MTA Honors Disability Rights Fighter Edith Prentiss With a Plaque

Edith Prentiss, a disability rights advocate who died earlier this year, was known for clashing with the MTA over its lack of accessibility. On Thursday, the agency honored her with a plaque.

At the 175th Street station in upper Manhattan, MTA officials and board members, local political leaders, and several disability rights groups gathered in front of the elevator at what was Prentiss’ home station, to unveil the new plaque, bearing the name of the cantankerous and righteous advocate.

“When you see a new elevator opening or a platform gap close, or accessible art in our system, know that Edith Prentiss made it happen,” said Quemuel Arroyo, the MTA’s Chief Accessibility Officer.

Family members look on at the plaque next to the elevator; it says, " Edith's unwavering commitment to transit accessibility inspired us all to build a better system, in Washington Heights and across New York State. The MTA honors her legacy through our on-going work toward systemwide accessibility."

Prentiss’ relatives look at the plaque at the station Marc A. Hermann / MTA

Prentiss was known for calling out the MTA for its lack of working elevators and inaccessible stations during board meetings and community forums, and through several lawsuits that her group Disabled in Action joined. She also helped launch the Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility, a volunteer group that worked with the MTA on accessibility issues.

There are currently four active lawsuits filed against the MTA for its lack of accessibility, They include allegations that the agency is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law. The lawsuits mostly stem from the times the agency did major renovations but didn’t add elevators, as well as allegations that it failed to do maintenance on existing elevators.

Edith Prentiss in a wheelchair points to the stairs, which she's unable to use

Edith Prentiss at South Ferry in 2013 Max Rivlin-Nadler / Gothamist

“The plaque is nice [but] Edith herself would undoubtedly argue, settling lawsuits would be a lot better,” said Joe Rappaport, Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “It’s a little bizarre for the MTA to honor Edith, who fought really, until her last day, for more accessibility in the subway system.”

The MTA said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

“Edith was brilliant, took no prisoners, and dispensed with the niceties, but her heart was so generous. She pushed for accessibility on public transportation, and in police stations, restaurants, and public parks, transforming the city,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The agency is planning to install 70 elevators across the system, but that relies in part on money from congestion pricing, which is still in the planning phase. Some of the work may be covered by federal funds.

The MTA said it also plans to upgrade 78 elevators across the subway system.