Wheelchairs Not Welcome in Solvang, California

 By Linda Taubenreuther 2007        


The Danish-themed village of Solvang, California, used to be one of our favorite weekend escapes, until my husband lost the ability to walk.


Recently, we decided the town would be a lovely, nostalgic place to celebrate a special wedding anniversary. We made a hotel reservation, loaded our compact electric scooter and wheelchair in the car and set off from Los Angeles up U.S. 101 in high spirits.


Our mood was soon deflated. To our surprise and dismay, we discovered the Solvang we'd loved so much is one of the least- accessible cities we've ever visited -- in fact, much worse than many centuries-old tourist towns we've visited in Europe.


Many of Solvang's businesses are inaccessible and unapologetic about it. Step-up doorways; narrow, cluttered aisles; and grim, inhospitable shopkeepers were the norm just about everywhere.


At one Solvang bakery, I asked where the wheelchair entrance was. I was told quite plainly that there wasn't one. When I asked how the business got away with this, I was told, "Well, we sometimes bring 'those people' in through the kitchen." Looking at the cluttered bedlam in there, I passed on that idea.


At one store, we made our own ramp by dragging a doormat over the high sill, much to the shopkeeper's thinly veiled dismay. At a newer courtyard mall, we were delighted to spot a beautifully designed wheelchair ramp curving down toward a rear entrance -- until we saw the French door it led to was locked and blocked with merchandise.


A handful of stores were helpful. But they were few and far between, and certainly not enough to warrant the drive. Slowly and sadly, it dawned on us that we'd just made our final trip to Solvang.


Maybe Solvang just doesn't need the business. Velkommen, indeed.

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