Accessible Travel Destinations
As a kid, I watched movies and television shows that highlighted the magic of New York City. The romance of places like The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Central Park have been forever etched in my memory. There is always something to do; dining, sports, shopping, Broadway Theater, music, or just walking the city streets for some of the best people-watching anywhere. Then, there is the legacy of the attacks of the World Trade Center which have forever changed the way we live and travel.
Yes, New York City is a treasure trove for the senses. Each neighborhood holds its own personality, and a visit to the Big Apple isn't complete until you've ventured through some of them. But what about accessibility? How easy is it for a traveler with a disability to enjoy the many experiences that New York City has to offer? I wish I could say that New York City has done a phenomenal job when it comes to access. Unfortunately, I have found myself underwhelmed.
Walking/rolling the streets of Manhattan is a challenge, especially in the tourist areas. While some parts of the city have wide sidewalks that can be maneuvered, some older parts of the city have more narrow sidewalks, like SoHo and Greenwich Village. Curb cuts are sketchy. The city has repaired some curb cuts to be smooth and easy to traverse, but they are few and far between. However, many, many are not. They have ruts and divots that could cause a wheelchair with small wheels to take a topple. There are also SO many people who are not paying attention to anything around them. They are busy taking pictures, looking up, and rushing to get to and from work. A person in a wheelchair will find that they will have to spend a lot of energy ducking, weaving, starting and stopping just to get down the street. If you are a manual wheelchair user, I would strongly recommend renting a scooter or power chair. It would save you some energy, maneuver the curb cuts better, and give you a fighting chance against the crowds.
Getting around on public transit requires patience and a lot of planning. I spent a lot of time looking at the transportation in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Path system from New Jersey. The busses are good, have lifts and bus drivers who have no issue clearing the way to the priority area. However, the subway system is confusing, inconsistently accessible, and lacks readily available assistance. I've traveled in subways all over the world, and New York City has a lot to learn about signage and access. While I understand that many of the stations are very, very old, simply providing an elevator here and there isn't enough.
For example, depending on where you are going, you may need to be on a certain side of the street to access the subway. If you are unsure about where you are going, you could find yourself going up and down between the subway and street level to find where you need to be. Many times, assistance is only on one side of the train station. The other side does have a button with an intercom, but good luck finding it. Also, a station may be wheelchair accessible, but not all the tracks are. You could spend valuable energy wandering around a station, only to find out that the track you need doesn't have access. Also, forget trying to get on a train during rush hour. I had to wait for several trains to go by before I could squeeze myself into a train that was packed tighter than a can of sardines. If you are interested in trying the transit system, I wrote a guide to navigating the New York transit system that you can take a look at.
New York City does have accessible taxis. However, traffic is very congested, and you will find yourself paying a lot of money to sit in traffic.
Finding accessible restrooms was quite the adventure. I'm shocked at the sheer lack of accessible restrooms, even in places I was sure would have them. I went into several larger restaurants that were fairly modern and shouldn't have any architectural limitations only to find there were no accessible restrooms. Kudos go to Argos Tea, which has several stores in Manhattan. Every store I went to had an accessible restroom, and they were fairly clean. I did find them in Burger Kings, but they were usually not very clean. McDonalds was another option, and they were hit or miss when it came to cleanliness.
New York is known for its fabulous food. Dining options range from street vendors to exclusive restaurants throughout the city. Many restaurants had at least a step to navigate, and tables were so packed together that a wheelchair would have a difficult time getting in. The good news is that most staff in the restaurants were very accommodating and would move whatever they could to create a path. Also, in the summer, there are many quaint sidewalk cafes to be enjoyed. We found that the best lunches were found at take out restaurants while sitting in one of the many city parks in the area. Bryant Park, which is right by the New York City Public Library, has lovely grounds and many tables available for dining.
There are some New York accessible tours and attractions for people with disabilities to enjoy. We were able to enjoy the Circle Line Tour, a boat tour that circles Manhattan and allows a great view of the Statue of Liberty, and see Broadway shows. Broadway theaters have done a good job of making their venues accessible, and promote access through the Theater Development Fund which provides interpreters, captioning and other services.
We also toured Top of the Rock and NBC Studios. Top of the Rock was accessible, although someone who is sitting in a lower chair may have difficulty seeing over the barriers on the roof. The NBC Studio tour can accommodate people with disabilities; advance reservations are required, as they do arrange for a page to accompany you to access parts of the tour through alternate routes.
Central Park is a lovely and very tranquil place in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the city. There are many changes in grade, which make pushing a manual chair a real workout, and the park is HUGE. There are accessible restrooms, but it is helpful to have an idea of where they are, as they aren't in every restroom building. Here is a list of the accessible restrooms.
New York City does offer so many wonderful experiences to everyone. If you choose to go, arm yourself with the tools to make your trip enjoyable, and as always, a sense of adventure and humor will come in handy.
We will have more information about New York City in October and November, along with some great hotels that we toured. If you have more information to add about New York City, become an Ambassador or write a story!
Until next time...