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 the town she beloved 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 probability of hailing one. “They’re like unicorns,” she told The New York Times that yr. “You have to be pure to catch one.”

The variety of accessible autos would ultimately inch as much as 231, but it took nearly a decade and a class-action lawsuit — of which Ms. Prentiss was a plaintiff — earlier than the town’s Taxi and Limousine Commission 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 fought for points that didn’t have an effect on her immediately, 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 may be a darling of environmentalists however not these within the incapacity neighborhood, she made certain to assemble a bunch and current an opinion. There are those that can not maintain a cup, the group wished to level out, and straws are important instruments to their visiting a restaurant.

At the assembly, group after group testified in favor of the ban. But Ms. Prentiss and her colleagues weren’t known as on.

“It’s hard to miss us — most of the people are in wheelchairs,” mentioned Joseph G. Rappaport, government director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and the communications and technique director of the Taxis for All Campaign, of which Ms. Prentiss was the chair, “but it went on and on and finally Edith had had it. She said, ‘Hey, we’re here to speak. We have an opinion about this bill.’” The group was allowed to talk.

“She worked the inside, she worked the angles, and if she had to yell, that’s what she did,” Mr. Rappaport added. “And she did it well.”

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

Among the numerous New York City officers to concern statements upon Ms. Prentiss’s dying had been Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and, in a joint assertion, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Victor Calise, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

In May, Ms. Prentiss shall be inducted into the New York State Disability Rights Hall of Fame, and Mr. Calise will seem at the digital ceremony in her place.

“She was brilliant,” Ms. Brewer mentioned in a cellphone interview. “She took no prisoners. She dispensed with the niceties, but her heart was so generous.”

Edith Mary Prentiss was born on Feb. 1, 1952, in Central Islip, N.Y., on Long Island. She was one among 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 University on Long Island, she attended the College of Arts and Science at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Early in her profession, Ms. Prentiss was an outreach caseworker for ARC XVI Fort Washington, a senior providers heart. 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 chief director of ARC, mentioned Ms. Prentiss’s final job, earlier than she retired in about 2006, was with a bodily remedy heart in her neighborhood.

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

She wasn’t identified simply for her bullying methods. Years in the past, Susan Scheer, now chief government of the Institute for Career Development, an employment and coaching group for the disabled, was a New York City authorities official, and he or she met Ms. Prentiss within the traditional means: being yelled at in varied hearings. Yet when Ms. Scheer, who has spina bifida, started utilizing a wheelchair a couple of decade in the past, she known as Ms. Prentiss for assist. She realized she had no concept learn how to navigate from her East Village condominium to her job at City Hall by bus.

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

Once there, Ms. Prentiss led Ms. Scheer out of her constructing and thru the snarls of visitors on 14th Street, blocking the autos that menaced them, as she coached Ms. Scheer via her first bus launch, which was rocky. As she ping-ponged down the aisle, she ran over the motive force’s toes. “Not your problem,” Ms. Prentiss known as out behind her.

Ms. Prentiss then directed the less-than-enthusiastic driver to safe Ms. Scheer’s chair (drivers usually are not all the time diligent about this step). And because the passengers groaned and rolled their eyes, Ms. Scheer mentioned, Ms. Prentiss stared them down and introduced: “We are learning here, folks. Let’s be patient.”

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 usually within the emergency room, but when there was a neighborhood board assembly or a metropolis listening to, she made certain to cellphone in from the hospital.

In addition to 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 at the Fort Washington Armory. Needless to say, she had some complaints, as she advised Ms. Hertzberg: The pencils to fill out the well being questionnaire had been the sort generally known as golf pencils, and too small for folks with sure handbook disabilities. The typeface on the questionnaire wasn’t sufficiently big. And the chairs set out within the post-vaccination ready space had no arms, which many individuals want as an assist to face up with. She known as the hospital that was administering this system there — and, Ms. Hertzberg mentioned, you’ll be able to ensure that it didn’t take lengthy for the issues to be fastened.

For the final three years, Arlene (*69*), a photographer, author and filmmaker, has been engaged on a documentary known 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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