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A Mother’s Fatal Fall on Subway Stairs - NY Demands Accessibility

ADA Sign Depot

January 30, 2019

ADA Sign Depot note: Anyone who insists that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only helps persons with disabilities, needs to read this article. And think. The ADA improves safety, access, and the quality of life for everyone.

By Michael Gold and Emma G. Fitzsimmons, NY Times
Jan. 29, 2019

person-with-stroller-on-subway-stairsMalaysia Goodson entered a Manhattan subway station on Monday night pushing a stroller.

Her 1-year-old daughter, Rhylee, was nestled inside. Ms. Goodson, 22, of Stamford, Conn., had brought her along on a shopping trip to the city.

Like so many New York City parents, Ms. Goodson faced a familiar but perilous challenge: hauling her stroller and daughter down the steps of a station that, like most stops in the city’s creaking subway system, had no elevator.

As Ms. Goodson made her descent, she fell, tumbling down a flight of stairs and onto the subway platform at the Seventh Avenue station, at 53rd Street, officials said.

Her daughter survived the fall. Ms. Goodson did not.

Her death reverberated throughout New York City, among stunned parents who often traverse crowded subway stairs with strollers and among people who are disabled and regularly encounter an inaccessible transit system.

“Everybody who has been a parent or a caregiver knows that this is a problem,” said Christine Serdjenian Yearwood, the founder of Up-Stand, an organization that has pushed to make transit more accessible for parents.

“I’ve had a lot of people write and say, ‘This could have been me,’” she said.

Ms. Goodson was a doting parent and an outgoing person, her mother, Tamika Goodson, said. One of four children, she was raised in New York but moved to Stamford with her family nine years ago.

Mark Marchesani, who was her guidance counselor at Westhill High School in Stamford, remembered Ms. Goodson as a teenager who “had a tough shell” but was “a sweetheart.”

“She was the kind of kid that when you made her smile,” he said, “it felt like a real win.”

After graduating in 2015, her mother said, Ms. Goodson had big dreams. She worked for about a year at a day care center in Stamford, and loved it. But she had also talked about becoming a security guard or a flight attendant.

Ms. Goodson’s daughter was the light of her life, her cousin, Ronshuana Anthony, said.

“Malaysia just gave so much of her self,” Ms. Anthony said, adding, “She’d give her last breath to her if she could.”

When emergency responders arrived at the subway station on Monday night, Ms. Goodson was unconscious and unresponsive, police said.

She was taken to the Mount Sinai West hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Ms. Goodson’s daughter was found conscious and treated at the scene. She was reunited with her father and grandmother in the city and was doing well, Tamika Goodson said.

It was not clear whether Ms. Goodson suffered a medical condition or if she was killed from the impact of the fall. The city’s medical examiner will determine her cause of death, officials said.

Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, called the death “a heartbreaking tragedy” and said the agency would work with the police to investigate.

While officials are continuing to probe the circumstances around Ms. Goodson’s fall, her death has shined a light on the lack of elevator service and accessibility issues that have long plagued the city’s subway system.

The station where Ms. Goodson fell does not have an elevator. Only about a quarter of the subway system’s 472 stations have elevators, and the ones that exist are often out of order.

One survey of subway elevator breakdowns found that, on average, each elevator breaks down 53 times a year.

When the elevators are functioning properly, they are often small, odoriferous and inconveniently positioned at the far ends of stations. That can make them frustrating for disabled subway riders who depend on them and an unappealing option for straphangers who do not.

“The subway system is not accessible for everyone, and that’s an environment the M.T.A. should not allow,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter. He was one of several politicians, including the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, to call for a more accessible subway system.

A lawsuit filed in 2017 against the transit authority, which operates the subway, described New York’s subway system as one of the least accessible in the country and accused the agency of violating the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

The case, which was joined by the Justice Department in 2018, is still active, according to Disability Rights Advocates, which is representing the plaintiffs.

The authority has been slow to add elevators to its sprawling system, which first opened more than a century ago. Washington’s subway, which was built in the 1970s and is much smaller than New York’s, has far more elevators.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, which called Ms. Goodson’s death a tragedy, responded to questions about the system’s lack of elevators with a statement saying that the transit agency “must make accessibility a priority.”.

Andy Byford, the subway’s leader, embraced the cause when he announced a major plan to modernize the subway last year. The plan, Fast Forward, calls for increasing the rate of elevator installations, to more than 50 stations in the next five-year capital plan from 19 in the current capital plan.

The plan would also add enough elevators to the subway system by 2025 so that no rider would be more than two stops from an accessible station, Mr. Tarek said. But Mr. Byford’s proposal could cost $40 billion over 10 years and has not been funded.

Currently, there are gaps as big as 10 stops between accessible stations in some places. Besides accessible stations, New Yorkers who rely on wheelchairs can use buses or Access-A-Ride, the city’s notoriously unreliable paratransit service.

Mr. Byford has made accessibility one of his major priorities since joining the transit agency one year ago. He hired Alex Elegudin as the subway’s first “senior adviser for systemwide accessibility.”

Mr. Elegudin uses a wheelchair as a result of a spinal cord injury stemming from a deer-related car accident in 2003.

Danny Pearlstein, of the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group, said the lack of an elevator at the Seventh Avenue station, a transfer point between three subway lines that cross four boroughs, was “indicative of how much the system falls short today, and how much we need to improve the situation.”

“At some point in each New Yorker’s life, they will need an elevator to travel the subway,” said Mr. Pearlstein, the alliance’s policy and communications director.

New Yorkers with young children said the scenario was all too familiar. On a popular Facebook group for mothers, UES Mommas, one woman posted about Ms. Goodson’s death, quickly drawing dozens of comments.

“How many of us do this on a daily basis?” the woman wrote, of lugging her stroller on subway stairs. “I know my family does.”

Christine Ann Denny, a mother of two and a psychiatry professor at Columbia University, said the stress of carrying her daughter on the subway was one reason she moved to New Jersey.

“Carrying a stroller, my briefcase for work, my daughter and her backpack with bottles for day care — it was a nightmare,” she said.

Ms. Denny said she was not even surprised by the news.

“Going down the stairs, I didn’t feel safe,” she said. “People are trying to push by you to get ahead of you. Once in a while, you’d meet a great human being who would help you get down the stairs.”

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