A Week in the Big Apple
By James Glasbergen 2000

My recent seven-day trip to New York City was really an easy and fun trip for me since New York was very accessible for wheelchairs. I am a C4 quadriplegic in an electric wheelchair, and I travelled with my friend/attendant. We made the 10-hour drive from Canada into New York City and were surprised to find that while New York City was big, it was not nearly as busy and slow moving as we had imagined it would be. 

Upon arrival at the New York Novotel in Midtown Manhattan, a few blocks from Times Square, we were immediately disappointed to discover that the  "wheelchair accessible" room that was promised to us was nothing like the room that we received. When making the reservations, I specifically asked whether the wheelchair accessible rooms had roll-in showers, and I was told that they did have roll-in showers and either two beds, or one bed and a sofa bed. However, upon our arrival, we discovered that the "wheelchair accessible" room had only one bed, and there was a bathtub but NO wheel-in shower. 

My shower chair couldn't even make it into the bathroom due to a large grab-bar by the toilet. After checking with the manager, we were told that the reservationist must have misunderstood me, that NONE of the rooms had wheel-in showers, and there was no room for either a cot, roll-away bed, or sofa bed in the wheelchair accessible rooms. Therefore, we were forced to move to a normal room, which gave us better access than the "accessible" room, although it still had the bathtub. I probably should have known better because when I was making reservations, I checked with approximately 20 hotels in the Time Square area and none claimed to have wheel-in showers--other than the Novotel, which really didn't.

Other than the hotel incident, accessibility in New York was great. We walked all over mid-town Manhattan, taking tours of Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, the United Nations, Empire State Building, and Madison Square Garden. All were extremely accessible, and some had slight discounts on admission. Walking the streets of Manhattan is very easy for a wheelchair  (especially an electric wheelchair), since there are curb cuts on most corners, although some can be a little rough. 

We also walked around lower Manhattan, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to Wall Street and the NYSE (both very accessible, although tours of the Fed. Reserve must be booked a few weeks in advance), and finally on to Battery Park for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. The best part about the Statue of Liberty is that people in wheelchairs get to bypass the long lines for both the ferry and the entrance into the Statue itself (it is the same for the Empire State Building). This probably saves a couple hours, although wheelchairs cannot go up to the crown, only to the pedestal.

The busing system in New York is AMAZING. Every city bus is accessible, even for long guys like me, and you can basically get anywhere you want in New York City for $1.50. We took the bus twice--once from mid-town Manhattan to the Wall St. area, and once in the afternoon from mid-town Manhattan to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx (which forced us to change buses once). Yankee Stadium offers noon tours, which are completely accessible and very interesting. Watching baseball games at both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium was also good, as the wheelchair seating was great. We had a wheelchair taxi service called Symphony Limousine bring us to and from the games, which was very easy and convenient, although you have to book in advance and it was extremely expensive (I think around $60 round-trip from mid-town Manhattan).

We also saw three Broadway shows. Every theater we were at had huge discounts for wheelchairs and their companion.  The discounts differed depending on the degree of accessibility in each theater. We found the Majestic and the New Amsterdam Theater to have fairly good wheelchair seating, while the Broadway had bad seating (which explains the $7.50 tickets for a wheelchair and one person).

We found New York City to be quite accessible and would not hesitate to do it all again.

For additional insights on New York City, check out Gloria James 1996 Report on the Big Apple in our Travel Archives

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