sqbr: Asterix-like magnifying glass over Perth, Western Australia (australia 2)
[personal profile] sqbr posting in [community profile] access_fandom
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.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-01-19 06:35 pm (UTC)
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)
From: [personal profile] synecdochic
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!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-01-21 05:25 pm (UTC)
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)
From: [personal profile] synecdochic
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!

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