New York City: A Bite of the Big Apple
by Gloria James 1996

Gloria James and her husband, Grant, recently took a bite of the Big Apple. While their three-day visit barely constituted a nibble, she's happy to report that New York City offers a lot for  disabled travelers.

We drove into New York City from the Hudson Valley. On the way into the city, we visited the Cloisters Museum overlooking the Hudson River. This museum is a satellite of New York's Metropolitan Museum. It features Medieval art from the 12th to the 15th century, including fully reconstructed medieval cloisters and chapels brought from throughout Europe. Also featured are  illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, sculpture, the famous Unicorn Tapestries, and an herb garden.

nyc3.jpg (30347 bytes)As there were more than 50 steps at the main entrance, a staff member guided us over acres of cobblestones to a side door. Cobblestones enhance the authenticity here, but, unfortunately, provide a bumpy ride for a wheelchair user. Once inside, I was relieved to find smooth sailing. Many of the chapels proved accessible while others had a step or two. The museum staff was very helpful in assisting us with the antiquated elevators between floors. The bookstore was crowded, but I was able to negotiate its tiny aisles and sample their beautiful collection of books, cards, prints, etc. An accessible bathroom is available. For additional access information call (212) 923-1700.

We continued into Manhattan, and registered at the Days Hotel,, 790 Eighth Ave, Phone: (212) 581-7000, where the rate was $156 per night for a double room. I was thrilled with the access - plenty of maneuvering room with an accessible sink, toilet and tub. Clean, decent decor with little street noise. We garaged our car at the hotel ($11 per day) to avoid parking hassles.

When I made my reservation, I was promised a hand held shower and bath chair, and while neither were present upon our arrival, maintenance promptly visited our room, adapted the shower head and brought a bath chair. All in all, the Days Inn provided excellent service and a friendly staff. It's in a perfect area for walking to the theater district or catching a bus. A convenient deli is located next door and there's even a little market across the street.

That first evening we strolled past Rockefeller Center with its panoply of colorful flags then headed over to the Stage Deli, 834 7th Ave. for mammoth corn beef and pastrami sandwiches and incredible cheesecake. There isn't an overwhelming amount of maneuvering room in this deli, but the food is worth a little suffering.

The next day we sampled NYC's wonderful public transportation system. No, not their ancient, inaccessible subway but their modern buses with excellent lifts and knowledgeable (friendly) drivers who efficiently clamp your chair safely to the floor. Deposit your $1.50 fare and you're on your way. You can't beat the price. Why hassle with transferring in and out of cabs?

nyc4.jpg (42026 bytes)We caught a bus right across from our hotel and took it all the way down to 72nd and Broadway. From there we walked past the Dakota, former home to John Lennon, and crossed the street to Central Park to visit Strawberry Fields, the garden Yoko Ono dedicated in his memory. As it was Lennon's birthday, dozens of fans clustered around the "Imagine" mosaic, which was covered with flowers, candles and photos of Lennon.

We continued our trek through the park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was smooth going on the park's well-paved lanes. After cutting over to Fifth Ave., we entered the museum through the accessible street level entrance at Fifth Ave. and 81st St. Admission is by donation. Disabled Visitor Services at: (212) 535-7710. We spent the entire day there but barely touched all it had to offer. This is a vast collection of everything ranging from African musical instruments, to 20th century art, and the Egyptian Temple of Dendar thrown in for good measure. There are several accessible snacking areas to fortify yourself during your visit, including a rooftop sculpture garden with panoramic views of the NYC skyline. The accessible bathroom was in the process of being renovated during my visit.

We took a bus back to the midtown area, and ate at Canova's, a busy buffet that sells you your dinner by the pound. The array of everything from Chinese food to Italian looked visually dazzling but, unfortunately, the taste wasn't.

After dinner, it was time to rush for for the Nederlander Theater, 208 W. 41st St. (Between 7th and 8th Ave.) to see "Rent." There is one step at the entrance and wheelchair seating is limited here, (back far right side of the orchestra) but it was wonderful to see this world class musical with the original cast for the $20 price per seat! This is older theater in keeping with "Rent's" counter-culture theme, but I was delighted to find a unisex bathroom on the orchestra level. Box office: (212) 921-8000.

The nearby Ferrara's (201 W. 42nd St.) offers superb coffee and pastries for before or after the theater.

The next day we scurried to cram in the rest of our trip wish list. We started out by window shopping past all the famous Fifth Avenue shops like Tiffany's and FAO Schwartz on our way to Bloomingdales, Lexington Ave., between 59th & 60th St. The level entrance is at 3rd Ave.

Blommindales is not a wheelchair friendly store. Its maze of "behind the scenes" ramps made me feel like I was in a rabbit warren. This is not to detract from the fact that it's a lovely store despite its frustrating layout.

The rest of our trip is a blur, but somehow we managed to visit the following landmarks: St. Patrick's Cathedral: Ramp at 51st St. & 5th Ave. is well worth seeing as it offers a taste of what a European cathedral is like. Rockefeller Center: Level entrance at 5th Ave. Elevator to lower level and ice rink at 49th St. and 6th Ave. The Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St. Very accessible, and free on Thursday evenings.

Greenwich Village. We hopped an accessible bus near our hotel and spent the rest of the late afternoon and evening wandering the area before dining on pizza at John's Pizzeria, 278 Bleeker St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

NYC Resources

In NYC, discounts are available for disabled theater goers. The Shubert Theater offers wheelchair users (and one accompanying person) tickets for $7.50 each to any Broadway show at any theater in the Shubert chain. Shubert Theater: (800) 432-7250.

Theatre Development Fund
Join their mailing list and receive a monthly listing of discount tickets to accessible productions.

Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, 52 Chambers St., Room 206, New York, NY 10007, Phone: (212) 788-2830. They provide detailed, accessible travel info on NYC. Ask for the Access Guide for People with Disabilities.

Upward Mobility Limousine provides lift-equipped vans offering service to and from the airports. Reservations are required. Phone: (718) 645-7774.

New York City Transit Authority. Phone: (718) 596-8585.

This Accessible Transit in New York, New Jersey & Connecticut web site details accessible railroad stations in those states and includes a bus accessibility list for downstate New York.

Hospital Audiences International Hotline r
ecently launched a toll-free service to field disabled travelers' questions about NYC access. They provide access information on NYC's cultural institutions, hotels, restaurants, theaters, museums, galleries, and transportation.

Also available:
Information on audio-described performances for blind and visually impaired people.
Information on touch tours and current museum exhibits.
Information on sign-language interpreted performances for the hearing impaired.
1-888-HAI-Hotline (424-4685) (voice)

1-888-424-4685 (TTY)

They publish Access for All, A Guide for People with Disabilities to New York City Cultural Institutions. FREE. Write: HAI, 220 West 42nd St., 13th floor, New York 10036. Phone: (212) 575-7660.

The Big Apple Greeters web site links you to this group of trained volunteers available to assist disabled visitors in NYC. Voice: (212) 669-3602, FAX: (212) 669-3685, TTY: (212) 669-8273   They publish the Resource List for Travelers with Disabilities Visiting New York City, which includes the names and phone numbers of organizations who assist disabled people.

The Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association
published The Guide to Riding Wheelchair Accessible Buses in New York City. For a free copy, write: EPVA 75-20 Astoria Blvd., Jackson Heights, New York 11370-1177 or call 800-444-0120.

Wendy Ballard's Easy Access Eateries points out where to find great NYC food according each area.

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