She was passionate — and relentless — about making the town she cherished navigable for everybody.

Edith Prentiss at her home in Manhattan in 2019. As an advocate for the disabled, she was bristly, relentless and always prepared.
Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

Penelope Green

Edith Prentiss, a fierce and fiery advocate for the disabled who fought to make the town she cherished extra navigable for everybody, died on March 16 at her residence 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 likelihood of hailing one. “They’re like unicorns,” she advised The New York Times that 12 months. “You have to be pure to catch one.”

The variety of accessible autos would finally inch as much as 231, however it took almost 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 straight, like people who would possibly impede individuals 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 group, she made certain to collect 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 referred to 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.”


Ms. Prentiss in 2004. She pushed for accessibility on public transportation, and in police stations, restaurants and public parks.
Credit…Frances Roberts for The New York Times

She was bristly and relentless and all the time ready. Woe to the town officers who had not stored their promise, or performed their homework. She knew to an inch the correct size of a ramp, and the way excessive a curb must 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 manner.

Among the numerous New York City officers to challenge statements upon Ms. Prentiss’s demise 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 can be inducted into the New York State Disability Rights Hall of Fame, and Mr. Calise will seem on the digital ceremony in her place.

“She was brilliant,” Ms. Brewer mentioned in a telephone 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 in every of 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 turned 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 middle. Working from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, she performed blood stress screenings and helped older individuals apply for metropolis providers and different advantages. She later labored with Holocaust survivors. Fern Hertzberg, the manager director of ARC, mentioned Ms. Prentiss’s final job, earlier than she retired in about 2006, was with a bodily remedy middle 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 only 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 standard manner: being yelled at in varied hearings. Yet when Ms. Scheer, who has spina bifida, started utilizing a wheelchair a few decade in the past, she referred to as Ms. Prentiss for assist. She realized she had no concept the way to navigate from her East Village house to her job at City Hall by bus.


Credit…Arlene Schulman

“Don’t worry,” she recalled Ms. Prentiss saying. “I’m on my way.” (It did take some time, with the standard 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 by means of her first bus launch, which was rocky. As she ping-ponged down the aisle, she ran over the driving force’s toes. “Not your problem,” Ms. Prentiss referred to as out behind her.

Ms. Prentiss then directed the less-than-enthusiastic driver to safe Ms. Scheer’s chair (drivers aren’t 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 typically within the emergency room, but when there was a group board assembly or a metropolis listening to, she made certain to telephone 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 on 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 type referred to as golf pencils, and too small for individuals with sure guide 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 support to face up with. She referred to as the hospital that was administering this system there — and, Ms. Hertzberg mentioned, you possibly can make sure that it didn’t take lengthy for the issues to be mounted.

For the final three years, Arlene Schulman, a photographer, author and filmmaker, has been engaged on a documentary referred to as “Edith Prentiss: Hell on Wheels,” a title its topic initially quibbled with. She didn’t suppose it was sturdy sufficient.