Trapped on the Train: The Endless Wait for NYC’s Transit System to Be Made Accessible

Collage of inaccessible moments within the MTA system

I arrived at Penn Station in NYC at 5:05pm. I had somewhere I needed to be at 5:45, in theory just a 10 minute subway ride away. As a wheelchair user, I knew that leaving only 40 minutes to get to my destination using a notoriously inaccessible public transit system was a risky move, but I was working with the time I had.

Silly me, hoping that a system designed to exclude disabled people would actually come through.

The Long Island Railroad train I was on pulled in on track 20, where the elevator to the platform hasn’t been in working order for months. There’s a lift available for anyone who can’t climb stairs, but you need a key to use it, and it has to be operated by an MTA employee. Of course, an employee was nowhere to be found when my train arrived. The clock was ticking. I scrambled around the platform searching for help, pushing the attendant call button, finally seeking assistance from a janitor who agreed to find someone. Several minutes later, I was finally on the lift—an agonizingly slow ride with a blaring chime. This little setback was the worst of it, I hoped.

Photo of Emily on stair lift
Image description: Photo of me, a white woman sitting in a power wheelchair, wearing a winter coat and jeans, with a mask on my face and a frustrated look in my eyes. I’m on a chair lift that’s halfway up a steep staircase. It’s being operated by an MTA employee, while another one stands watch. At the bottom of the staircase is a person in a scooter waiting their turn for the lift.

I rushed to the subway and caught the C train to 59th Street-Columbus Circle. I was still making good time. When the doors opened at my stop, I was facing the biggest gap between the train and the platform I’ve ever encountered on the subway. I knew there was no way I’d get over the gap safely on my own. My front wheels would get stuck and I’d go flying. 

I frantically called out for help, hoping I could figure it out and get off the train. Two conductors came out and told me they couldn’t help. By that point, I was holding up the train. Everyone was staring at me. I was trapped, told I had no choice but to ride the subway to the next accessible stop, change platforms, and double back.

Photo of subway gap
Image description: Photo taken from my vantage point in my wheelchair, looking down at a very large gap between the train and the platform.

So, where was the next accessible stop on the line? 125th Street. There were 9 stops and 66 blocks between accessible stations. 

I internalized quite early in life that the burden is supposed to be on me to stay calm and deal with whatever access barriers come my way. But this time, as the train doors closed at 59th, something in me snapped. I began crying uncontrollably. 

In the grand scheme of things, this was hardly the worst access issue I’ve encountered (and it’s far from the worst thing happening to disabled people right now more broadly, especially as COVID continues). And it was the umpteenth broken elevator scenario I’ve found myself in. Ultimately, it turned out to be an infuriating, demoralizing hour and a half of my life that ended okay. I made it to my destination, albeit 45 minutes late.

It wasn’t these particular 90 minutes that I wept for, though. A heavy sense of defeat washed over me as I wondered how much time I’ve lost to inaccessibility. To the endless calls I’ve made asking if I can enter a business or use their restroom. To the attempted moments of joyful spontaneity, only to be turned away by stairs. To the roundabout journeys to back alley dumpsters that leave me feeling like human garbage, because that’s the only accessible way to enter a building. To the seemingly endless waiting for access to the world around me, as though it’s a privilege and not a basic right for all.

I cried because I felt like a fraud. Just that morning, I’d given a presentation that included discussion of systemic ableism—barriers and discrimination built into the world around us. I’d been so sure of myself as I went through my talking points, highlighting the effects of ableism and inaccessibility, explaining how and why society must change. But as I sat helplessly on the train, everything I’d said rang hollow in my head. My gut instinct was to keep apologizing to my boyfriend, who was waiting for my arrival. No matter how many times he patiently reassured me this was out of my hands and that I was in no way to blame, my guilt was unshakable. I couldn’t reconcile how I’d gone from empowered activist to apologizing as if inaccessibility is my fault in the span of a few hours.

In my presentations, I generally use public transportation as an example of systemic ableism. Healthcare, education, employment, government…you name a system, and I’ll show you ableism at its core. But inaccessible transportation systems are particularly problematic, because so much of our existence and participation in other systems relies on our ability to get from point A to point B.

Disability advocates have been screaming into megaphones about transportation access issues for decades, and despite their best efforts, progress has been excruciatingly slow. Last year, I provided a declaration for class certification in a case against MTA. Earlier this year, the New York Supreme Court certified “a class of all people with disabilities for whom the use of stairs is difficult or impossible and who are therefore unable to access over 75% of the New York City subway.” I’m still hopeful change is coming, but remain haunted by nightmares of the time in 2018 when the fire department came to carry me up the stairs at the 14th Street-Union Square station because the elevator was out of service. 

Emily surrounded by FDNY
Image description: Photo of me sitting in my power wheelchair in a subway station, surrounded by firefighters and EMTs figuring out how to safely lift me and my chair up a steep flight of stairs.

Rather than actually making a sustained effort to fix things, it seems like MTA bleeds money and accomplishes little. They pour funds into fighting lawsuits brought against them for inaccessibility and make redesign plans that will supposedly inch them closer to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (which passed over 30 years ago). It’s inexcusable. But it’s reality.

I’ve had a lifetime of practice navigating inaccessible systems and advocating to change them. Yet I continue to wait for access. Disabled people around the world continue to wait for access.

How much more time must we lose to waiting?

2021 Disability Holiday Gift Guide

The Original Disability Holiday Gift Guide 2021

Image above: Festive illustration of scenic pine trees against snow, with a fox in a red scarf holding a snowflake cookie. In a snowglobe-esque circle, text reads “The Original! Disability Holiday Gift Guide 2021.”


I won’t make you spend your time reading my laments about 2021 because right now, we’re all allowed to have moments of joy. And you know what always makes me happy? Putting together the annual Disability Holiday Gift Guide along with my friend Kate Caldwell of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities (CEED) project. This year, you’ll find lots of cool shops owned by disabled entrepreneurs, some book recommendations by disabled authors, and organizations to support. I hope this brings you a little holiday warmth and happiness, too.

So, without further ado, here it is…The Original Disability Holiday Gift Guide 2021!

Brought to you by Words I Wheel By and The CEED Project. Copyright (c) 2021

Follow and share on social media with the hashtag: #DHGG21

Click here for the full festive infographic. Unfortunately, it’s not screenreader accessible, but I’ve got you covered with image descriptions below.

Image description for infographic: Festive illustration of scenic pine trees against snow, with a fox in a red scarf holding a snowflake cookie. In a snowglobe-esque circle, text reads “The Original! Disability Holiday Gift Guide 2021.” Below, on a row of pine trees, are links to previous gift guides. (Note, links to guides are external and not screenreader accessible, but include plain text versions to download.)

Past Disability Holiday Gift Guides

Image description for infographic: Text on an illustration of a wood log reads “Brought to you by Words I Wheel By and The CEED Project.” Below begins the list of disabled-owned businesses, each featuring a picture of an item from their shop surrounded by illustrated frames with winter foliage and whimsical animals dressed in red winter hats and scarves, including a raccoon, a fox, a bird, a reindeer, a chipmunk, and a rabbit. The list of shops is spread out over three slides.

2021 Guide

By Pauline
Whimsical, punny prints.
Use code CEED15 for 15% off until 1/2/2022
Image: Graphic of an orange and white mermaid in a wheelchair made of seashells. 

Johnnie Jae Official Store
Vibrant, authentic Native-designed gear
Image: Shirt design with red and blue rectangles that says “don’t be ashamed of your scars.”

Crip Riot
By Ashley Cowan D’Ambrosio, Joyce Lin, Christine Lew, and Lindsey Muszkiewicz
Unapologetic gear bringing expressions of disability pride to the world.
Use code HOLIDAY2021 for $5 off until 12/31/2021
Image: Neon bumper stickers that say “F*** stairs.”

By Corinne & Brendan
Lifestyle brand celebrating disability and diversity
Use code THANKYOUCEED for 20% off until 12/31/2021
Image: Shirt design that says “If you can be anything, be inclusive.” The word “inclusive” is in rainbow colors.

By Mara
By Mara Ladines
American Sign Language “I Love You” logo on collections of apparel, accessories, and more. 
Use code CEED2021 for 15% off until 12/23/2021
Image: Pink and purple tie-dye shirt with ASL “I Love You” logo.

Hell on Wheels Design
By Sabine Grohowski
Accessories and mobility aids for rad disabled babes.
Image: Wheelchair handlebar with pink metal spikes.

Headtracker Art
By Ruth Harrigan
Colorful abstract art created with headtracker technology.
Image: Abstract painting reminiscent of autumn leaves in yellow, green, and red hues.

By Joanna
Bright disability-themed enamel pins.
Image: A red heart-shaped pin with white banners and gold text that reads “Don’t be ableist.”

By Abi
Fun disability-themed enamel pins, stickers, and more. 
Use code BIBIPINSWELCOME for 10% off.
Image: A purple star-shaped pin outlined in gold that says “Suck it ableism” with a little cup of boba tea with a straw.

Queer Ivy Art
By Danny
Queer apparel, stickers, pins, and prints.
Image: A sticker with an illustration of two manatees kissing and little rainbow heart above them.

Chronic Market
By April Thompson
One-of-a-kind items and unique services offered by artists, artisans and entrepreneurs around the world who have ME/CFS.
Image: A screenshot of selection of items from the market, including art, jewelry, and clothing.

Made With Care
By Elea C.
Letterpress and watercolor cards and hand lettered prints.
Image: A black card with silver and gold lightning bolts that says “Happy mobility upgrade.”

Callisto Creations
By Shona Louise
Adorable crocheted animals, keyrings and pin badges.
Image: Tiny multicolored crocheted bee keychains.

By Amelia Klunk
Unique handmade jewelry.
Image: A matching pearl earring and necklace set.

Herboreal Arts
By Cryptogamaelacrime
Pins, stickers, and patches reflecting a deep affection for nature and witchcraft. 
Use code DIB21 for 15% off until 12/22/2021
Image: ornate black and gold enamel pin with an illustration of a wolf.

Judy Heumann
Shirts celebrating disability activism. All proceeds benefit the American Association of People with Disabilities and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
Image: A yellow shirt with a navy blue and orange drawing of Judy Heumann and the quote “I wanna see feisty disabled people change the world. Judy Heumann” in navy blue text.

Author’s Corner

Author's Corner

Image above: A light blue background with text that reads “Author’s Corner.” Next to the text are two red bows with beige and green berries hanging from them.

Image description for infographic: A light blue background with snowflakes. Text at top says ” Author’s Corner.” Next to the text are two red bows with beige and green berries hanging from them. Below is a list of books with images of the covers next to the text of each title.

The list of shops is spread out over two slides. At the bottom of the first slide is an illustration of a snowbank with three green and red wrapped presents and a little owl wearing glasses that’s seated on top of a pile of books labeled “novels, detective, romance, fantasy.” At the bottom of the second slide is an illustration of a snowbank with two green and red wrapped presents and a little brown fox sitting on the snow reading a book decorated with tiny white stars.

Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally
By Emily Ladau

Entrepreneur Workbook
By The CEED Project

Disability Visibility anthology for young people
Edited by Alice Wong

Golem Girl: A Memoir
By Riva Lehrer

Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist
By Judy Heumann with Kristen Joiner

The Pretty One
By Keah Brown

Sitting Pretty
By Rebekah Taussig

What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World
By Sara Hendren

A Face for Picasso
By Ariel Henley

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space
By Amanda Leduc


Give Back

Image above: A dark teal background. Text reads: “#GiveBack. Looking to support a disability-run non-profit this holiday season? Below is a garland with small green and white pine trees.

Image description for infographic: A dark teal background. Text reads: “#GiveBack. Looking to support a disability-run non-profit this holiday season?” Below is a garland with small green and white pine trees. Below is a list of books with images of the logos of each organization.

At the bottom, an illustration of snowflakes falling onto a snowbank with pine trees in the background. Playing in the snow are a little yellow bird in a red hat and green scarf, and a jumping fox in a red hat and scarf. In the left corner is the CEED logo, and in the right is the Words I Wheel By logo.

Autistic People of Color Fund
Provides direct support, mutual aid, and reparations by and for autistic people of color

Disability Rights Fund
Provides resources to organizations of persons with disabilities to advocate for equal rights and full participation in society

Disability Empowher Network
Empowers girls and young women with disabilities through mentoring and transformational learning experiences

Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies
Mission of equal access for people with disabilities before, during, and after disasters and emergencies

Did you buy anything from the list? Are you a disabled entrepreneur? Leave a comment and let us know!

The Fine Print

This post isn’t sponsored. Words I Wheel By and CEED assume no responsibility for any issues with sellers or orders. Please don’t republish any part of this gift guide in print or online. If you would like to share the gift guide via any other publication, please write a little blurb and include the link directly back to this post. You don’t have to let me know if you do this, but I’d love if you did so I can personally express my appreciation. Thank you and happy, happy holidays!

2020 Disability Holiday Gift Guide

The Original Disability Holiday Gift Guide 2020. Text is surrounded by snow covered pine trees.

Wow…we’ve made it to the 2020 holiday season. Bittersweet though it may be, I’m finding joy in upholding the tradition of the annual Disability Holiday Gift Guide along with Kate Caldwell of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities (CEED) project. People have actually been reaching out to ask when the guide would go live this year, so that’s been especially exciting to know that so many of you look forward to it!

I know we’ve all felt the devastating effects of the year behind us, and because of this, it’s more important than ever to find ways to support one another. One of the ways I’m doing that is by shopping small businesses and celebrating the entrepreneurial spirits of disabled creators. This year’s guide has a fun array of disability-owned small businesses to get your holiday shopping adventures started. So, take a look around and find something that brings a bit of happiness to a loved one (or you!). Then, please spread the love by sharing the gift guide. And most importantly, here’s to a safe, healthy holiday season for all.

Jen White Johnson
Disability advocacy-focused designs celebrating Black lives.

Safe Place Art by Michelle Davis
Sustainably made hair accessories.

Dissent Clothing
Clothing and accessories that celebrate the disability experience.

Erry B. by Ericka Olujie
Clothing and accessories to spread awareness of Black Deaf culture.

a rainbow in your cloud by Amina Mucciolo
Vibrant prints, stickers, and apparel.

JazeluCreations by Jazalee Sircus
Handcrafted body products and jewelry.

Altered Angles by Ariel Henley
Watercolor art that celebrates the beauty of facial differences.

Popcorn for the People by Samuel Bier
Gourmet popcorn in a variety of delicious flavors.

Shock and Awesome Co by Rachael Rose
Feminist and sex-positive apparel, art, and embroidery.

Devovere by Nicole Rolph
A custom lingerie and accessories brand for people of all body types.

EcoLocal by Pauline
Reusable products for green homes.

Jeanne Fry Art
Handmade contemporary folk art pieces.

Ian Reynolds Art
Bright scenes of nature and life’s little moments.

One Vine Lane by Alixandria
Handmade polymer clay jewelry and other fun wares.

Click here to check out the graphic version of the 2020 gift guide. (Please note it is not fully accessible.)

Did you buy anything from the list? Are you a disabled entrepreneur? Leave a comment and let us know!

The Fine Print: This post isn’t sponsored. Words I Wheel By and CEED assume no responsibility for any issues with sellers or orders. Please don’t republish any part of this gift guide in print or online. If you would like to share the gift guide via any other publication, please write a little blurb and include the link directly back to this post. You don’t have to let me know if you do this, but I’d love if you did so I can personally express my appreciation. Thank you and happy holidays!

Tell Your Story: Pitching Tips from an Editor

A lined paper background with words in a typewriter font that read "Tell your story: pitching tips from an editor." There is a small illustration of a yellow pencil in the bottom left corner. In the bottom right corner it says

As an editor and a writer, I’ve experienced the pitching process from the inside, out and the outside, in. I know what it’s like to keep clicking refresh on my email, waiting, wishing, and hoping an editor will accept my pitch. I also know what it’s like to open my inbox and feel buried under a pile of pitches from writers eager to receive a response. While getting from pitched to published is by no means an exact science, I’ve picked up some good practices through my work on both sides of the equation. I’ll share these insights along with all the good vibes you need to get your next piece accepted to your goal outlet.

Shoot for the moon.

You know how the cliché goes: even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. This is something I learned the hard way. I pitched several outlets with the same piece, sold it to the first outlet that accepted it, and then heard back from a major newspaper and a major mainstream website the next day. Of course, I was still happy to have the piece published, but I realized that it’s okay to set the bar high when you’re pitching. If you know your writing is solid, go for your dream publications first, and then give them a bit to see if they respond to your pitch before following up or moving on. And when you do pitch multiple outlets, be sure to note that in your emails; it’s only fair for editors to know, and it can work in your favor by creating a sense of urgency for an editor to snap up your piece.

Be reactive.

Sometimes, there’s just no time to waste. If you have a unique take on breaking news and no one else is talking about it from your angle, PITCH NOW. Do not wait a week. Do not even wait a day. Everything is old news mere hours after it hits the internet, if not sooner, so get to it!

That said, even when you pitch quickly, be careful that it doesn’t come across as an obvious rush job. It might even be useful to have some basic ideas about a broader topic written down, so that when something newsworthy happens that’s connected to your expertise, you’re at the ready to shape a thoughtful pitch. And once you’re prepared to contact an editor, be sure to clearly indicate that your pitch is time sensitive. I find that using “TIMELY” as the first word of my subject line helps alert editors to the need to respond quickly.

Know the outlet.

I know you might be tempted to go on a pitching spree in the hopes that you’ll grab the attention of some editor, somewhere. This is a terrible idea for two reasons: you’re wasting editors’ time, and you’re wasting your own time. Pitch strategically and be confident that your writing will be a good fit for an outlet instead of sending off a bunch of emails. Editors want to see that you’re familiar with where you hope to be published. You can even add a sentence to your pitch email explaining why you believe a certain publication is the right home for what you have to say.

Know the pitching guidelines.

Not every outlet provides guidelines for pitching, but many provide exact instructions or specifications. For example, some outlets want you to paste your article draft in the body of the email, some want it in an attachment or Google Doc, and some don’t even want a full draft without an idea pitch first. So, take some time to do your research for guidelines, which can often be found on a publication’s website. And then, actually follow them.

Honestly, when I receive a pitch that clearly ignores guidelines, I’m more likely to overlook it. Pitching guidelines aren’t suggestions; they exist to help editors do their jobs more efficiently. Plus, they’re an indicator for editors as to how the process of working with a writer might be, so following them makes you look good.

Sell yourself.

In the vast majority of cases, pitching is personal. There’s usually a reason why you’re interested in or qualified to be writing on the topic of your pitch, so give yourself an edge by sharing a bit about that with editors. If you have direct experience with the topic you’re planning to write on, or expertise to share, make that known. That’s not to say you need to disclose deeply personal information (unless your pitch actually happens to be about something deeply personal), but it does help to position yourself as someone who knows what they’re talking about. Show the editor you’re the best writer for the piece, especially if it’s related to a particularly hot topic. But keep it short — a sentence or two, or a couple writing samples or social media links should do the trick.

A simple way to direct editors to examples of your work is collating your clips, bio, and contact information on a website, which you can then link to in your email signature. This way, you can easily point editors to your website for insight into the quality of your writing. Plus, maintaining an updated website bolsters your status as a professional writer.

Be professional.

It should go without saying that professionalism is important when pitching an editor, but it’s worth the reminder. I’ve received pitches that were one or two casual lines, pitches filled with mistakes, pitches that started with “hey!” For many editors, this signals a total lack of effort and is generally grounds for rejection. I personally recognize that things like grammar and sentence structure aren’t necessarily indicators of the quality of a person’s overall message, so I prioritize words over form. But this unfortunately isn’t the case for most outlets.

I also think it’s worth noting that when I develop a working relationship with a writer, I’m totally fine with a more informal tone in our communication. But this preference differs depending on the editor, so it’s best to gauge each situation on an individual basis.

Also, use an email address that indicates you take your work seriously, rather than emails like or Besides, it’s quick and free to make a professional account that’s simply (or Your.Name, YourNameWrites…), so there are no excuses!

Be patient.

Unfortunately, the waiting game is all part of the process. And the hard reality is that sometimes, you just won’t get a response. Don’t swear off pitching for life if this happens to you. Becoming a published writer can take time, and when you finally get that byline you’re working toward, all that perseverance will absolutely feel worth it.

The Best Chair Exercise Videos

A photo of pink, green, and blue plastic chairs, stacked. Next to the image is text that reads "The Best Chair Exercise Videos"

Years ago, as I was growing into a stronger sense of disability identity and gaining a deeper understanding of ableism, I read an article that scared me out of my mind. Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, sounded the alarm on sitting: “There’s a glob of information that sitting is killing us…You’re basically sitting yourself into a coffin.” I know the science is real about how sitting too much poses health risks, but I’m tired of being told my wheelchair is just a ticket to an early grave. Articles on potential health problems caused by sitting almost always focus on solutions suited to people without mobility limitations. Rarely do I see detailed fitness resources for people who sit on the regular (like me), so I’m going to share a round up of my favorite free chair exercise videos.

Keep in mind that just because the exercises are done a certain way in these videos, nothing is set in stone. Adapt as needed. Also, note that some of these require inexpensive exercise equipment like resistance bands or dumbbells. And these videos aren’t just for wheelchair users. Seated exercise can be ideal for people at any fitness level. Especially now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and going to the gym isn’t an option, I hope these videos help you start or shake up your exercise routine. 

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Don’t pressure yourself to exercise. Do what feels right for you and your body.

(Disclaimer: I’ll be honest…some of the disability-related language in these videos isn’t great, but I’m trying to include a wide range of options.)

1) If you want a good kick in the butt, Caroline Jordan is your girl. Her upbeat attitude makes me feel like I have a personal trainer in my living room. Click here for her full playlist of chair workouts.

2) Pahla Bowers is super down-to-earth and relatable, which makes her workouts enjoyable, even though they’re tiring. Click here for her full playlist of chair workouts.

3) SparkPeople’s videos are short and sweet, and Coach Nicole is really easy to follow.
Seated Cardio Workout: Burn Calories Exercising from a Chair
Seated Abs Workout: Chair Exercises for Your Core
Seated Upper Body Toning Workout: Chair Strength Training Exercises
Resistance Band Workout

4) KymNonStop is a barrel of energy and her running commentary keeps me entertained while I’m working out.
Intense Seated Workout
Seated Cardio Boxing Workout
Cardio & Core Seated Workout
Seated Circuit Workout
Challenging Seated Workout

5) HASfit offers videos that demonstrate workouts for varied abilities, including some that show seated and standing variations of the same exercises.
Chair Exercises Sitting Down Workout
Standing & Seated Exercise

6) Chair Workouts with Donovan Green are power-packed and totally energizing. Click here for his full playlist of chair workouts.

7) Jessica Smith’s chair exercise videos make you feel like you’re on a gym date with a friend.
Chair Workout I + II (seated cardio, strength, fat burning low impact exercise)
Chair Stretch (quick stretch, seated exercise)
Seated Exercises for Abs, Legs, Arms

8) Fuzion Fitness with Alexis is great for anyone looking for a slightly more relaxed workout. Plenty of good vibes in the background music.
Chair Workout #1
Chair Workout #2

9) Fair warning: Paul Eugene’s videos can come across as overly enthusiastic, but they’re secretly kind of fun.
Turbo Chair Workout
Sit and Get Fit

10) Lucy Wyndham-Read’s video style is helpful because she puts a description of each set of reps on the screen and also gives you previews of what moves are coming up next. Click here for her full playlist of chair workouts.

11) If you’re in the mood for a good 1980’s workout routine, Lisa Ericson has you covered.
Seated Aerobic Workout

12) Adapt to Perform’s YouTube channel is a goldmine of workout videos from Ben Clark, who is a wheelchair user. Click here to check out his channel.

Any good chair exercise videos that I missed in this list? Or do you have other ways that you like to adapt exercise routines? Share so we can keep moving!

The Americans with Disabilities Act just turned 28 and I have some thoughts about it.

Faded photo of American flag in the background. Text says: 28 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act: where are we now? Below text is a timeline. At the beginning of the timeline it says 7/26/90. At the end it says 7/26/18.

Every year, when the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rolls around, I find myself wondering how much further the Disability Rights movement has come in the years since the elder President Bush signed it into law.

These days, activists seem to be playing a game of whack-a-mole, trying to smack down each move the current administration makes to pull civil and human rights from the grasp of the disability community.

But as satisfying as it may be to direct so much righteous anger toward the people in power, I’ve had to admit to myself that the Trump regime is far from the main responsible party for the access barriers and discrimination disabled people encounter daily. Sure, it’s arguably worse overall as of late, and the government could and should be making efforts to fix issues instead of contributing to them. The reality, though, is that the disability community has been fighting the good fight for years, and no political party, corporation, or public system has fully risen to the occasion.

Yes, we’ve made so much progress. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that. And I’ve heard my generation called out time and again for taking that progress for granted, for not knowing how good we have it. I know I’ve got it pretty good. I’m full of endless admiration and gratitude toward the activists who got us to where we are today. But in so many ways, this world is exactly the same as it was 28 years ago when President Bush called for “the shameful walls of exclusion [to] finally come tumbling down.” Those walls are still up in full force, and try though we do, we cannot simply legislate them away.

Because that’s what the ADA was intended to do. It was intended to put an end to the stigma and the obstacles and the exclusion. It was a law meant to be on our side.

But where were the mighty protections of the ADA when a broken elevator trapped me underground on a subway platform in Union Square and there were no nearby wheelchair accessible stops? It wasn’t the ADA that lifted me and my wheelchair up the stairs; it was six NYC firefighters.

And where were the protections of the ADA when, for at least the 15th time, a hotel gave away the wheelchair accessible room I reserved? It wasn’t the ADA that fixed the problem; it was my advocacy and fury. The same advocacy and fury that, when unleashed en masse, led to the passage of the ADA 28 years ago. I thought the point of the ADA was to relieve this unending need to fight.

Where were the protections of the ADA when I couldn’t find an accessible parking spot for the zillionth time while out and about running errands?

And where have the protections of the ADA been every time I’ve had stares and comments and insults about my disability rip through me? Where has the spirit of the ADA been within society? The spirit of inclusion, equality, humanity? Truth be told, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, nearly three decades later.

So here we are, in a world that is technically post-ADA, but feels so very stagnant – and in many ways, so very regressive. For this, we can decisively point fingers at current legislators on both sides of the aisle who lent support to the grossly misnamed “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.” There’s no doubt people (namely business-owners and lawmakers) are working as tirelessly right now to dismantle disability rights as activists are to maintain and expand them. But the odds are doubly stacked against the disability community as we’re fighting to hang on to rights that haven’t been fully acknowledged in the first place.

You’re probably thinking I’ve just written the pessimistic activist’s manifesto. I get it. No one wants to hear a bitter disabled person’s laments – especially not on the one day of the year I should literally be celebrating 28 years of civil rights. But here’s the thing: activism is cyclical and often leaves us feeling defeated, and it’s 100% okay to recognize that truth. In fact, I’d say it’s actually healthy to be honest about what we’re up against. You know why? Because it stokes the fires of passion and fury that keep us going when the going gets tough. And the going will continue to be tough in the years to come, to be sure. But I can say with a full heart and sincere optimism that the disability community I’ve come to know and love is empowered and ready to continue walking and rolling through the flames.