New York City in a Wheelchair
New York, especially Manhattan, isn’t so much a flat city as it is a cube: a three-dimensional metropolis which stretches in all directions around you and above you. And while this might be perfect for non-disabled people, how good is it for people with disabilities? How challenging is it to visit New York City in a wheelchair?
You might be tempted to avoid the Big Apple if you’re in a wheelchair. After all, at first blush, it doesn’t seem like the most wheelchair-friendly place. But it turns out that thanks to its progressive base, the city is remarkably kind to travelers with disabilities. New York is a modern city, and you can expect modern accessibility options practically anywhere you go.
Just as with anywhere else in the world, the key to a successful trip is planning. Yes, the city is a busy and overwhelming place. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plentiful options for those in wheelchairs. Here, we’re going to discuss seven reasons you should visit New York City in a wheelchair.
Yellow Cabs Have To Stop For You
One of the defining symbols of New York, besides the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building in Midtown, is the yellow cabs. At the last count, there were more than 13,000 of them, buzzing around New York’s grid-iron streets. Thanks to disability laws, yellow taxis have to stop for passengers with disabilities – they don’t have a choice. And on the ground, the vast majority do, going out of their way to facilitate people in wheelchairs.
It’s worth pointing out that yellow taxis can be a little bit cramped, but with the right adjustments, it’s possible to fit everything inside. Taxis are prepared for this kind of eventuality, thanks to the city’s wheelchair program, which means that accessible taxis should be available 24 hours a day.
Want to guarantee an accessible taxi during your trip? Companies throughout the city specialize in ferrying visitors with disabilities from A to B in maximum comfort. One such company, Vega Transportation, operates a fleet of luxury vans, designed to minimize disruption and take those in wheelchairs wherever they want to go, be it Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island and even Atlantic City for casino trips.
Top Venues Are Wheelchair Friendly
It wasn’t always the case that New York’s top attractions were wheelchair-friendly. But today, thanks to many initiatives by the mayor’s office and the venues themselves, the vast majority are as open to visitors with disabilities as they are to the rest of the public.
Are you an art or history lover? Top museums, such as the Guggenheim near Central Park, the Frick Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Historical Society are all wheelchair accessible. If you need to do extra planning before your trip, many of the museums provide accessibility guides. The Guggenheim, for instance, has both audio and video guides online, a full PDF document containing accessibility information, and a fleet of wheelchairs (and other portable chairs) available from the coatroom. Do your research, and the city’s museums will be more than accommodating.
But what about other attractions? Are they as friendly to wheelchair users? The answer is mainly, “yes,” especially if you stick to the larger, more high-profile venues. All of the big department stores in the city have excellent wheelchair access. Saks and Bergdorf Goodman are both wheelchair accessible, and so is Macy’s, although you’ll have to enter the store using the east and west entrances, not the southern entrance where the pavement can be an issue.
The Empire state building is accessible by wheelchair, thanks to lowered viewing walls and an accessible bathroom on the 86th floor. What’s more, visitors in a wheelchair get VIP treatment and are allowed to skip queues.
The Statue of Liberty is partially wheelchair accessible. The bookstore, gift pavilion, information center and dining facilities at ground-level are all open to wheelchair users. On top of that, the interior of the status is also accessible, including the elevator which takes passengers up to the observation deck. Unfortunately, because of the age of the statue, the observation deck is not accessible to wheelchair users. However, the trip isn’t wasted: it’s still possible to get stunning views of the city skyline from both Liberty and Ellis islands.
Other attractions, such as Central Park are wheelchair accessible, and the USS Intrepid is partially accessible. The great thing about the Intrepid is that it offers visitors virtual tours of all areas off-limits to wheelchair users, including the combat information center and the submarine Growler.
New Yorkers Love Volunteering To Show Those With Mobility Issues Around
New Yorkers, despite their reputation for being work-obsessed, are a friendly bunch. As a result, the city is peppered with volunteer services, like Big Apple Greeter, where locals will show those with mobility issues around the city, including the city’s major neighborhoods.
Taking a tour of the city’s neighborhoods can be an incredible, eye-opening experience. Seeing how regular residents of the city live provides a break from the dazzling skyscrapers of Manhattan, along with its enormous wealth. As part of these tours, you’ll get to see the city’s diverse cultural heritage. If you take a trip to the Bronx, you’ll see poverty up close and personal, right next to one of the richest commercial centers in the world. You’ll also get to experience local Baptist churches and see how the community engages in religious activities.
Trips out of the city usually last a couple of hours. They’re free, but you’ll need to book a couple of months in advance, so make sure that you make arrangements before your trip.
See The Shows On Broadway
Going to Broadway is all a part of the New York experience. Broadway is famous all over the world for its live theater and performances of top musical, such as the Lion King, 1984, School of Rock, Wicked and much, much more. And the good news is that some theaters are accessible to wheelchair users too.
The best way to prepare is to do your research on each theater. Because some of the theaters are old, they don’t have modern wheelchair access, but many do.
If you’re ordering tickets, go directly to the box office. Going directly to the box office will mean that you’re able to get accessible seats, along with companion seats if required.
Not sure which theater to choose for accessibility? Try out the Lincoln Center. It’s fully wheelchair accessible, and it hosts some of the biggest shows in town, including the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera.
The Streets Are Wheelchair-Friendly
Visiting New York means spending a lot of time on the city’s bustling sidewalks, going from one place to another. In the past, the sidewalks weren’t particularly wheelchair-friendly, but the city has made enormous strides in the right direction and in recent years has improved ground-level accessibility for residents and tourists alike. In general, you’ll find the streets to be relatively accessible, especially in tourist hotspots, like Times Square, Broadway, and Central Park. You’ll need to be a little more careful, however, if you go off the beaten track, or visit places like Chinatown and Greenwich Village.
Many Hotels In The City Are Wheelchair-Friendly
So what if all the attractions have accessibility options? It doesn’t count for much if hotels in the city don’t. It’s worth pointing out that New York is a huge place, home to more than 16 million people at the last count. As a result, there are tens of thousands of places to stay, many of which have excellent accessibility for travelers with disabilities.
Look around for hotels with relatively large bedrooms and walk-in bathrooms. Also, check for things like steps in the lobby and whether elevators serve all the places you’ll to need access during your stay.
If you want to make accommodations in a particular location – say right under the Empire State Building in Midtown – the hotel staff will usually do whatever is necessary to accommodate you, from swapping out various items of furniture to providing concierge assistance. In most circumstances, you can make it work, but check ahead, just to be sure.
You Can Still Get Around On The Subway
New York’s public transport system dates back to the nineteenth century – a time when accessibility wasn’t high on the agenda. But since then, especially over the last couple of decades, the city has made enormous strides to open up the subway network to travelers with disabilities. You can now find a full list of accessible stations online, complete with accessibility ramps for getting onto the trains. You can also find information about the amenities available at each station for passengers with disabilities.
Don’t fancy taking the subway? You’ve got other options too. The city’s buses have automatic ramps, allowing wheelchairs to get on board easily.
The Bottom Line – You’ll Most Likely Be Fine to Visit New York City in a Wheelchair
Although it may seem daunting to visit New York City in a wheelchair, there are very few reasons why you should avoid the city, denying yourself the opportunity of experiencing one of the greatest metropolises on Earth. Accessibility options abound for wheelchair users, and the situation is only getting better with every passing year.