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Accessible Travel / Hotels & Accommodations / Northeast

Accessible Travel: How To Navigate New York City in a Wheelchair

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New York draws crowds for the New Year’s Eve, but how accessible is the environment?  Accessible travel experts Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN, explore New York City to determine whether wheelchair users can comfortably navigate the hotels and attractions.

Getting There

Arriving at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, we retrieved our bags and followed the signs to the AirTrain–each AirTrain vehicle has two designated seating areas for wheelchair users.  We hopped off at the NJ Transit/Amtrak station and bought tickets to NYC Penn Station. The $12.50 ticket must be shown to the train conductor. Once there, our first hazard was the Penn Station platform, which was not level with the train–creating a drop of several inches.  Luckily, our first hotel was less than two short blocks from Penn Station, so we walked.


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has 89 ADA stations. Many of the stations located in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn are equipped with AutoGate, an automatic entry/exit gate that allows customers who have ambulatory disabilities, service animals, or use wheelchairs to enter and exit the subway system. You will need a Reduced-Fare AutoGate MetroCard to use the AutoGate.

A Temporary Reduced-Fare AutoGate MetroCard for visitors is valid for 90 days from the date of issue.  The card can be obtained locally or by mail (several weeks before your visit).  More information is available online.

The downside to using the subway is that every station is not accessible, elevators may not be operating, and you don’t see any of the city while traveling underground.


All of New York City’s public buses are wheelchair accessible. Lifts accommodate customers with wheelchairs or scooters weighing no more than a combine 600 pounds. The device and the passenger must fit into a space 30 inches wide and 48 inches long.  Check the MTA websitefor details on how to board the bus and where to sit.  The wait time for a bus is typically five to 15 minutes.  When traffic is heavy, buses can be extremely slow.


Currently, less than 2 percent of New York City taxis are wheelchair accessible. A small wheelchair symbol is on the side of cabs and sometimes on the hood. It takes a keen eye to spot an accessible taxi whizzing by. During our week-long visit, we were unable to hail an accessible cab when we needed it. Unfortunately, the city does not have any type of dispatch system enabling customers to call for an accessible cab.  A few times, we rode in a taxi–choosing a traditional car and avoiding the SUV taxis because the seats are so high. Some cabbies store a spare tire in the trunk, requiring creative positioning of the wheelchair and disassembly of footrests.  In addition, there is very little space for luggage.


The easiest method of getting around New York is to walk–20 north-south blocks equals a mile.   Our family averaged 7 miles each day.  This is a wonderful way to see the city, but maneuvering a wheelchair through the crowds can be difficult.  Intersections can be maddening with people blocking the ramp, pot holes in the streets, and ramps that are steep, in poor condition or occasionally nonexistent.  Also, some streets east of Park Avenue slope down toward the river making the uphill return challenging when pushing a passenger in a wheelchair.

What to See and Do

One of the reasons we love New York is there is so much to do.  A few of our favorite wheelchair-accessible outings include: Ellis Island, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), American Museum of Natural History, Macy’s, and Museum of Modern Art (MoMa). There is also the Empire State Building, Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza, and Broadway.

For theater or concerts buy tickets from home–wheelchair seating is extremely limited and not available through TKTS.

When planning your itinerary, always consult an attraction’s website for valuable information regarding access.  To save money, consider buying a NewYork CityPass.  The discount voucher is good for six major attractions.