Edith Prentiss, Fierce Voice for New York’s Disabled, Dies at 69

Edith Prentiss, a fierce and fiery advocate for the disabled who fought to make the town she cherished extra navigable for everybody, died on March 16 at her residence within the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. She was 69.

The trigger was cardiopulmonary arrest, her brother Andrew Prentiss stated.

In 2004, the town’s taxi fleet had solely three wheelchair-accessible cabs — minivans with ramps — and folks like Ms. Prentiss had a lower than one in 4,000 likelihood of hailing one. “They’re like unicorns,” she informed The New York Instances that yr. “It’s important to be pure to catch one.”

The variety of accessible automobiles would finally inch as much as 231, nevertheless it took almost a decade and a class-action lawsuit — of which Ms. Prentiss was a plaintiff — earlier than the town’s Taxi and Limousine Fee agreed to make the fleet 50 p.c accessible by 2020. (That deadline was pushed again amid the pandemic and different points; the fleet is now at 30 p.c.)

Ms. Prentiss additionally fought for accessibility on subways and in police stations, eating places and public parks. And he or she fought for points that didn’t have an effect on her immediately, like people who may impede folks with psychological, visible, auditory or different disabilities.

When the town held a listening to in 2018 on banning plastic straws, a trigger that could be a darling of environmentalists however not these within the incapacity neighborhood, she made certain to collect a gaggle and current an opinion. There are those that can’t maintain a cup, the group needed to level out, and straws are important instruments to their visiting a restaurant.

On the assembly, group after group testified in favor of the ban. However Ms. Prentiss and her colleagues weren’t known as on.

“It’s arduous to overlook us — the general public are in wheelchairs,” stated Joseph G. Rappaport, govt director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and the communications and strategy director of the Taxis for All Campaign, of which Ms. Prentiss was the chair, “but it went on and on and finally Edith had had it. She said, ‘Hey, we’re here to speak. We have an opinion about this bill.’” The group was allowed to speak.

“She worked the inside, she worked the angles, and if she had to yell, that’s what she did,” Mr. Rappaport added. “And she did it well.”

She was bristly and relentless and always prepared. Woe to the city officials who had not kept their promise, or done their homework. She knew to an inch the proper length of a ramp, and how high a curb should be cut. She drove her motorized wheelchair as she spoke, with enormous confidence, and sometimes a bit of intentional recklessness; she was not above riding over the toes of those in her way.

“Don’t worry,” she recalled Ms. Prentiss saying. “I’m on my way.” (It did take a while, with the usual impediments, like broken subway elevators.)

Once there, Ms. Prentiss led Ms. Scheer out of her building and through the snarls of traffic on 14th Street, blocking the vehicles that menaced them, as she coached Ms. Scheer through her first bus launch, which was rocky. As she ping-ponged down the aisle, she ran over the driver’s toes. “Not your problem,” Ms. Prentiss called out behind her.

Ms. Prentiss then directed the less-than-enthusiastic driver to secure Ms. Scheer’s chair (drivers are not always diligent about this step). And as the passengers groaned and rolled their eyes, Ms. Scheer said, Ms. Prentiss stared them down and announced: “We are learning here, folks. Let’s be patient.”

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