Wheeling NY City

By Laurence Parent.

Alejandra and Nick

Last week, I met Alejandra Ospina and Nick Dupree at their apartment in Tribeca, Lower Manhattan. It was the second time I had visited them.

Alejandra and Nick are partners and disability rights activists. Nick has complex care needs and is vent-dependant. After years of fighting to get 24/7 home care, Nick moved to New York hoping to have access to the care he needed and to live with Alejandra. But things didn’t happen that way. They had to fight for a whole year to get the services Nick was legally entitled to. Alejandra, who is also disabled, was considered unfit to be Nick’s respondent in case of an emergency. They made a video about all the setbacks they have encountered on their road to 24/7 home care.

Alejandra and Nick now live together and Nick has 24/7 home care services. But the battle is not over. Finding reliable and competent home care nurses is a never-ending challenge. The job pays less than a job in an institution or a hospital. Alejandra and Nick generally have to hire people with little work experience and aspire to find a job with better working conditions in terms of salary and benefits. Because of that, Alejandra is one of Nick’s care givers. When she leaves the house, she never has a lot of time. Nick hardly ever goes out with Alejandra. He doesn’t have access to public transit because his wheelchair doesn’t fit the vehicles. His health also prevents him from venturing in the inaccessible city.

The afternoon we met, the nurse who was working for Nick was one of their favourites. They know they can trust her and Alejandra feels like she can leave Nick alone at home. Alejandra suggested going for a wheeling interview. Our ultimate goal was to go get strawberries in a grocery store in Brooklyn. This is where Alejandra goes for grocery shopping. The prices are lower than in Manhattan and she feels more at home in a socially diverse neighbourhood. She would love to live in Brooklyn, but finding an accessible and affordable apartment like the one they have now is almost impossible.

In the building elevator, I commented on the number of floors. There are about 50 of them.
Laurence Alejandra Elevator

Laurence: The first time I visited you, I was like woah! So many floors! I am in New York!

Alejandra: Yeah, we are in one of those stereotypical skyscrapers. It’s nice but I don’t feel comfortable living here though. I never have. There’s a lot of class stuff going on here.

Laurence: Why did you say that you never felt comfortable living here?

Alejandra: This is a very wealthy building. And the reason that we live here is because we are the opposite of wealthy and they get a tax break for it. It’s a very, very obvious class divide.

Laurence: Is it the norm in Manhattan?

Alejandra: No! No, no, no. There are certain buildings. They are called 80-20. 20% of the residences are for lower to middle incomes and the building gets a tax break for it. But it’s not common. You have to find them.

***
This short video is an excerpt of the wheeling interview. While we were waiting on the subway platform at Broadway-Lafayette station, Alejandra told me about what it was like for her to start riding the subway, and also about the fear she still feels when she rides it now.

To know more about Nick’s activism and art, visit his website.

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