Edith Prentiss, a 68-year-old resident of New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, has relied on a wheelchair for 28 years because of a badly injured right leg. She struggles to navigate many of the city’s sidewalks, some of which are too narrow for her 23-inch motorized device or lack the corner slopes she needs to cross the road safely.

But when bars and restaurants moved outside in response to Covid-19 lockdowns, a bad situation got worse. Broadway, her local thoroughfare, is jammed, she says, by a “constant stream” of servers, bussers, and guests at Locksmith, a neighborhood bar at the corner of 192nd Street.

“When people in wheelchairs and pedestrians are trying to cross, it’s problematic,” she said. “I think sidewalks should be for transportation. Unfortunately, the mayor has deemed that they are all auxiliary restaurants.”

But the pandemic has redefined physical distance, challenging everyone. While able-bodied people have seen their personal space grow to six feet in every direction, people with disabilities—nearly 1 million in New York City—say their footprint has shrunk.
“Everyone is making a sacrifice—motorists, pedestrians and diners,” said Christopher Schuyler, a disability attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. But, he adds, “the more restaurants have outdoor dining, the greater the chances are of creating accessibility issues for people with disabilities.”

It’s not like New York City restaurants made life easy pre-pandemic. Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, said she already had “a lot of issues” with restaurant door entrances, inadequate space between tables, and a lack of ADA-compliant bathrooms, which meant that disabled guests might refrain from drinking

Read the full article about people with disabilities by Sam Bloch at The Counter.