NYSILC member Edith Prentiss’ name is practically synonymous with disability advocacy in New York City. She played a major role in increasing the number of accessible taxis in the Big Apple through her work as chair of the Taxis for All Campaign. She has also held leadership positions with Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York (vice president), the 504 Democratic Club (president) and numerous other organizations, including Community Board 12 (Manhattan), Manhattan Borough President Disability Task Force, Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA and New York City Transit Riders Council, MTA New York City Transit Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility, Long Island Rail Road ADA Task Force, NYC Office of Emergency Management Special Needs Task Force, and Washington Heights & Inwood Council on Aging.
Edith learned at an early age of the barriers facing individuals with disabilities. Her mother had hearing and visual impairments, and her father had cardiac issues. As her mother’s vision and hearing worsened, the family worked to make their home more accessible. Through this experience, Edith realized that people with disabilities could live independently in their communities and worked to combat institutionalization by pushing the state to provide greater outpatient services.
As Edith herself became disabled as a young adult, she soon found herself on the front lines of the disability rights movement. Using her own life experience as a guide, she has advocated tirelessly over four decades for the needs of people with disabilities.
Early in her career, Edith counseled children with disabilities and came to realize how important it was for other people with disabilities, particularly children, to see role models who looked like them. She helped mentor these young people and their families to live independently and access the services they needed to do so.
Edith’s work with Taxis for All Campaign has transformed the way New Yorkers and visitors with disabilities are able to get around the city by ensuring, through litigation and continual advocacy, that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission increases the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles in both the taxi and for-hire-vehicle sectors. Thanks in large part to Edith’s efforts, the City of New York now has more 2,500 wheelchair accessible taxis, offers a citywide Accessible Dispatch program to connect people to these taxis, and recently passed first-of-its-kind rules to mandate wheelchair accessible taxis in the for-hire-vehicle sector.
When Mayor de Blasio signed into law a cap on for-hire-vehicle licenses, Edith fought for a key exception for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
In recent years, as environmentalists have called for bans on plastic straws, Edith has been speaking up to ensure that New York does not issue such a ban without taking the needs of people with disabilities into account.
In 2014, Concepts of Independence honored Edith with the Sandra Schnur Advocacy Award, named for the former Concepts of Independence president and 2019 NYSILC Hall of Fame inductee, for her work on behalf of New York’s disability community. Sandra would surely consider Edith a worthy recipient of this honor.
To watch Victor Calise's award acceptance speech on behalf of Edith Prentiss, click the video below: