Seeking to expand access, one cab at a time

Everyone likes to step out and enjoy themselves here and again – a day at the museum, a date at the movies. Or maybe you just need to get to a doctor’s appointment, your son’s recital, or a job interview.

Philadelphia taxi

Photo courtesy: Cameron J. King/Flickr

Some people drive. Others rely on SEPTA. A few bike.

But if you use a wheelchair, taxicabs generally are not an option.

In fact, in a city of 1.5 million-plus people (and growing, according to the latest U.S. Census figures), there are fewer than 10 wheelchair-accessible taxicabs legally operating in the city. For the general public, there’s about 1 cab for every 968 residents; for those in wheelchairs, that ratio swells to 1 for every 18,408, give or take.

Such limited options pose limited access, a point that City Councilman David Oh has been making.

The Committee on Global Opportunities and Creative/Innovative Economy as well as the Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities engaged in a round of hearings today to dig a little deeper into this issue, to help ensure that Philadelphia IS “a globally competitive, world-class destination city.”

Achieving that goal is imperative, said PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle, who testified Tuesday at City Hall at a public hearing on the topic.


Thomas H. Earle (r.), PCHR chair and CEO of Liberty Resources Inc., testifies before a City Council committee on the need to increase Philadelphia’s share of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs.

“This level of segregation is unacceptable and is an embarrassing insult to the civil rights movement,” said Earle, who also heads Liberty Resources Inc. “Here we are in 2014 in Philadelphia, one of the largest cities in the United States, 24 years after the passage of the ADA with the disabled community still struggling to be an integrated part of society.”

Nearly 1 in 10 city residents rely on wheelchairs or other ambulatory support devices. And if ensuring access for locals weren’t enough, there’s also the factor of possibly leaving money on the table.

By some estimates, American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility spend about $13.6 billion a year on travel, whereas their European counterparts also spend in the billions. Reports on the Australian tourism market note that disabled tourists represent about 16 percent of their total market – nearly 1 in 6 visitors. Advocacy groups such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism and the Open Doors Organization have been touting these economic benefits for years.

Since tourism is a leading industry – as Philadelphia is chockfull of attractions like the Liberty Bell, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just to name a few treasures – hailing the right solution on cabs could mean increased dollars for a city in need of them. It certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Working to elevate black men, boys and Philadelphia

Working to elevate black men, boys and Philadelphia

Mayor Michael A. Nutter receives the recommendations report from the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males, a two-year study focusing on key areas to engage and advance wellness, achievement and access for a vital demographic too often languishing, with disturbing results.

Helping to ensure LGBT elder dignity in housing

On a sunny Monday, in the heart of Philly’s Gayborhood, the giant rainbow ribbon draped across the new John C. Anderson Apartments billowed in the slight breeze. The tent in the street outside the building teemed with a slew of community activists, equality allies, policymakers and elected officials, past and present. All gathered to pay homage to the man and the mission he inspired to provide affordable housing for an underserved, aging population.

“It’s really an honor to stand in front of that building and see his name ascribed on that building over there,” said Bishop Jesse Anderson Jr. “In life it’s about what you do to help others, not your faith, your orientation, your gender.”

Bishop Jesse Anderson Jr.

Bishop Jesse Anderson Jr. (l.) helps celebrate the life of his brother, City Councilman John C. Anderson, along with PGN Publisher Mark Segal (c.) at the dedication of the new Anderson apartment complex, an LGBT-friendly property for lower-income seniors.

He offered reflections on his brother, the late city councilman for whom the LGBT-friendly senior complex is named. Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal and the dmhFund spear-headed the project. The landmark 56-unit building is one of the first of its kind on the East Coast, and particularly important in Pennsylvania, whose history of equal treatment for its LGBT residents has not always been rosy.

Attendees echoed that sentiment during the two-hour dedication, noting that Anderson worked to rise above bias and discrimination he faced even in his own community at times, as well as the wider public. While Anderson died in 1983 from AIDS-related complications, at a time when few spoke openly about the disease, it was his life of devoted service to others that remains his legacy.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter

Mayor Michael A. Nutter reflects on the life and legacy of his mentor and friend, the late City Councilman John C. Anderson.

It was Anderson’s example, Mayor Michael A. Nutter told the assembled, that inspired him to pursue a career in government. His office still contains mementos of those early days in politics, by his mentor’s side.

“John Anderson was a devoted public servant, who cared about quality of life issues,” said Rue Landau, executive director of PCHR. “It is so apropos to dedicate a complex to ensuring dignity for LGBT elders, especially for those early pioneers like him, who worked to improve lives and access to equality for all.”


New findings related to improving lives of black males, families, in Philly

On Monday, the Commission on African-American Males will unveil its report for heightening outcomes and extending lives through re-examining and refining local health, education, economic development and criminal justice policies. The press conference announcing its findings will be held at noon.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter re-established the commission, first launched by former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., in 2011. It is intended to explore unique issues and challenges facing the city’s African-American males, with a focus on boys.

Philadelphia's black males

The Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males is set to release its report on improving outcomes, focusing on four key areas.

Given harrowing statistics – from homicide and gunplay to high school graduation rates – there is ample room for concern. In terms of education, for instance, there were reports indicating both black and Latino males lagged significantly in graduation rates and were overrepresented in dropout statistics. Certainly, this is not solely a Philadelphia issue, as national studies bear. But since African Americans compose 4 in 10 residents, the realities of their quality of life and prosperity – or lack thereof – stand to impact the city directly, heightening the stakes for this commission.

“If you look at black male conditions improving, everybody’s conditions would improve because it would be a ripple effect across the whole society,” said commission co-chair Bilal Qayyum, founder of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “Unfortunately, African-American males lead in too many negative statistics.”

The reasons for those discouraging figures are plentiful, but often lead back to biases and prejudices codified – explicitly or implicitly – that have never been uprooted, let alone explored, Qayyum said. That’s evidenced in issues such as suspension disparities and unequal sentencing that can tilt the socioeconomic trajectory for boys, then men, and by extension, generations of families, across the city.

“None of this takes away from personal responsibility,” Qayyum added. “As a people and as individuals, we have personal responsibility, because poor choices can lead to mistakes, which leads to problems in our lives. But we’re not going to negate that a lot of the problems that relate to black males relate to institutional racism.

“We were tasked to sit down and be able to come up with recommendations. And once the mayor assesses the commission’s report, we’ll work on the implementation plan. We feel good about this work, because we have a pretty good representation of black males in this city who were dedicated to this,” he said.

That diverse representation ranged from grassroots organizers such as Greg Corbin II of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement and Alex Peay of Rising Sons to seasoned scholars such as Howard C. Stevenson of the University of Pennsylvania to nonprofit leaders such as the United Way’s Steve Vassor to Rev. Goode, who returned to service as co-chair.

While the mandate was to focus on African-American males, this effort is bound to impact others in positive ways, said PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Abdul-Jabbar Garner, who also serves on this commission.

Just as the Civil Rights Movement was launched with the concerns of African Americans largely in mind, in the years since, its strategies and triumphs ultimately have been emulated by other underrepresented populations – from Latinos to people with physical and mental disabilities. And correcting societal deficiencies benefits everyone, Garner said.

“This work puts things into greater context,” he said. “It’s so important for us to start utilizing this type of information to shore up the future, to start preparing and planning for our communities – to better all of our communities.”

For details on the commission’s press conference, click here.

Celebrating a warrior spirit for justice: Jaci Adams

To know Jaci Adams was like knowing pure, directed energy. After an early life with plenty of bruises and scars, she rose above pity parties and delved into the work of helping to ensure equal treatment for all.

Jaci kept on fighting that good fight until Saturday, Feb. 15, when she lost her battle with cancer.

She was unrelenting in her efforts, partly because she knew what it was like to be on the wrong side of the law, for any number of reasons. Because she knew how challenging and rewarding it could be to live with and fight HIV/AIDS daily. And because she understood rejection along familial, ethnic and gender lines, as well as the gratification of acceptance, respect and living life with purpose.

Jaci Adams: 1957-2014

Jaci Adams was a pioneering trans advocate who fought for dignity and equality for all Philadelphians. Photo courtesy: The Mazzoni Center

Jaci’s combined life experiences – from small-town West Virginia to urbane West Philadelphia – forged her authenticity and ability to touch hearts and minds. The AIDS Law Project, the Temple University Community Advisory Board and the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund are just a few of the many organizations that directly benefited from her drive; countless others enjoyed her involvement.

Her work in the criminal justice system, particularly, had immense impact across the city, from being one of the longest standing members of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee to helping to train area judges and members of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

“One thing that was so great about Jaci was that she could speak from her unique perspective of somebody who has been through the system and also somebody who knew how to effectively advocate for reforms,” said Rue Landau, executive director of PCHR. “The training sessions she helped lead were amazing and transformative. She helped broaden perspectives and respect for all worlds.”

Jaci embraced the powerful and the powerless and shared her warmth and counsel, be that with the district attorney of Philadelphia or a homeless teen on the corner. Jaci had, as one friend put it, “the smile of a true crusader who never allowed anyone to go unnoticed.”

Last spring, her spirit and story helped her earn the Elixir Activist Leader Award, among her many other deserved recognitions. She is equally deserving of a place in our collective memory. It’s not just the city’s LGBT residents and advocates feeling this loss. It’s a feeling shared by many residents of this city and region focused on the cause of social justice, Jaci’s cause.

Indeed, Jaci Adams was one of a kind. She will be missed.

Advancing Social Justice for Asian Americans

Asian Americans Advancing Justice offered policymakers, educators, funders and activists a considerable compilation of data to consider when it comes to issues of civic engagement, education attainment, income and health disparities and housing concerns. In fact, in Philadelphia, common conversations around poverty and its impact too often omit one of the largest groups in its grip: Asian Americans.

So said the newly released report, A Community of Contrasts. A coalition of Philadelphia-based advocates unveiled the study at a breakfast meeting Wednesday, co-hosted by PCHR. The report reviewed a host of data sets comparing and contrasting the social health of Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations in Boston, New York and Philadelphia and challenged several common misconceptions.

aaaj_020514Among the local findings:

  • Some 1 in 4 the state’s Asian-American population call Philadelphia home
    • The Asian-American population grew by 43 percent in the past decade, whereas the number of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders grew by 32 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau
    • That trend mirrors similar activity throughout the Northeast, where both are among the fastest-growing racial groups
  • Nearly half of Asian-American immigrants in Philadelphia are naturalized, voting-eligible citizens
  • Buying power across Pennsylvania tallies more than $12 billion, more than doubled since 2000
  • Conversely, unemployment quadrupled among Asian Americans here between 2007 and 2011, pushing 1 in 2 Asian-American families to life below the poverty line
  • Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans represent the city’s largest ethnic groups among Asian Americans
  • Nearly 1 in 2 Asian-American residents here have limited English proficiency, which serves as a barrier to a host of opportunities and services – from employment to education to healthcare
  • Asian Americans are uninsured at rates that are twice that of their white neighbors
  • About 1 in 5 Asian Americans are under age 21
  • Some 8 in 10 Asian-American students are likely to be enrolled in a public school, and half report bullying to be a problem
  • Despite the “model minority myth,” Asian-American students are a diverse lot, including a swath with educational attainment similar to those of their African-American and Latino peers
  • Some 1 in 2 Cambodian-American, as well as Vietnamese-American, households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing; upwards of 1 in 3 Cambodian-American renters spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing

The report presents a compelling snapshot of the lives of the nearly 115,000 Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander residents living here. It also can help shape a next generation conversation on the tools and targets for those fighting for social justice.