February 23, 2024
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February 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

This time, I was smart and called the venue on Friday.

“Hello?” the person said.

And then I went into my finely-tuned intro.

“Hi, my name is Rivka Herzfeld. I signed up to come to your event, but I want to make sure that the space is accessible. I will be coming in a motorized scooter, and I cannot get out of it.”

I say this because I have been burned one too many times.

The last time was at an event at a shul in early March, before Pesach–Passover. I had called the woman running the event prior to my even booking the accessible car service to take me there. That burn went something like this:

“Hi, my name is Rivka Herzfeld and I want to know if I could come to the Purim party on March 11th. I also want to know if the venue is going to be accessible, as I will be coming in a motorized wheelchair.”

“Yes! Our space is accessible,” the woman told me.

“Perfect.” I responded, and I booked my accessible ride.

It’s March 11th.

It’s Shabbat, so I do my thing. I get dressed, go to shul, am the first woman there.

Check, check, check.

Schmooze with friends after shul, come home, eat lunch, do daf yomi (learn a daily page of Talmud), nap.

Check, check, check, check, check.

After Shabbat, I don’t really have much to do, because I have been wearing my “singles party” outfit since the morning. I put on some make up and head out to my accessible ride.

It takes an hour and 40 minutes to get to Queens, but I’m there, safely and in one piece, though slightly jostled from being hooked up in the back of the car.

I need to turn around and go home.

Why?

Because the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills is only partially accessible.

What do I mean by that?

Two things really.

There is no ramp at the front of the building, only one a large step.

Being the Girl Scout that I am, I have come prepared and brought a ramp with me.

So what was the problem? The event took place in the basement. There is no elevator. Only two long flights of stairs with stair lifts for accessibility.

That is why I have now amended my script to: “”Hi, my name is Rivka Herzfeld. I signed up to come to your event, but I want to make sure that the space is accessible. I will be coming in a motorized scooter, and I cannot get out of it.”

In previous situations, my saying that I am in a motorized scooter, without the addendum of not being able to get out of the scooter, has led to the misunderstanding that I can get out of the scooter, use a stair lift, and be fine. I don’t want this problem to crop up again.

So I learned my lesson this past Purim. I don’t make the same mistakes twice.

But last night, I was a victim of someone else’s misunderstanding, not my lack of explanation, which had been the problem on the night of March 11th.

This time, I emphasized that I cannot get out of my scooter.

I said it.

It hurts to say it. But I did – for my own good later on.

This time, it was the Young Israel of Avenue J.

I asked about an elevator. They said they have one.

I asked if it goes to the basement. They said it does.

I specified again that I would need an elevator. I was told that that was no problem.

Great.

Or so I thought.

The problem last night was that no one had the key to the elevator.

And I think that no one realizes how painful that is.

It’s a deep cut that never gets to scab and scar over, because it gets re-picked every time I need to explain my situation again, and every time it doesn’t prevent me from being prevented from entering the venue.

The ridiculousness of its being technically accessible, but actually not because of someone else’s lack of responsibility, awareness, sensitivity and just good old fashioned chochma is mildly infuriating.

I understand though.

There’s an old saying that you can’t understand another person until you walk in his/her moccasins, but in this case, since the moccasins are a scooter, the people on the other end are unlikely to understand what any disabled person means when s/he asks about accessibility.

So maybe what is needed in situations of accessibility is a little more accountability. In other words, people need to know what the answer is to the accessibility question; they need to know where the key is, if there is one, before the event. Just leave it on a hook in an easily accessible place (see what I did there?!).

Having a fire extinguisher somewhere in the house doesn’t make the house fire-safe, and having a key to an elevator somewhere in the shul building does not make the building handicapped accessible.

So I came home. I went to the expense of hiring a handicapped accessible vehicle and riding all the way out to Brooklyn from Teaneck, I had gotten all dolled up, and let’s face it, I put myself through the emotional three-ring-circus of preparing for yet another singles’ event. And I wasted yet another good outfit.


Rivka Herzfeld earned a master’s in Tanach from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Judaic Studies. She enjoys teaching Tanach to all ages and backgrounds. Rivka is also a respected disability awareness educator. She is personable, easygoing, has a terrific sense of humor and loves sharing puns. She is passionate about politics, human rights and “liberty and justice for all.” Rivka is determined to make her voice count.

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