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

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

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

In 2004, the 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 likelihood of hailing one. “They’re like unicorns,” she instructed The New York Instances that yr. “You must be pure to catch one.”

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

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

When the 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 group, she made certain to collect a bunch and current an opinion. There are those that can not maintain a cup, the group needed 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 exhausting to overlook us — the general public are in wheelchairs,” mentioned Joseph G. Rappaport, govt 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, “nevertheless it went on and on and eventually Edith had had it. She mentioned, ‘Hey, we’re right here to talk. We’ve got 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 he or she did it properly.”

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

Among the many many New York Metropolis officers to concern statements upon Ms. Prentiss’s demise 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 might 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 cellphone 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 one in every 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 School 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 recognized only for her bullying methods. Years in the past, Susan Scheer, now chief govt of the Institute for Profession Improvement, an employment and coaching group for the disabled, was a New York Metropolis authorities official, and she or he met Ms. Prentiss within the normal means: being yelled at in varied hearings. But when Ms. Scheer, who has spina bifida, started utilizing a wheelchair a couple of decade in the past, she referred to as Ms. Prentiss for assist. She realized she had no thought learn how 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 autos 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 motive 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 intensive travels, her brother Andrew mentioned, Ms. Prentiss had many visitors accidents and was hit by quite a few autos, together with taxis, a metropolis bus and a FedEx truck. She was typically within the emergency room, but when there was a group board assembly or a metropolis listening to, she made certain to cellphone 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 acquired her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on the Fort Washington Armory. Evidently, she had some complaints, as she instructed Ms. Hertzberg: The pencils to fill out the well being questionnaire have been the type generally known as golf pencils, and too small for folks with sure handbook 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 robust sufficient.

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