Life with and without the Amish

Ezekiel, who grew up in an Amish household, describes his journey from the Amish to where he is toda

I am 33 years old. 33 was a big number to reach. Bigger than 21, or 30, because 33 is the year I have officially been living out in the World longer than I lived amongst the Amish.

I saw many of the people I grew up with, went to school with, and worshipped with do a lot of wild things on Rumspringa – the time when Amish teens get to live outside traditional Amish society without strict rules. I wasn’t nearly as adventurous as many of my friends, but ironically now live a life as a musician that perhaps many English (non-Amish) would consider wild even by their standards. Though, from what I have seen on television, still relatively tame compared to most musicians.

I loved a lot about the Amish lifestyle. I still do. The focus on family is something I will never lose. Rejecting Hochmut (arrogance) and embracing Demut (humility) are two things I learned being Amish that I will always practice and believe. Gelassenheit is something I try to hold on to in every day life. Calmness. Patience. Especially considering the boisterous nature of my profession, I need that quiet time. While the Amish take it to be submitting to the will of God or assertive, in my life here in the World (apart from the Amish)it has taken on a deeply personal meaning for me just as many of the beliefs I was raised with have.

While I loved the Amish life, I chose to leave it for reasons that became as strong to me as the love of what I left behind. Foremost among then was my wavering belief in God and the spiritual aspects of the life. I don’t know when this doubt first lit inside me. I was devoutly spiritual as a child, up until my teens. When I left on Rumspringa I came to a great appreciation of music, learning, and reading. I moved to New York when I was 18 and acquired my Certificate of General Educational Development, which allowed me to get a diploma from high school because Amish education stops at the 8th grade. I went on to four years of college, studying literature. The more I learned, the more I read, the more I questioned. That is not to say that people who still embrace God and religion, of any faith, are wrong in their faith. But the questions that came up for me were deep cracks in the foundation of my own. I came to believe that there is no right or wrong in religion. An individual’s faith is what is right for him or her, and no one else has the right to dispute that. If there is a God, I believe there is one God, but he or she is the God that each person chooses to believe in.

Then, as I have heard so many stories go in books and movies out here in the World, there’s always a woman. That was the case with me as well. I met my now-wife when I was 20 years old and working as a waiter. I had been through roughly two years of college and was still a bit “on the fence” as to what I was going to do with my life, but meeting her was, ultimately, the deciding factor. As it’s forbidden to marry a non-Amish woman, unless she joined the faith, I knew then and there that I was not going back. I had found my calling, and was lucky enough that she found love with me as well. Most Amish come back from Rumspringa to find a spouse and join Church. Rumspringa ended for me when I found a spouse and decided not to join Church.

A question I am often asked is if I am still Amish, and I am. It is part of who I am, and always will be. I still visit my family. I still embrace much of my Amish upbringing. I still value most of what being raised Amish has taught me. I will never lose sight of that, as surely as those who decide to join Church after Rumspringa will never lose sight of God. But just as their faith is strong with Him, my faith is strong with my family, my friends, and the people and life that I love.

Ezekiel was born Amish and grew up in Lancaster County, PA. He has now left the Amish and resides in New York with his wife.
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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.