Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Further Recap of New York City

Having had a few days to regroup in Chicago, I still have some reporting to do from New York City, and there's not a better time than the present (especially before trekking out again for another month). This trip reminded me a bit of going to Seoul in that I was doing work AND tourism at the same time, since I've never been to NYC before (that's right, no, I have not, and yes, I had a good time and will go back!).

Aside from chilling out with Julie, going to Bluestockings and helping with the women's community meeting, I did see and do many, many other things. I spent a lot of time riding buses and subways (although buses were better for packing in sightseeing as well).

On Monday, October 20, the big task of the day was to somehow call up my travel company to get my flights arranged to include visiting New Zealand. If you're Deaf, you will know how much of a pain in the ass this is if you're not staying with someone who has a videophone. Luckily, I knew someone who knew someone at CIDNY (Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York) who is Deaf and uses a videophone, and who happened to be out of the office for the day so I could use his vp. Don, THANK YOU for this assistance. That I had to struggle so hard to find some way to make a simple phone call via VP should say a lot about why communities need VPs everywhere there are pay phones: libraries, airports, gas stations, hospitals. Unfortunately, I didn't get to browse around CIDNY very much but it was interesting to take note of the location---right by a bus line, but up a smallish elevator. In some ways, a CIL is a CIL is a CIL. (A CIL is a Center for Independent Living).

En route to CIDNY, I did swing by the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met was closed because it was a Monday, and the Guggenheim is having some big art piece installed so there's construction equipment all over. I decided to visit the Met the next day. I did have fun eyeballing Central Park (I was staying on the Upper East Side close to Harlem, in my friend's 811 mind you). I have never seen so many women of color pushing white babies around (the nannies were out in force). I was wondering how much they were paid and if they were live-in and what it would be like to unionize. Also, I have never seen so many women between the ages of 40 and 60 with good clothes and makeup and the look of having worked out a lot and kind of being..PRESSED...into place. Yes, I live in Chicago and we have that sort of thing here too, but I think the Upper East Side is just a whole world of its own, as far as I can tell.

So then I got on the bus and headed down 5th Avenue to CIDNY, and got an eyeful of the clothing stores and jewelers and...the Museum of Sex? Intriguing, but I wasn't in the mood and was dying to get to CIDNY and figure out the whole New Zealand thing. Which I did, finally!, and then ate lunch at an Italian pizzeria...tried pizza with anchovies, thinking maybe the anchovy taste rep was overrated..well, in big chunks they certainly are pretty salty fishy. And then by that time I was scheduled to go visit Julie at her physical therapy place in Chelsea, the Raymond Naftali Center for Rehabilitation. Along the way I found the store for Fishs Eddy and bought this tray.

Anyway the Naftali Center's location is on the 10th floor of an art gallery/warehouse building, which is an interesting feel. I found Julie talking with Harilyn Rousso, who is one of those women with disabilities that people should know. Here is an excerpt about Harilyn (who has cerebral palsy) and her work from

"Harilyn Rousso is an educator, psychotherapist and disabled women's leader. Early in her career she decided to become a psychotherapist. Unfortunately her professors did not believe that a woman with cerebral palsy could be successful in that career and refused her training. Rousso says that was a turning point in her life. Raised in a family that supported her dreams, Rousso was determined to receive psychotherapy training in spite of the obstacles. She went to another training institute and became a licensed therapist.

"Rousso soon realized that the obstacles she faced were present in all aspects of society. She decided that it was important to prepare young disabled women with skills and resources needed for fulfilling their dreams. In the 1980's she began the Networking Project for Disabled Women and Girls and based it at the New York City YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association). Bringing this project into a mainstream organization meant that the young disabled women had access to a broad range of opportunities and also that the YWCA had access to motivated young disabled women.

"This strategy of building bridges between disabled and non-disabled people is a hallmark of Rousso's work. By the late 1980's Rousso had co-edited a collection of disabled women's experiences, "Disabled, Female, and Proud: Stories of Ten Women with Disabilities" and made a film, "Positive Images: Portraits of Women with Disabilities." Since then her work has branched in three main directions: young disabled women, psychotherapy, and artist."

Harilyn, who was very nice and welcoming, was planning to come to the community meeting, so we talked about that and about my trip thus far. Our time was a bit short however, so Julie took me over to Chelsea Piers to check out the river. Oddly enough, Chelsea Piers is one of the most accessible areas of the city...nice and flat for wheelchairs, with lots of turn space. Afterwards we found dinner at the Lyric Diner. Manhattan at least has a LOT of diners...I think heads would roll if people tried to close them down.

The next day, I hit the Met right away. I've been to an awful lot of art museums, and a lot of good ones, but I have to say that the stuff at the Met is very, very good. Their Greek and Roman collection is amazing. Amazing. And their African and Oceanic art is also AMAZING. And the interior design collection, and the Egyptian exhibit...AMAZING. It made me want to go paint. The art is just alive. I told myself that I would leave when I found the portrait of George Washington, but unfortunately I got a bit lost due to exhibit renovations, and then I realized the ol' blood sugar was getting low so I had to get the heck out.

To fix the blood sugar, I found another Italian place and ordered some pasta. I looked at my watch and figured I'd have enough time to burn off a glass of wine...well! The pasta was great, the wine was good, but the wine gave me an absolutely splitting headache. Who can say why? The good part is, I just rode the bus down to Wall Street to see the New York Stock Exchange and the World Trade Center and that gave me time to wear things off. (No, I did think it would be a bad call to name this post "Amber Gets Drunk in New York." I'm just trying to keep it real.)

My bus took me through the Bowery, past Chinatown and dropped me off in front of City Hall, from which it is a short walk to Wall Street. I didn't know that Wall Street was crooked. It is. It's not straight. I had to double check the street sign to be sure, and it was crooked. The buildings are built so that the proportions seem very large, although I don't think the actual buildings are enormous. Since 9/11, the New York Stock Exchange has been barricaded, but ADAPTers will know my feeling of "hey, they blocked the doors...again!" I could hear what I thought was a faint roar coming from the NYSE. In this time of financial uncertainty, I think Wall Street made me feel very nervous, and also angry that such a small place controls so much of the rest of the world.

The former site of the World Trade Center is just a block or two away. When 9/11 happened, I was working for the Department of Education (on what else? a disability initiative internship), which is just a couple of blocks away from the US Capitol. On the upper floors we could see the smoke rising over the Pentagon, and on TV we could see the towers falling in New York. None of the phones worked. And so it was definitely a moment in time when everything was out of balance. Today, there are construction crews all over the WTC site and there is an official visitors center, which I glanced over. The site is walled in except for some screening areas, where you can look out on the construction. I think it is accessible enough for most people but if you had a low chair or were very short, it wouldn't be so great. My personal response, I think, was to ponder how so very far the US has come from 9/11, and how much damage has occurred across our country, economic and psychological, as a result. I think we are struggling to get back into a place of real freedom, not George W. Bush freedom, and that we have to do so makes me very sad. I could not, at the site, think too deeply about the horrible way that so many died there. I think the fact that there was an official visitor center now kept me from feeling a real emotional anchorage to what happened there.

After the WTC, I had to get myself to Chelsea for the women's community meeting, and took the subway over (picturing what it would have been like to die in the subway tunnels as the towers collapsed).

The community meeting itself has already been described in a previous post, but let me add a few words. There were a few logistical issues, but I am proud of Julie for managing to get a whole bunch of people there relatively on time, and fed. She really did work her butt off, and for that I thank her. I also want to give another shout out to Nadina, who I know wanted to be there but could not. Nadina, we did miss you and I look forward to being able to work together! If you don't know who Nadina is, see Nadina has been one of Julie's mentors, so it's nice to see a web of feminist support for younger women in New York.

On Wednesday, Julie and I met up with Akemi Nishida at another diner in Chelsea. We reviewed the previous night's meeting, and had a general conversation about disability and youth and women's stuff. Akemi is a student studying filmmaking, has a disability and is originally from Japan. I feel strongly that both she and Julie have the potential to affect a lot of other young women with disabilities and so it was terrific to talk with them and see where people were headed. In particular, I know that Asian people are not very visible in the disability community for the most part other than say Yoshiko Dart (and that in many Asian cultures disability is hidden or shunned), but I think people like Akemi, and my friend Rahnee and others, will help to change that. It is very important to the progress of our movement, in my opinion.

After that, Julie took me to visit the Initiative for Women with Disabilities, which serves women with physical disabilities. They reach thousands of women a year and have about 900 active clients, according to staff at the center. They also keep a list of the sites in New York State with accessible exam tables, which I would dearly love to see here in Illinois. They offer different empowerment programs for young women, such as reaching for success and health/nutrition. In a way the center reminds me of the Women with Disabilities Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

At this point Julie went off to another meeting, and I hopped over to the East Village to Barrier Free Living, which is a homeless and domestic violence shelter. We really, really, really need disability inclusion and accessible shelters in every city or county across the nation. Places like Austin's SafePlace practice inclusion, but we need MORE!!!! Women with disabilities must siffer violence longer than women without simply because there is no accessible/inclusive safe place for them to go. The Barrier Free facility that I visited is in fact accessible, and I saw plenty of people with physical disabilities chilling out. The sign in the lobby says that, among other things, all residents must have an independent living plan. After giving Barrier Free a good look over (since I was just dropping in), I went back to Julie's to rest.

All in all, an interesting mix, isn't it? I think this was just a beginning visit to a very large city...but there is great potential for women's disability rights advocacy.


PhilosopherCrip said...

I can't believe you had never been to NYC... weird. I agree about the Met, it is one of my favorite places on earth. Did you see the medieval arms and armor exhibit? I haven't been to Ground Zero, but I wonder why the reification of tragedy bothers us in some ways but not others. Like, would a visitor center at Auschwitz have put you off like it did at Ground Zero? I understand your feeling and probably would have shared it, but I wonder how to make sense of it.

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