I write this article from Hailey’s Harp & Pub bar in Metuchen, New Jersey. I’m having a beer after a frustrating day in which I faced countless barriers to accessibility and inclusion.
The Abilities Expo New York Metro is going on nearby, about 4 miles away at the New Jersey Convention & Exposition Center. I skipped Frequent Traveler University (an exciting weekend with travel enthusiasts and friends in Las Vegas) in order to attend. I booked a hotel room at the Courtyard Marriott Edison Woodbridge, and planned to use NJ Transit bus 813 to make the 3-mile journey to the expo center this morning.
As Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote (paraphrased), “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
I woke up, showered, dressed and rolled the half-mile to the nearest bus stop:
The stop isn’t accessible due to a high curb, so I waited on the street and in the sun. Bummer, but oh well. I hopped on the bus and requested the stop closest to the convention center (another half-mile roll). The driver notified me of a modified Saturday route, which would only get me within one mile of the convention center. I accepted, and we took off.
The stop was at the Middlesex County College, and the mile-long walk would take me through the beautiful Thomas A. Edison Park in Edison, New Jersey – or so I thought.
The pedestrian gate at the park entry (from the college campus) was unlocked, but an inaccessible curb blocked my wheelchair from accessing it. The vehicle gate was locked and chained. Typical, right? I then decided to enter the park through the main gate, adding another mile to my roll. Thank God I have a power wheelchair!
I made it into the park, and took a nice roll along the accessible bike/jogging paths through the woods (sadly, not over a river!). I was looking for an exit to a roadway at the rear of the park. This is what I found there:
Arghh. I know that I cursed at the sight of this gate – and another lock. Google Maps had failed me… twice. First, when it supplied incorrect or out-of-date public transit information, and again when it led me down a path to a locked gate.
To give a little context to this, here is a map of the area:
In a messy fashion, I have labeled my rolling paths. The red box on the right side is the convention center. Since all access points from the park were closed, I was now facing a 5-mile roll to the expo center. So I finally broke down and called a taxi. Except, there were no accessible cabs in the area. And the Newark Airport cabs were not allowed to pick me up outside of the area they are licensed. So, it was back to the bus stop.
The whole ordeal had cost me two hours and, unbeknownst to me, the bus I had taken to Middlesex College stopped running at 12:30 p.m. I was officially stuck, and had already wasted a lot of wheelchair battery power. My decision was then to roll 3 miles to the Metuchen Train Station (one block away from this bar) and head into Manhattan, where I’ll be staying for the next two nights. Easier said than done:
The sidewalks were overgrown with weeds and grass, and had not been taken care of by the city. My bottom regretted the roll on the sidewalk pictured above (and my wheelchair too!). I had to endure this for nearly a mile.
Of course, I’ll always take a bumpy sidewalk over one I cannot access at all. In the photo above, see a sidewalk without a curb cut. Normally, I’m fine with rolling a short distance on an active roadway. But this street goes under a dark highway overpass. I was terrified that I might disappear in the shadows and get hit by a vehicle. This is MAIN STREET in Edison, New Jersey – by the way.
Our governments must do more to make the public environment accessible. It should be a top priority. This is an example of a city in which I could never live. For those with disabilities who do, I urge you to stand up and take legal action against your city if necessary. Main Street should be wheelchair accessible! If third world countries can do it, so can we.
I should note that the Abilities Expo offered accessible transportation from Metuchen Station to the expo center, but it required an advance reservation and commitment to times. Given the uncertainties that come with disability, I try to avoid time commitments wherever possible, and decided to rely on public transit. That didn’t work out.
I’ll try again tomorrow, to reach the Abilities Expo. If I was supposed to meet you there today, I apologize for my absence.