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Edith Prentiss, Fierce Voice for New York’s Disabled, Dies at 69

Edith Prentiss, Fierce Voice for New York’s Disabled, Dies at 69


Edith Prentiss, a fierce and fiery advocate for the disabled who fought to make town she beloved extra navigable for everybody, died on March 16 at her residence within the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. She was 69.

The trigger was cardiopulmonary arrest, her brother Andrew Prentiss mentioned.

In 2004, town’s taxi fleet had solely three wheelchair-accessible cabs — minivans with ramps — and other people like Ms. Prentiss had a lower than one in 4,000 probability of hailing one. “They’re like unicorns,” she informed The New York Occasions that 12 months. “You must be pure to catch one.”

The variety of accessible automobiles would ultimately inch as much as 231, but it surely took practically a decade and a class-action lawsuit — of which Ms. Prentiss was a plaintiff — earlier than town’s Taxi and Limousine Fee agreed to make the fleet 50 % accessible by 2020. (That deadline was pushed again amid the pandemic and different points; the fleet is now at 30 %.)

Ms. Prentiss additionally fought for accessibility on subways and in police stations, eating places and public parks. And she or he fought for points that didn’t have an effect on her instantly, like people who would possibly impede folks with psychological, visible, auditory or different disabilities.

When town held a listening to in 2018 on banning plastic straws, a trigger that could be a darling of environmentalists however not these within the incapacity neighborhood, she made positive to assemble a gaggle and current an opinion. There are those that can’t maintain a cup, the group wished to level out, and straws are important instruments to their visiting a restaurant.

On the assembly, group after group testified in favor of the ban. However Ms. Prentiss and her colleagues weren’t referred to as on.

“It’s laborious to overlook us — most people are in wheelchairs,” mentioned Joseph G. Rappaport, government director of the Brooklyn Heart for Independence of the Disabled and the communications and technique director of the Taxis for All Marketing campaign, of which Ms. Prentiss was the chair, “but it surely went on and on and at last Edith had had it. She mentioned, ‘Hey, we’re right here to talk. We have now an opinion about this invoice.’” The group was allowed to talk.

“She labored the within, she labored the angles, and if she needed to yell, that’s what she did,” Mr. Rappaport added. “And she or he did it effectively.”

She was bristly and relentless and at all times ready. Woe to town officers who had not saved their promise, or achieved their homework. She knew to an inch the correct size of a ramp, and the way excessive a curb ought to be lower. She drove her motorized wheelchair as she spoke, with monumental confidence, and generally a little bit of intentional recklessness; she was not above driving over the toes of these in her means.

Among the many many New York Metropolis officers to challenge statements upon Ms. Prentiss’s loss of life have been Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and, in a joint assertion, Mayor Invoice de Blasio and Victor Calise, commissioner of the Mayor’s Workplace for Folks with Disabilities.

In Could, Ms. Prentiss will likely be inducted into the New York State Incapacity Rights Corridor of Fame, and Mr. Calise will seem on the digital ceremony in her place.

“She was sensible,” Ms. Brewer mentioned in a telephone interview. “She took no prisoners. She distributed with the niceties, however her coronary heart was so beneficiant.”

Edith Mary Prentiss was born on Feb. 1, 1952, in Central Islip, N.Y., on Lengthy Island. She was considered one of six youngsters (and the one daughter) of Robert Prentiss, an electrician, and Patricia (Greenwood) Prentiss, a social employee.

Edith was asthmatic, and later diabetic. She started utilizing a wheelchair as soon as her bronchial asthma grew to become extreme when she was in her late 40s.

After incomes a level in sociology from Stony Brook College on Lengthy Island, she attended the Faculty of Arts and Science at Miami College in Oxford, Ohio.

Early in her profession, Ms. Prentiss was an outreach caseworker for ARC XVI Fort Washington, a senior providers middle. Working from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, she performed blood stress screenings and helped older folks apply for metropolis providers and different advantages. She later labored with Holocaust survivors. Fern Hertzberg, the manager director of ARC, mentioned Ms. Prentiss’s final job, earlier than she retired in about 2006, was with a bodily remedy middle in her neighborhood.

Ms. Prentiss was president of the 504 Democratic Membership, which focuses on incapacity rights, and held positions with many different advocacy teams.

She wasn’t identified only for her bullying methods. Years in the past, Susan Scheer, now chief government of the Institute for Profession Growth, an employment and coaching group for the disabled, was a New York Metropolis authorities official, and he or she met Ms. Prentiss within the typical means: being yelled at in numerous hearings. But when Ms. Scheer, who has spina bifida, started utilizing a wheelchair a few decade in the past, she referred to as Ms. Prentiss for assist. She realized she had no concept the best way to navigate from her East Village house to her job at Metropolis Corridor by bus.

“Don’t fear,” she recalled Ms. Prentiss saying. “I’m on my means.” (It did take some time, with the same old impediments, like damaged subway elevators.)

As soon as there, Ms. Prentiss led Ms. Scheer out of her constructing and thru the snarls of visitors on 14th Road, blocking the automobiles that menaced them, as she coached Ms. Scheer by her first bus launch, which was rocky. As she ping-ponged down the aisle, she ran over the driving force’s toes. “Not your drawback,” Ms. Prentiss referred to as out behind her.

Ms. Prentiss then directed the less-than-enthusiastic driver to safe Ms. Scheer’s chair (drivers should not at all times diligent about this step). And because the passengers groaned and rolled their eyes, Ms. Scheer mentioned, Ms. Prentiss stared them down and introduced: “We’re studying right here, people. Let’s be affected person.”

In her in depth travels, her brother Andrew mentioned, Ms. Prentiss had many visitors accidents and was hit by quite a few automobiles, together with taxis, a metropolis bus and a FedEx truck. She was usually within the emergency room, but when there was a neighborhood board assembly or a metropolis listening to, she made positive to telephone in from the hospital.

Along with her brother Andrew, Ms. Prentiss is survived by her different brothers, Michael, Robert Anthony, William John and David Neil.

In early January, Ms. Prentiss obtained her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on the Fort Washington Armory. For sure, she had some complaints, as she informed Ms. Hertzberg: The pencils to fill out the well being questionnaire have been the sort often known as golf pencils, and too small for folks with sure guide disabilities. The typeface on the questionnaire wasn’t large enough. And the chairs set out within the post-vaccination ready space had no arms, which many individuals want as an support to face up with. She referred to as the hospital that was administering this system there — and, Ms. Hertzberg mentioned, you’ll be able to make certain that it didn’t take lengthy for the issues to be fastened.

For the final three years, Arlene Schulman, a photographer, author and filmmaker, has been engaged on a documentary referred to as “Edith Prentiss: Hell on Wheels,” a title its topic initially quibbled with. She didn’t assume it was sturdy sufficient.

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Written by LessDaily.Com

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