Future City Lab: Accessible City II

Lesson Two: Rethinking Accessibility


Grade Level: 8-9
Keywords: accessible, disability, ADA (The Americans With Disabilities Act)
Source: www.flickr.com/larimdame

Time Estimate: 60 minutes  

Connection to Future City LabLiving Together: How can we foster a more inclusive city? 


Students will:  

  • evaluate accessibility in our existing communities  

  • develop an understanding of who is NOT utilizing our subway system and analyze why  

  • discuss the city’s growth goal for accessible transportation 

  • brainstorm and reenvision built spaces (i.e. subway station or school buildings) applying principles of accessibility and universal design 



  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.9: Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic. 

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7: Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts. 

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. 

Social Justice Standards (Social Justice: The Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework

  • Justice 12 JU.6-8.12 I can recognize and describe unfairness and injustice in many forms including attitudes, speech, behaviors, practices and laws.  

  • Justice 13 JU.6-8.13 I am aware that biased words and behaviors and unjust practices, laws and institutions limit the rights and freedoms of people. 

  • Action 16 AC.6-8.16 I am concerned about how people (including myself ) are treated and feel for people when they are excluded or mistreated because of their identities. 

  • Action 20 AC.6-8.20 I will work with friends, family and community members to make our world fairer for everyone, and we will plan and coordinate our actions in order to achieve our goals.  

Guiding Questions:  

  1. Realistically, how accessible is NYC?  

  2. Who is visible and who is invisible in our public transit system?  

  3. What changes could we make to create a more accessible city?


    Through observation and data collection, personal stories, audiovisual sources, and written information, students will be made aware of accessibility and mobility injustice in New York City.  Students will begin to understand the need for advocacy, action, and problem-solving as we strive to foster a more inclusive city. 

  1. Do Now: Discuss and Watch (10 minutes)
  2. Who do you see when you ride the subway?  (kids going to school, etc.)  

    Video 1:  Few Entrances and Sometimes No Exit

    Video 2: Lisa’s Story 

  3. Turn and Talk (5 minutes)
  4. Have you ever thought about who you don’t see when you ride the subway?  Let’s think about that for 30 seconds. Now, discuss with a partner who you do not see utilizing the subway.   

  5. Read Aloud/Group Work (15 minutes)
  6. Read portions of the articles that accompany each of the videos above. If able to use a computer-connected projector, pay special attention to the graphics and statistics in the .gif files. (Note: teachers will need to select the excerpts that are most appropriate for their students.) 

    Read Aloud 1: Portions of article from the Huffington Post 

    Extension - Read Aloud 2 (if time allows or you want to give different students different articles to review): Portions of article from The New York Times  

    If you’ve done Lesson One of this series, share out: Compare the realities in the videos and the article with your observations during your recent neighborhood walk and trip to the subway station. 

  7. Activity (20 minutes)
  8. Using iPads or computers: Use Google Maps to plan a trip within New York City. (Note: this can be any itinerary; if you’re in New York City, you can map from your school’s location to the Museum of the City of New York at 1220 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. If you’re outside the city, try getting from the Museum’s address to the New York Hall of Science in Queens.) Once you know your preferred route via public transportation, refer to this map to see which accessible subway stations are nearby. (Note: this map should provoke interesting reactions from your students.) You can also visit the MTA site to determine whether the subway stops that are supposed to be accessible are having any maintenance work done that might interfere with accessibility. (Note: recently several apps, like Wheely and AXS Map, have been introduced that do this same work, and you may wish to share that fact with your students – note especially that much of this is crowdsourced and comes from the disabled community itself.)  

    (Extension:  Can you arrive at your destination using buses only?  Can you use a car service, Uber, or taxi?  Compare and contrast these options with New York City subway options.)  

    Critically evaluate the Access-a-Ride service offered by the MTA (look especially at “How to Reserve”). Is this a reasonable accommodation? What are the positives of this service? What are the limitations of this service? 

  9. Data Analysis (10 minutes)
  10. The average weekday subway ridership in New York is 5,655,755. (Taken from MTA stats here.) 

    As a class, review the first five slides of the NYC People with Disability Statistics. If using a projector, keep Slide 5 up for reference. Ask: 

    1.) What percentage of New York City residents have a disability? (Answer: 948,208/8,492,233 = 0.112, or 11.2%)  

    2.) What percentage of those are identified as having an ambulatory disability? (Answer: Slide 5 says that this is 19%. To be exact: 178,998/948,208 = 0.189, or 18.9%.) 

    3.) What is the total number of people who have an ambulatory disability? Why is this a trick question? Note that the numbers for ambulatory disability are masked by fact that a large portion of respondents have two or more disabilities, which is not clearly broken down in this data set – and so the actual number of people with ambulatory disability is actually much higher than the data might first suggest. 

    Return to the weekday subway ridership figure. Assuming (falsely) that New York’s subway ridership reflects the exact demographics of the city as a whole, and using the percentage of New Yorkers who have an ambulatory disability only, what number of subway riders would you expect to have an ambulatory disability? (Answer: we would expect, first, that 11.2% of riders would have a disability. Of those, we would expect 18.9% had an ambulatory disability. So if we multiply the subway ridership figure – 5,655,755 – by 0.112, and then multiply that number by a further 0.189, we should see 119,721 people with ambulatory disabilities on our subways. Remind students that this number is a very low figure based on the overall data: 509,803 New Yorkers have two or more disabilities, and ambulatory disability has a high co-incidence with other disabilities.)   

    Reflection: In your journals, write your thoughts on whether or not you think this demographic of our city is typically amongst the daily ridership of our transit system.  Justify your answer with evidence from your neighborhood walk data and work you did today.   

Additional Resources  

Fieldtrips: This content is inspired by the Future City Lab gallery in the Museum’s flagship exhibition, New York at Its Core. If possible, consider bringing your students on a fieldtrip! Visit http://mcny.org/education/field-trips to find out more. 




This series of lesson plans for New York at Its Core was developed in conjunction with a focus group of New York City public school teachers: Joy Canning, Max Chomet, Vassili Frantzis, Jessica Lam, Patty Ng, and Patricia Schultz.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these lessons do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.