that instead of taking a 45 minute bus to get to an accessible station, I could take the train that was a block away if she carried my chair down for me—something I do often when met with inaccessibility.

We were stopped by a gate agent (after climbing the steps) that attempted to dissuade us from entering the train stating that generally she needed to call the cops or FDNY to be my escort as I was a liability.

Obviously I took the train (and it shaved an hour off my usual commute because I wasn't needing to take a bus), but it made very clear what the MTA thinks of disabled passengers. We are nothing but liability.

Instead of you caring about the disabled user experience, you care about the lawsuit we could be. Maybe you should handle the current disability-based lawsuit first. Maybe you are right to worry as you have been in-compliant with the ADA for a decade.

But I digress. When a rider tells you they do not consent to something regarding their safety, listen. Now let's talk about this dang straps and the multitude of reasons they're unacceptable to me:

If something happens to the bus and we need to evacuate, being unable to leave could be deadly. If I needed to, I could jump my chair down the curb of the front door, but if I'm strapped and stuck, I could perish inside the bus.

It's actually far more unsafe strapping the chair in because if the bus stops short and my chair is stuck and rigid, my body is much more likely to slide forward and out of the chair, because there's little to no give that I can create in the movement.

Often the straps have tightened so severely that they have pulled my front wheels off the ground and force me backwards with my knees starting to go over my head. I don't need anti-tips on my chair but have put them on because the bus straps make it unsafe.

Andy Byford, president of the MTA, responded to the thread via the NYCT Bus Twitter account: "Jessy, I was appalled to read of your experience. Please know that we are working to ensure that all of our buses are properly equipped and that our drivers receive the training they need to offer the service that you deserve," he tweeted. "It appears that we totally let you down so please accept our unreserved apologies." Their conversation continued in public:

Yates has been documenting her frustrations with using mass transit with a series of videos to "document the rage of the moment," making five of them over the last week alone. On Facebook, she added about this incident:

i don’t want the driver to get in trouble in any sort of way. the problem is at the root of the MTA and the workers are as fucked and angry as we are. as angry and belittled as he made me feel, the MTA’s inaccessibility makes me feel smaller. it’s their policies that he is working within. (although, trust me, i’m not happy with those traces of misogyny i detected in the way that he spoke to me. i’ve got bigger problems.)

According to the MTA guidelines, "passengers aboard buses equipped with wheelchair lift devices shall not conduct themselves in a manner which will impede the operation of such lifts, impede the securing of wheelchairs in the tie-down devices located on such buses or impede the exit of passengers using wheelchairs."

Two weeks ago, disability rights activists protested the lack of public transit accessibility at a discussion about the subway with MTA Chairman Joe Lhota at the Museum Of The City Of NY.

We've reached out to Yates and the MTA for further comment and will update when we hear back.

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