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 metropolis she beloved extra navigable for everyone, died on March 16 at her home in the Washington Heights community of Manhattan. She was 69.

The bring about was cardiopulmonary arrest, her brother Andrew Prentiss mentioned.

In 2004, the city’s taxi fleet had only 3 wheelchair-obtainable cabs — minivans with ramps — and people like Ms. Prentiss had a significantly less than one particular in 4,000 prospect of hailing 1. “They’re like unicorns,” she explained to The New York Occasions that year. “You have to be pure to catch just one.”

The selection of obtainable automobiles would eventually inch up to 231, but it took just about a decade and a class-action lawsuit — of which Ms. Prentiss was a plaintiff — right before the city’s Taxi and Limousine Fee agreed to make the fleet 50 p.c accessible by 2020. (That deadline was pushed back again amid the pandemic and other troubles the fleet is now at 30 %.)

Ms. Prentiss also fought for accessibility on subways and in police stations, dining establishments and public parks. And she fought for problems that didn’t impact her instantly, like people that may possibly impede people with psychological, visible, auditory or other disabilities.

When the town held a hearing in 2018 on banning plastic straws, a result in that is a darling of environmentalists but not those in the incapacity local community, she manufactured absolutely sure to obtain a team and existing an belief. There are individuals who simply cannot hold a cup, the group required to level out, and straws are necessary equipment to their traveling to a restaurant.

At the assembly, group immediately after group testified in favor of the ban. But Ms. Prentiss and her colleagues ended up not named on.

“It’s difficult to miss us — most of the individuals are in wheelchairs,” reported Joseph G. Rappaport, government director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and the communications and system director of the Taxis for All Marketing campaign, of which Ms. Prentiss was the chair, “but it went on and on and at last Edith had had it. She reported, ‘Hey, we’re listed here to speak. We have an viewpoint about this monthly bill.’” The team was authorized to converse.

“She labored the inside of, she worked the angles, and if she experienced to yell, that is what she did,” Mr. Rappaport included. “And she did it properly.”

She was bristly and relentless and normally geared up. Woe to the city officials who experienced not retained their promise, or completed their homework. She realized to an inch the right duration of a ramp, and how higher a curb really should be slash. She drove her motorized wheelchair as she spoke, with huge assurance, and from time to time a little bit of intentional recklessness she was not earlier mentioned riding over the toes of people in her way.

Among the the many New York City officials to challenge statements upon Ms. Prentiss’s death had been Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and, in a joint statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Victor Calise, commissioner of the Mayor’s Place of work for People with Disabilities.

In May perhaps, Ms. Prentiss will be inducted into the New York Condition Disability Rights Hall of Fame, and Mr. Calise will look at the virtual ceremony in her position.

“She was good,” Ms. Brewer said in a mobile phone 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 Lengthy Island. She was a single of six little ones (and the only daughter) of Robert Prentiss, an electrician, and Patricia (Greenwood) Prentiss, a social employee.

Edith was asthmatic, and afterwards diabetic. She started applying a wheelchair once her asthma became critical when she was in her late 40s.

Soon after earning a diploma in sociology from Stony Brook College on Long Island, she attended the University of Arts and Science at Miami College in Oxford, Ohio.

Early in her job, Ms. Prentiss was an outreach caseworker for ARC XVI Fort Washington, a senior products and services center. Doing the job from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, she carried out blood tension screenings and helped more mature people utilize for metropolis expert services and other rewards. She later labored with Holocaust survivors. Fern Hertzberg, the government director of ARC, said Ms. Prentiss’s last work, before she retired in about 2006, was with a physical remedy middle in her neighborhood.

Ms. Prentiss was president of the 504 Democratic Club, which focuses on disability legal rights, and held positions with lots of other advocacy teams.

She wasn’t regarded just for her bullying approaches. Many years ago, Susan Scheer, now main govt of the Institute for Career Improvement, an employment and instruction group for the disabled, was a New York Metropolis govt official, and she satisfied Ms. Prentiss in the usual way: being yelled at in various hearings. Nevertheless when Ms. Scheer, who has spina bifida, started employing a wheelchair about a ten years in the past, she termed Ms. Prentiss for help. She understood she experienced no concept how to navigate from her East Village apartment to her occupation at Metropolis Hall by bus.

“Don’t stress,” she recalled Ms. Prentiss indicating. “I’m on my way.” (It did acquire a although, with the regular impediments, like damaged subway elevators.)

Once there, Ms. Prentiss led Ms. Scheer out of her developing and via the snarls of targeted visitors on 14th Avenue, blocking the cars that menaced them, as she coached Ms. Scheer through her very first bus start, which was rocky. As she ping-ponged down the aisle, she ran more than the driver’s toes. “Not your trouble,” Ms. Prentiss referred to as out behind her.

Ms. Prentiss then directed the a lot less-than-enthusiastic driver to protected Ms. Scheer’s chair (drivers are not often diligent about this action). And as the travellers groaned and rolled their eyes, Ms. Scheer reported, Ms. Prentiss stared them down and announced: “We are understanding in this article, individuals. Let us be affected individual.”

In her substantial travels, her brother Andrew reported, Ms. Prentiss experienced several targeted visitors mishaps and was strike by various vehicles, which includes taxis, a metropolis bus and a FedEx truck. She was usually in the unexpected emergency home, but if there was a neighborhood board meeting or a metropolis listening to, she produced sure to phone in from the hospital.

In addition to her brother Andrew, Ms. Prentiss is survived by her other brothers, Michael, Robert Anthony, William John and David Neil.

In early January, Ms. Prentiss been given her initial dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Fort Washington Armory. Useless to say, she experienced some issues, as she informed Ms. Hertzberg: The pencils to fill out the health questionnaire had been the sort acknowledged as golf pencils, and as well compact for individuals with specified manual disabilities. The typeface on the questionnaire wasn’t significant sufficient. And the chairs established out in the submit-vaccination ready location had no arms, which a lot of folks have to have as an assist to stand up with. She named the healthcare facility that was administering the plan there — and, Ms. Hertzberg said, you can be positive that it didn’t take very long for the problems to be set.

For the final a few several years, Arlene Schulman, a photographer, writer and filmmaker, has been doing work on a documentary referred to as “Edith Prentiss: Hell on Wheels,” a title its issue initially quibbled with. She didn’t assume it was robust sufficient.