by Tiffiny Carlson
I was fully prepared to take on New York City. I had my cash, my purse on my lap (not hanging on the back of my chair like usual for fear of pick-pocketers), my tourist-guide, and I even watched dozens of Mad About You and Seinfeld episodes. I was mistaken. TV’s romanticized view of NYC is great, but is sucks if you’re a naive Midwesterner like me. I was shocked. My numb, paralyzed self was buzzing with freaked out nerves throughout my entire New York experience. New York City is a place unlike anywhere else. It is the city of dreams for millions, but for me, it was the city of surprising inaccessibility. There were delightful moments that happened, so I can’t totally bash New York. I can however give you an “in” on the city before you decide to stretch your small-town wings in the Big Apple. Use my experience as a guide in order to decide if NY is the place for you.We trekked across the Midwest in our adorable ’94 Plymouth Voyager (lift equipped!) all the way to the East Coast. After two days we finally made our way to our home base for the rest of the trip: East New Brunswick, New Jersey. This article will cover all you need to know about tackling and enjoying New York City.
Accommodations, transportation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island will all be covered.Accommodations
Hotels in the downtown-Manhattan area regularly run $200/night and up. We decided to stay in New Jersey in order to save a few bucks. We stayed at a Motel 6, in my opinion, they are a great and under appreciated accommodation source. Did you know that out of Super 8’s and Red Roof Inns, Motel 6 is the only chain offering roll-in showers? Plus they’re very clean and comfortable. And depending on the city, the highest you’ll ever have to pay is $65/night. Since there was two of us and we were staying in New Jersey instead of New York, we only paid $50/night for both us! We saved a great deal of money. If you’re stuck on wanting to stay in the heart of the city, keep in mind that many of the hotels here are not accessible since many are very old. They’re excluded from the realm of the ADA due to this fact. Just something to consider.So, every morning we’d rise, enjoy our free coffee courtesy of Motel 6, hop into the van, and drive the half-hour trip into Manhattan. Now that we’re speaking of transportation, let’s move on to this very crucial topic.
Transportation: A huge bank buster
What do you think of when you think of transportation options in NY City? Subways or taxis right? Well if you use a wheelchair, these two sources are virtually unusable. Roughly 15% of the subway stations are accessible. So if you’re a tourist, the subway pretty much restricts many places to see. In addition, only a handful of taxis offer lifts and these are far and few between. We decided to take a road-trip for the very reason of inaccessibility. We did look into flying and then renting a van with a lift but most of the rental places charge $100/day and up. Wheelchair Getaways charges even more than this. We’re poor college graduates who work hard for the money.We even thought about flying, bringing my power chair, and then finding a transportation system (public) that my 300 lb. chair could use. But after learning about the subway system and taxis, we decided that would be a bad idea. We even thought about renting a truck, and ramping my chair up the back, but trucks cost more to rent than accessible vans. Better yet, we thought about leaving the power chair at home, bringing my manual chair, and then renting a car. But I feel so trapped and dependent in my manual chair since I can’t push (my triceps are paralyzed too).
And I knew I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the city if I was getting pushed everywhere.So it was clear, we were going to drive our van, save money, and even see some of the beautiful countryside along the way. Driving to New York City was the best idea. Do it if you can. Even with the high gas prices, it’s worth it! Plus, we were able to stop in Gettysburg on our way back home. This place is mysterious and moving. Every American should visit these grounds.So we drove our way, in and out, around New York and Manhattan. Coming from New Jersey, you either have to take a bridge or a tunnel to cross the water that separates New Jersey from New York. If you have a high clearance conversion van however, you won’t be able to go through the tunnels. There are alternative routes posted for folks like you. Driving the streets of Manhattan is a living hell if you’re not accustomed to it. Firstly, let me share with you the horns here. They’re over-used, abused, and get the angry New Yorkers no where. They lay on their horns more than Christopher Reeve’s respirator gives him breaths. Every second that passed, “Hooooonk!” They’d step out of their car and wave their hands, look confused, and act pissed. They have two eyes. They can very well see what’s causing the hold-up. And yet they hold down their horns for nearly a minute, simply out of uncontrolling frustration. I like to call this “Horn Rage.” Here’s my idea, tell me what you think. I think all the car horns in Manhattan should be deemed illegal. NY can’t fix their traffic problems. There’s no more room to build streets! So, I think they should at least make the roads more peaceful by removing every horn out of every car in the entire city. I would love that immensely!My poor boyfriend had the unlucky job of driving in NY. Taxis, armed with a large steel grate fixed on the front and the partial sides of their cars, would shove their way into our lane, unafraid of any car damage due to their “car armor.”
We had no choice but to swerve out of their way, sometimes up on curbs or sidewalks, just to let them in so we wouldn’t get pounded. It was an endless struggle to be king of the hill I guess you could say.If you use hand-controls, you might want to let an able-bodied person drive you around instead, especially if your adaptations are run on an air line. Your gas and break controls simply won’t be able to keep up with fast-paced stop and go’s of the traffic. The last thing you want to do is piss off a New Yorker. And believe me, they won’t have any sympathy for you eve if you’re disabled.Even despite all of the crazy things I’ve just described, parking above all things is the most difficult thing to do. If you drive any type of van, mini or otherwise, many of the parking ramps in Manhattan won’t be able to accommodate you. It took us 2 hours to find a spot so we could visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET). And when we wanted to go to Times Square, we did find a spot but it was $23/hour to park. Luckily we didn’t spend too much time here. Transportation in NY is a tough thing no matter which way you decide to do it. I wish you lots of luck on your quest to getting around town.
The MET: The museum nestled in Central Park
I heard many wonderful things about the MET but all the compliments paled in comparison to actually seeing the real thing. The accessible entrance is located 20 feet or so to the left of the main entrance. Here you can check your coat and buy admission. Even though admission is labeled as a “donation,” it’s still mandatory no matter what you think (don’t get caught sneaking in like we did!). The MET offers a wonderful, exquisite collection of art, which is dispersed throughout 4 floors. There are two elevators to accommodate the disabled and they are located directly in front of the information desk (the same place where you bought your tickets). Plan out at least four hours to see the entire museum. Some might even say an entire day. Among the various collections the most famous are the following:
• Two rooms full of paintings by Monet, including one of the Japanese footbridge.
• Two rooms of Van Gogh paintings.
• Several Rodin sculptures including “The Ballerina.”
• Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures.
• Medieval armor.
• Hundreds of Egyptian artifacts.The original home of Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany and Co., is now actually part of the museum that houses The American Art collection inside the MET. And a really cool thing about this museum is that its backyard is Central Park. The MET offers beautiful views of the park on the second and third floors. The MET does have underground parking but it fills up quickly.Central Park is a green, gorgeous oasis nestled right in the center of the busiest place on earth. It’s historic yet has plenty of curb cuts and paved paths for you to explore. Good luck finding parking here!The Empire State Building
Even though we couldn’t go up because the foggy weather made the views terrible, I still want to mention that this place is very accessible and the workers are very friendly. And a really fun thing to do if you can is to go up on the last ride of the day at 11p.m. That way you can view the city in all its glory under the stars. Parking is available on the side streets nearby.The Statue of Liberty
To get to The Statue of Liberty, you have to take a ferry from either New York or New Jersey. The statue is located on Liberty Island. The ferry can drop you off at Ellis Island too. Don’t worry about getting your wheelchair on the ferry either. They provide a sturdy, wooden ramp for your chair and the boatmen are very helpful. Long lines usually form for the ferry but people in wheelchairs get to bypass the line. We didn’t know this but while we were buying a hot dog from a vendor, a ferry worker asked us if we were riding. We said yes and she told us to get up to the front of the line. We were excited.The island is fully accessible and there’s an elevator in The Statue of Liberty that’ll take you to the platform level (you’ll only go as high as her feet). There are stairs that go up to the crown level. And the torch level is no longer open to the public.
Ellis Island has only been accessible to the public since 1992. In the 1980’s officials decided to renovate the facility after realizing the historical importance of this facility. Ellis officially opened its doors in the late 1890’s and closed them in 1952 after a slowing in immigration. Millions of people went through this sacred place on their way to the New World. Ghosts have been rumored to linger in Ellis’ corridors.The museum buildings are entirely accessible to the disabled. There’s a ramp located right in the middle of the staircase entrance to the main building. And once you’re inside, the elevator is located to the far right near the café. Also, if you’re at all interested in your family’s history, this is a great place to start. You can even visit their website, http://www.ellisisland.org/, and find your relative’s immigration records online. Ellis just recently put every single immigration record in their possession online. So if any of your relatives came to the US anytime between the late 1890’s and 1952, they’ll be on this site.New York City is a unique place and at many times resembles an individual on speed: crazy, hectic, and hard to explain. But I recommend at least visiting this famous city at least once in your life. Too many historical and fantastic things exist here that you just have to see. Prepare yourself. Know that accessibility won’t be perfect. And if you do these things, I’m pretty sure you’ll have a memorable time taking your bite out of the Big Apple.First published by — and used with permission of Disaboom (www.disaboom.com)