New MTA chief looks to make transportation more accessible for riders with disabilities

BROOKLYN, New York (WABC) -- For Hispanic Heritage Month, we shine a spotlight on a Dominican immigrant looking to make transportation more accessible for New York City subway riders with disabilities.

"I really do have an issue with the fact that elevators are the start and end of the conversation. There's so much more than elevator access. I know the impact of elevator access," MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo said.

The MTA has its first Chief Accessibility Officer. And when he says he knows the impact of access, or lack thereof ... he means it.

"Persons with mobility disabilities are just a fraction of that conversation," he said.

So, Arroyo is on a mission to completely reframe that conversation, and it starts at the Jay Street Metro Tech Subway Station in Brooklyn. It's the transit test lab.

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There will be maps for riders with low vision, QR codes, tactile maps and tactile guideways for the visually impaired.

The challenge for Arroyo though is changing how the community thinks.

"The belief right now is that everything is a zero sum. That a benefit to the visually impaired community comes at the expense of the mobility impaired community. And the reality is that's not the case," Arroyo said. "This is for visually impaired pedestrians. The mobility community would say oh this is going to impede my travel, I'll trip over them, and I want them to do that. I want people in wheelchairs to roll over this every day and not even feel the impact. And the icon is for people with disabilities but it's also for parents with strollers."
He goes on to say "Seniors are always struggling with so much and they don't want to be labeled disabled. However, I know that they are also my responsibility."

That sense of responsibly runs deep for Arroyo.

He's a Dominican immigrant and a New Yorker whose life changed when he suffered a spinal cord injury when he was 18 while downhill mountain biking.

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"My whole perspective flipped. I was in a hospital for 10 months in rehab and I became an advocate for 5, 6, 7-year-olds," he said. "I'm Dominican. That fire that we have, that brings the flavors out, that brings that music out, I was able to translate to advocate for people who were silenced because they were young, they had disabilities, and they had yet to see the power that they held themselves."

He says that their limitations today do not have to determine their tomorrow.

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