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New York City Transit features UP-STAND's work in their monthly transit accessibility newsletter

This interview originally appeared in the New York City Transit's Systemwide Accessibility September Newsletter, and can be found here.


ACTA Corner

The Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility (ACTA) is a committee composed of advocates from the disability community that work with SWA on accessibility issues. The “ACTA Corner” is a space for the committee to update the community and introduce members.

This month we feature Christine Serdjenian Yearwood.

A picture of Christine smiling. She wears her son in a carrier, and is standing on the stairs in Grand Central Station.
SWA: Can you tell me about how you became involved in transit advocacy?

CY: In 2014, I had my first child, and it was then that the city changed for me. I realized the difficulties of getting around the city. I became involved in transit advocacy soon after. In 2015, I founded UP-STAND. UP-STAND is a movement to improve accessibility to make life easier for pregnant people and families. We want to change our culture through more supportive policies and improved infrastructure.

UP-STAND works with businesses, organizations, communities and elected officials to re-envision the places where we work, play and gather. Members include caregivers and parents, some of whom are also seniors and people with disabilities, and parents of disabled children. It’s about making sure the ADA is not only followed, but that we go beyond that to implement universal design to make our city livable for everyone.

SWA: Can you tell me more about UP-STAND and the projects you have worked on?

CY: One of our first projects was to create “Baby on Board" pins for pregnant people and pins for people willing to give up their seats on transit. UP-STAND took off from there. People contacted us about their struggles with transit, and the things they hoped we would try to change. The majority of people are dependent upon getting around New York City on public transportation, and I consistently heard that everyday tasks such as social and community engagements, medical appointments, and trips to school were limited due to the inaccessibility of both the subway and bus systems.

I couldn't find a specific point person or organization to refer them to that was solely focused on the unique needs of pregnant people and families with regards to access issues, so I began to advocate on their behalf and partner with disability and senior organizations to work toward our mutual goals.

UP-STAND has evolved and expanded under our mission, but transit advocacy is still one of the things for which we're best known because it's such a big deal to so many people.

In addition to the “Baby on Board” pins, we worked with Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal to create and support New York State Assembly Legislative Bill A586. This Act increases priority seating for pregnant, elderly, and disabled passengers and introduces reserved seating on public transit. While it has not yet passed, courtesy seating at the MTA does now include lap infants as well as pregnant people, a step in the right direction. We also worked with the Transit Center to make an awareness campaign video.

SWA: How were you involved in fighting to make the Astoria Station Accessible?

CY: UP-STAND lends our voice to transit events on behalf of pregnant people and caretakers. We organize speakers and participants and host transit rallies to draw attention to the MTA’s significant customer base of caregivers and children. It’s a hard group to mobilize, as caretakers deal with unpredictable schedules and competing priorities, and it's not a constituency of people that regularly attend rallies or press conferences en masse. But a huge group showed up in November of 2017 to protest station enhancements on the N/W line without accessibility improvements.

At that time, the MTA still hadn’t begun construction on elevators at Astoria Boulevard despite being slated for those improvements for many years. We wanted to hold the MTA accountable for their commitments under the ADA by showing them this additional base of customers that depends on them exists.

After decades of extensions, our Astoria Boulevard station rally contributed to the efforts of many advocates and organizations in holding the MTA accountable to its commitment to complete elevator work at Astoria Boulevard; we were thrilled when they opened for use in July, 2020.

SWA: What made you want to join ACTA?

CY: Public transit is a civil right and intersects with issues of social justice. The Accessibility Team and ACTA were both formed by the MTA with the recognition that we have major work to do to be better in these areas. And I believe that representation is important.

As far as I know, this is the first time our constituency has a seat at the table with this specific intent. I now have three young children, and our base includes a decent number of people who tell us about a range of issues. Unreliable, inaccessible subways are most harmful to low income riders outside of Manhattan's core, many of whom are people of color. I love New York City, and I want to do everything I can to make it a place that is more structurally supportive of all of us and our families.

SWA: What do you view as a recent success and what is still needs to be done?

CY: The Jay Street Accessibility Lab was a hit with the group of pregnant women and parents that we brought to view it and provide feedback. The wide fare gates and the inclusion of the stroller symbol in navigation through stations and at accessible platform boarding areas will be helpful additions to all stations. The OMNY system is also a big step and will allow for more flexibility in policy; we hope this will allow for family fares in the future.

We want to see more elevators, redesigned buses with level boarding, flexible seating and stroller restraint areas (along with a switch to an open stroller policy). We want priority seating for pregnant people and those with small children on both modes of transport. We see all of these improvements happening in conjunction with larger accessibility upgrades that include and support all riders.

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