sqbr: Asterix-like magnifying glass over Perth, Western Australia (australia 2)
Sophie ([personal profile] sqbr) wrote in [community profile] access_fandom2011-01-18 07:55 pm

Mobility impairment friendly places to visit in the US

My partner and I are pondering a visit to the US for a holiday. I have chronic fatigue syndrome and fairly significant mobility issues: I can't walk very far, up more than a couple of stairs, or up steep hills, and will plausibly be hiring a mobility scooter.

Do people have recs (or anti-recs) for cities or sites that are likely to be interesting to two Australian geeks and are particularly amenable to these kinds of constraints?

Any good sf cons that are accessibility friendly and held in interesting cities? (My partner is alas not convinced that he would find Wiscon very interesting)

Our plans are very tentative at this stage, so any and all suggestions or ideas are welcome. Currently pondered locations include San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and Boston.
ambyr: pebbles arranged in a spiral on sand (nature sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy) (Pebbles)

[personal profile] ambyr 2011-01-18 01:07 pm (UTC)(link)
Though I love San Francisco, it's renown for its steep hills. If those are a major issue, I would focus on one of the other locations.
executrix: (lady soul)

[personal profile] executrix 2011-01-18 01:38 pm (UTC)(link)
wot ambyr said. And, theoretically, New York public transportation is wheelchair-friendly, the elevators are out of service more often than they work.
flourish: white lady, green eyes, brown hair (Default)

[personal profile] flourish 2011-01-18 02:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Boston has lots of cobblestones, which may or may not be easy for a scooter, depending on the kind of scooter. I have heard complaints about wheelchairs not being very good over the cobble, but on the other hand, a motor scooter will be much easier. On the other hand, in Boston, you can also take tour buses that are very good and give you a very good idea of the city, and which don't require walking (they're water/land tour buses that also go out in the bay, very cool). On the OTHER other hand, many things in Boston that are historical (don't know if you care about US history, but if you do) are, well, historical, so they're kind of tiny and hard to get into, certainly not very accessible - places like Paul Revere's house, etc. On the OTHER other hand, there's also lots of other places that are accessible, like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I'm not sure how well the Isabella Gardiner museum does but if you decide to go to Boston I live here and I'd look into it for you. It's a can't-miss if you're here. There are some cons here but I don't know about their accessibility.

Las Vegas is generally very accessible, IIRC.

Yosemite National Park is, IIRC, fairly accessible and extremely beautiful, but you may find it frustrating that some of the most beautiful views will be impossible for you (due to, well, you can't really hike up Bridal Veil Falls or what have you). That said, you can rent a scooter there and apparently get some kind of accessibility pass that will let you drive on some otherwise-private roads to get to more things. I'm not sure what kind of proof of disability you'd need to get that pass, if your disability is invisible, but I'm sure it's possible. If you go to the Yosemite website there's an accessibility guide and I bet it would help a lot if you get to that stage of the planning.

Good luck!
rhivolution: David Tennant does the Thinker (Default)

[personal profile] rhivolution 2011-01-18 02:17 pm (UTC)(link)
I can't really speak to Chicago on a personal level regarding mobility accessibility, but there's a state-funded accessible travel guide, which is at least a good sign. (As we all know too well, it may be not quite as accessible as it seems.)

While public transit is reliable, the city itself is pretty spread out, even in the downtown area. If you go, I would plan to spend a bit extra for a centrally-located hotel, at the very least. However, there are loads of interesting things to see and do there, geekily speaking and non-geekily speaking, particularly the museum-y places (Art Institute, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium...).

While I've never been, Think Galacticon is in Chicago in July, and I've heard some good things about it. They focus on radical/leftist politics and speculative fiction and have accessibility policies, as their concept and ideals are based off WisCon. There are other more general SF cons in Chicago, but I haven't heard anything about them, I fear.
jadelennox: Oracle about to kick ass: "'cripple', my butt." (gimp: cripple)

[personal profile] jadelennox 2011-01-18 03:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Boston is a mix. It's a very walking friendly city, and a lot of the shops and other touristy areas are old or in old buildings, that because they predate the Americans with disabilities act (and in many cases, electricity) have at least a few steps in and out.

If you are interested in seeing things around greater Boston (and there's plenty of touristy areas outside of the city), you can have a great experience. Gloucester, Salem, Plymouth, Cape Cod, etc.

And there are plenty of tour buses (or even better, duck Tours, that drive around the city's roads and rivers in adapted amphibious vehicles), so you can see the less car-friendly parts of the city without having to walk.

If you like museums, aquariums, etc., those are all accessible and all world-class. Fenway Park is accessible. The outdoor parts of the freedom trail are accessible if you have an electric scooter (it's designed for walking around hilly city); the indoor historic site it goes to are accessible where it's plausible, but a lot of them are very old buildings. I found one page that says the author hit the slew of bookstores in Cambridge, which surprises me, because while Cambridge is full of wonderful bookstores most of the ones I can think of have fairly crappy accessibility. (That was on a search for "Accessible Boston", By the way, which had some really good links.

Don't come when there is likely to be snow. Locals are indifferent shovelers at best, and asking them to shovel out the curb cuts is apparently too much for our delicate sensibilities.

The MBTA is much more accessible than it used to be. The buses are all accessible, the trains are accessible, and I think even the green line is accessible which brings us up to 100% subway accessibility, in theory.

When you call restaurants to find out about their accessibility, you should specifically ask "are there any steps to the front door" and "are there any steps to the bathroom". Restaurant staff around here seem to think that two steps to the front door and a flight of steps to the bathroom still counts as "accessible"; I have no idea why.

As far as cons, The problem is that most of them are in the winter when the hotels are cheaper, and that's when the city is a lot less wheelchair/scooter friendly. Arisia, Boskine definitely snowy. Vericon maybe. AnimeBoston probably not.
Edited (cons) 2011-01-18 15:15 (UTC)
killing_rose: Abby from NCIS asleep next to a caf-Pow with the text "Goth Genius at Work" (Abby)

[personal profile] killing_rose 2011-01-18 03:26 pm (UTC)(link)
I second the "in theory, New York should be decent but..." comment. Plus, New York public transportation actually only has elevators in specific stations to begin with. And New York requires a lot of walking.
littlebutfierce: (atla iroh disappoint)

[personal profile] littlebutfierce 2011-01-18 05:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Thirding the caution re: New York -- most of the subway stations don't even have elevators. In theory you can take buses instead, & many of them are supposedly accessible, but I've heard some stories about bus drivers being unwilling to pick up people in wheelchairs, etc. (then again, on the flip side, I've also seen bus drivers be v. accommodating & helpful)
wordweaverlynn: the Golden Gate Bridge in fog; instead of cables, the uprights are book spines (FOGcon)

[personal profile] wordweaverlynn 2011-01-18 06:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, San Francisco has seriously steep hills, but we also have FOGcon, and we're working especially hard to make sure the con access is everything you could wish for.
badgerbag: (Default)

[personal profile] badgerbag 2011-01-19 02:01 am (UTC)(link)
Most of the places I go and hang out in SF are flat! The Mission is lovely, & the entire Embarcadero.

Yosemite is totally amazing, and I've enjoyed it without hiking all over the place, because the views are great, there are good places to eat, and I could drive around, park at different locations, and putter close to the parking lot, birdwatching and picking up rocks and stuff like that.

staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

[personal profile] staranise 2011-01-18 11:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Las Vegas is hugely accessible. I mean, it's so accessible I didn't find a place I couldn't go, and the disabled parking/seating in the theatres I went to was very well-placed.

I don't care if it makes me a philistine. I love Las Vegas. I don't gamble, but I get to go to a million concerts and plays and eat really good food in charming surroundings.
jesse_the_k: sign reads "torture chamber unsuitable for wheelchair users" (even more access fail)

[personal profile] jesse_the_k 2011-01-19 12:29 am (UTC)(link)
What sort of things might your partner find interesting? I know Madison well and there are definitely things worth visiting here.

As far as buses, thanks to the law and funding policies all U.S. city buses have the equipment to board and secure scooters and wheelchairs. One can't predict whether the drivers will welcome us or be jerks. Many of the light rail/subway systems were specifically exempted from access. Over-the-road buses (the tall ones which travel between cities, like Greyhound) require 24 hours notice to ensure an accessible coach in the right place.

The frustrating thing about Chicago is the curb ramps are very uneven — some are so steep and sloped that I've travelled in the street to use a driveway. (Not to mention the driveways which appear in the middle of the sidewalk without warning.)

I scraped through many doorways in Boston's Isabella Gardner museum.
pseudo_tsuga: ([Other] San Francisco sunset)

[personal profile] pseudo_tsuga 2011-01-19 12:50 am (UTC)(link)
I'll come back to this later to give more details about San Francisco and Yosemite, but the last time my dad went to San Francsico International Airport, he found it very tough to navigate and was in pain from the amount of walking he had to do. He mostly uses a cane, with crutches after a surgery and rarely a wheelchair. I would definitely suggest a scooter if you end up at that airport.
havocthecat: the lady of shalott (Default)

[personal profile] havocthecat 2011-01-19 02:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Do not come to Chicago during our winter! Much as I would love to see you visit Chicago in winter is not a good place for the mobility-impaired. (I have a bad ankle, and the slipping and sliding I've done on the ice is unpleasant, and that's just minor stuff.) I've had disabled friends who have had luck with Vegas, especially along the Strip.
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2011-01-19 06:35 pm (UTC)(link)
Background: mobility-impaired, part-time manual wheelchair user, walk with cane when I'm not in the 'chair. I can do stairs but they hurt, so I tend to avoid them, but I can do them, so they aren't a complete barrier for me. I also have excellent upper-body strength and no barrier to using it for a long time, so I am self-propelled and can jump minor obstacles, not to mention jumping inadequate or not-there curb cuts. (I mention all this because I might have a few cases of not noticing things that would be a problem for you!)

* Nthing the "Las Vegas is very accessible" thing -- we regularly vacation there because of it. Nearly the whole Strip was built in the last 20 years or so, post-ADA for the most part, and really takes accessibility to heart -- many of the casinos are connected in some fashion that makes it easy to get from place to place. The street-level access is not wonderful -- sidewalks are often under construction or blocked by pedestrians -- but there are a lot of 'skyway' type things where you can get back and forth. If you're going all the way from one end of the Strip to the other, I would leave a lot of time; it's easy to pick up a regular cab, but I don't know about scooter-accessible vans, so you'd have to look into that. Many properties have monorails/trams/yadda connecting them, if they're owned by the same people, and there's one monorail on the Strip runs from the MGM Grand to the Sahara. (I haven't been on it, so I don't know how accessible it is. They claim to be 100% accessible, and in general when Vegas says that I believe them, but I can't testify to it in person.)

Even if you don't gamble, Vegas is a good choice due to all the shows and sights; if you do gamble, but want a less expensive gambling option, look for the smaller casinos or consider getting a bus (which I believe are accessible, but have never tried; we usually have a car) down to Fremont Street (aka 'old Vegas'), where the casinos generally spread cheaper tables. For instance, blackjack is my game, and on the Strip it's nigh-impossible to find a $5 BJ table on nights or weekends; $10 minimum is standard and some places go for $15. (Oddly, the Bellagio is the only place we've regularly found them spreading $5 blackjack regularly; it's so large, and has so many table games, that they can afford to have some lower-stakes ones.) Downtown, a $5 game is standard, and some places you can still find $2 tables during the morning/afternoons Mon-Thu.

* New York -- Manhattan is hit or miss. As others mentioned, the subway is *brutal* -- elevator-equipped stations are few and far between, there are no tie-downs on the cars, and the stations that do have elevators are often out of service, leaving you stranded or needing to pay for another trip if you already exited the station proper in order get to a station that is accessible (which might be another 20 stops away). That having been said, they do have an accessible van transport program (you have to apply, you can't just call for pickup; visitors are eligible, but you need some proof of requirement; the link is here: NYC Paratransit) and once you figure out how to get around, it really is an amazing city, and locations and attractions usually are fairly accessible -- I'd say it's about an 80% access rate. Street access is generally pretty good; I've never seen an intersection without a curb cut, although they're not always in the best of repair and I've had to jump a few, and the way that at least midtown is set up means that if one curb cut isn't functioning right you can just go another block up and try again and still get to where you're going. (Blocks in Manhattan are fairly compact.)

I wouldn't cross it off your plans just because of the subway; pick up a copy of an accessible-Manhattan guidebook and plan carefully. The mayor's office has a accessible NY pamphlet on travel and certain venues. Manhattan is so overwhelmingly packed with amazing things to do that even if you do wind up not being able to go more than 'scooter driving distance' from your hotel, a careful hotel choice can still leave you with more to explore than you have time for! And speaking of hotels, I've stayed at the Hotel San Carlos and it's stunning -- the rooms are more than big enough to park a scooter and still have room to get around (this is often a problem in NYC; hotel rooms are small as a rule). The only downside to the San Carlos is that it's got steps inside at the entrance; there is a stair lift but it could get annoying if you plan on returning to the hotel frequently during the day. (If that's the case, look for another midtown hotel -- anything in the 40th-60th street range, and between about Third to Seventh avenues -- for the best home base location. Rule of thumb is twenty north/south city blocks = 1 mile; 4 east/west blocks = 1 mile.)

* San Francisco -- I wouldn't. While many/most of the touristy attractions are in the less steep part of the city, in my experience many or most of them have stairs and no elevator, and many of them have "just one or two" steps. City blocks are ridiculously long, curb cuts are erratic, and 'less steep' doesn't mean 'not steep' -- I wind up needing someone to push me half the time in SF, even though I absolutely hate letting someone else drive, and I have excellent upper body strength to self-propel. The one good accessibility thing that SF has going for it is that BART cars are middling accessible (designated wheelchair parking spots, etc), although not all stations are. (The ones we use regularly when we're out there are, but not all of them.)

* I haven't been to Yosemite, but most of the national parks are fair-to-middling accessible, depending on what you want to do. Carefully scrutinize the guide map, and most of them should have an accessible guide map available. I have been to Yellowstone, and although it was before my mobility impairment started kicking in, it was on a day that I was having serious altitude sickness so we stayed nearly entirely in the car, and I was quite pleased with what you could reach via car. YMMV, though, and I can't speak too well for that.

* One thing you might not have considered, and I know it might not sound like your thing but hear me out: Walt Disney World is the most accessible vacation destination in the entire US, perhaps in the entire world, and it is amazing. It's four theme parks plus about twenty hotel resorts plus two water parks plus a "downtown" shopping area/boardwalk type thing, and it's got some awesome restaurants. The theme park attractions hit about 80% accessible (there are a few that just plain can't work for wheelchairs/scooters, such as the one in the Magic Kingdom that's essentially a giant treehouse), but the hotels and restaurants are 100% accessible, and like Manhattan, there's so much to do that you'll never miss the non-accessible options.

All Ears has the best collection of information I've found about WDW, including one of the most comprehensive sets of information about special needs challenges -- not just mobility impairment. (WDW is one of the only vacation destinations in the US where you can eat gluten-free for an entire trip, for instance, and if you specify special needs on hotel booking, it brings up an entire page with what special needs you have, including things like "wash all bedding in nothing but white vinegar", "clean my room with nothing but vinegar", "I will bring all my own bedding", etc.) There's a book called Passporter's Open Mouse that I haven't personally read (we're Disney geeks and pretty much know all the info already) but which is very highly recommended; there's a sneak peek of about 40 pages that will give you a chance to evaluate it.

The question that most people have when I tell them this is, "But will I enjoy it? I'm an adult, isn't WDW for kids?" And my answer is, everyone has the potential to enjoy WDW. They're incredible at creating immersive experiences, and it winds up being an environment that somehow evokes childhood (even if you didn't have a large Disney presence in your childhood, which I didn't) without being childish, if you know what I mean. The theme parks are really interesting, full of lots of educational opportunities in addition to just the standard theme-park rides -- EPCOT, for instance, has both 'Future World' (all the pavillions are somehow technology-related, with informational and educational bits in among the standard thrill rides) and 'World Showcase' (11 countries, each with their own pavillion staffed by college-age students from that country, evoking the flavor of the country with movies, restaurants, shopping, art galleries, etc), and the Animal Kingdom is a combination zoo and theme park with a 'walking tour' of habitats, a safari, and an educational center and petting zoo. I'd call it highly geek-friendly, as long as you're willing to approach things with an "entertain me!" attitude -- especially if you take one or more of their backstage tours, which are also majorly accessible, and which satisfy one's inner (or not-so-inner) infrastructure and planning geek!

The parks themselves are huge -- there's no way I'd suggest doing it without a scooter -- but there's so much to do in each one, and you could literally spend a month there and not see everything. (And that's not even counting the other attractions in Orlando like Universal Studios or Seaworld -- I've never even been there, despite having been to WDW over a dozen times, because WDW alone is enough to keep you busy!) WDW guests also have use of the WDW transportation system, which is the most accessible transport system I've ever seen -- every bus has multiple tie-down parts, the monorail has accessible cars -- even the water launches and ferries have wheelchair ramps and wheelchair seating. You may have to account for extra time to get from one place to another, but you will get there, and without any hassle at all. It's amazing.

No matter what you're interested in, there's something for you at WDW, and the sheer glory of knowing that you literally will not have to worry about access issues, once, on your vacation can't be underestimated. More than that, no matter what your access needs happen to be, WDW cast members (all employees are 'cast members', since all of WDW is a performance on behalf of the guests) are highly trained and the values of respect and hospitality are drilled into them from moment one, so you never once feel like a freak, a burden, or an inconvenience to the people around you (well, sometimes the other guests are rude, but the cast members never are) -- they are friendly and helpful without being condescending or rude, and the sheer experience of being treated just like everyone else while at the same time having your particular special needs accomodated is alone worth the trip. Every single cast member will go above and beyond to make sure that your experience is 'magical', no matter what.

(And the food is fabulous. Their counter-service restaurants are nothing special, but their sit-down places are stellar. One of my friends who's a total foodie snob turned up her nose at WDW for years, until her husband had a convention there and she went with him, and she came home stunned at how awesome it really was -- they're going back next week!)

There are certain planning details to take into consideration, such as what time of year to go (never go between June and early September; never go in the last week of December or over President's Day weekend (early/mid February)), what hotels to stay in and where to request your room (the resorts are so huge that some blocks/areas are better than others for accessibility purposes, not to mention the fact that there are so many hotels that every price point -- there are four -- has an incredible amount of choices for where to stay, and then once you've decided on a hotel you need to know which section/area is the best place to stay), and where to eat (like I said, you can eat entirely counter-service and have nothing but forgettable crap theme-park food, or you can go for their table-service restaurants and eat like a king -- and they have dining plans that mean you won't pay through the nose, either). I totally can't cover it all in just one comment that's already overflowing, but I am happy to help you out with planning your trip to WDW from beginning to end, from when to go to where to stay to what to eat to which attractions are absolute must-sees. Just drop me a PM and I will write you a small book.

Seriously, if I were to pick one US vacation destination for someone with mobility issues, it would be WDW. It's my favorite place in the world, and I will never get tired of going. (We're holding our formal wedding there in a year or two, even.) I wish that more people with disabilities would realize that WDW is not just for kids, because really, they bill themselves as The Happiest Place On Earth™ and they are not joking, but they should also bill themselves as The Most Accessible Place On Earth -- it truly is amazing.

I will stop writing this comment now, because it is a small novel already, but my wife and I travel a lot and have been to many major US destinations, many of which we visited once I started having mobility problems, so if you think that I'm a good match for your particular issues and would like to get the lowdown on things, please please please feel free to PM or email (synecdochic at dreamwidth dot org) and I will talk your ear off!
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2011-01-21 05:25 pm (UTC)(link)
WDW is a great choice, really! Browse around All Ears a bit and you can get the idea of what kind of stuff there is (especially the stuff other than the theme parks -- we've been on trips before where we didn't hit the parks at all) and what kind of awesome backstage type stuff there is
for geeks to geek over.I am happy to answer any questions you have!