Upper East Side Residents are Relocating a Handicap Accessible Bridge. This is my Response.

Posted on February 3, 2015

An Open Letter to Upper East Side;

I just read about you in the New York Post. The article was titled ‘Upper East Siders: Handicap bridge will ruin our river view’. From the Post:

“Community Board 8 unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution that would move the location of a wheelchair-accessible pedestrian bridge above the FDR Drive from East 81st to East 82nd Street.

The decision — meant to protect the panoramic riverside vista — would force disabled people to cross in front of a dangerous parking garage in order to get to the new overpass.”

What you’re currently battling is something that people with disabilities struggle with on a daily basis. That struggle? Bad design.

Design at its core is problem solving. But design in reality is evolution. Look at the clothes you’re wearing, look at the furniture in your home, look at everything around you.

Design evolution occurs everywhere with one glaring exception. Products made for people with disabilities do not evolve. They do not have the opportunity to become beautiful or inspiring. They do not have the opportunity to become the art that surrounds us.

You described the bridge as a cage. And from the photo in the New York Post, a cage is an appropriate description.

Let me tell you about the wheelchair that will be crossing this bridge. It is probably an Everest and Jennings chair. Everest broke his back in a mining accident in the 1950s and needed a sturdy and portable wheelchair to get around. So his friend Jennings helped him make one by repurposing tubular steel.

At this same time, a man named Marcel Breuer used that same tubular steel to make one of his most famous chairs, the Wassily chair.

Wassily Wheelchair

And this is the difference between design and disability design. Chairs will never stop evolving in design. They evolved before Breuer, and they will continue to evolve. His designs will be used as inspiration for decades to come. These chairs are covetable and respected. The Everest and Jennings chair on the other hand? It never changed. It’s stigmatizing. Just like that bridge you’re moving.

The New York Post article is proof that the inability to design beautifully for those of us with disabilities doesn’t just fail ‘us’. It fails everyone.

What if, instead of moving the bridge outright, you helped make it beautiful? How beautiful must this bridge be in order to increase property values? Who would need to touch it to make it a worthy art piece? Can we rethink this?

Thank you for your consideration.

Liz Jackson

The Girl with the Purple Cane


What Others Are Saying

  1. Sharon Mitri February 4, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Well said and unfortunately, true.

  2. Alison Emerick February 4, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Very well stated. It is shocking how little wheelchairs have changed since their first known use.

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