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.
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.
Where to Stay
The Radisson Martinique on Broadway in Midtown is around the corner from the Empire State Building and a short walk to Macy’s Flagship Herald Square. Built at the turn of the century, the hotel underwent major renovations in 2010.
Our accessible room on the 17th floor had double beds, a bathroom with several grab bars, a hand-held shower head, and generous turning radius for a wheelchair. Many guests, such as the airline personnel, who stay at the hotel receive breakfast vouchers to dine on the mezzanine level of the Martinique Cafe. Wheelchair users need to use extreme caution when entering the cafe. A sharp right turn is required when rolling down the ramped entrance–otherwise the wheelchair and passenger could easily fall down a flight of stairs. The busy, buffet breakfast overlooks Greeley Square–go early to get a seat closer to the view.
Finding a wheelchair-accessible room with a roll-in shower and two beds is the hotel equivalent to a needle in a haystack–especially in New York City where guest rooms are typically smaller. Our 15th floor one bedroom suite at the Affinia 50 was larger than many New York apartments. The corner suite included a fully stocked kitchen with a dishwasher, microwave, dishwasher, and coffee maker. The sink was designed with open space to accommodate a wheelchair. A large living room had a sofa sleeper, flat screen television, dining table for four, and a desk. The open closet/storage area was modern and saved valuable floor space. The large bathroom included a small, dark roll-in shower. Call Housekeeping to request a chair bench. During our stay, the hotel’s second floor Club Lounge was filled with kids eating complimentary snacks and watching Hugo on a big screen television over a fireplace. Every guest has access to the Club which has computers available for a fee, magazines and board games. The hotel does not have a restaurant, but does serve a Continental breakfast priced at $14.99 for adults and $6.99 for children age 12 and under.
New hotels are usually a great choice for wheelchair users which is why we booked the TRYP New York City Times Square South. TRYP is a new brand for Wyndham and the property is their first US hotel to be unveiled. The company plans to introduce more hotels in major cities throughout the Americas. The first floor of the hotel is the hub of the property and known as Plaza Central. The high tech gathering place with a small check-in desk featured a collection of televisions attached to poles, a bank of computers, and The Gastro Bar serving a European breakfast and tapas for lunch and dinner. Computers are placed on a high counter with bar stools–the space is tight and does not work well for someone in a wheelchair. The hotel does provide free Wi-Fi throughout the property and in guest rooms.
Our second floor room had a loft-like feel with higher than average ceilings, wood floors (which are great for wheelchairs) and two comfy queen beds. Like many hotels, the designers choose to elevate the beds. Our bed was 11 inches higher than Barbra’s wheelchair making transferring much more challenging. The stacked closet may have been installed incorrectly. The hanging rods were placed approximately six and a half feet high and impossible to reach from a sitting position. A long, open desk with a reading lamp works quite well for a wheelchair user. A second phone on the desk, would be a nice addition. Our room had a single serve coffee maker and a mini fridge–amenities we always appreciate. The brightly lit, huge bathroom had a large roll-in shower (contact Housekeeping for a chair bench). The hotel is located within walking distance of shopping and theaters. The modern decor was especially appealing to our college-age son.
A few days before our departure, we contacted Super Shuttle and arranged for them to drive us to the airport in a wheelchair accessible van. The company calculates the pick up time based on your flight, potential traffic, and stops for other passengers. Ten minutes before our driver arrived, we received a call that he would be at our hotel shortly. The ride to the airport took about an hour and cost $20 per person plus tip. We had more than two hours to pass through airport security and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before boarding our plane.
If you can make it here…
It would be impossible for Barbara to visit New York as a solo traveler, but with her family; she can navigate one of the greatest cities in the world. For more information on accessibility, visit www.nycgo.com and download the Official Accessibility Guide. If you have questions, drop by the NYC information Center at 810 Seventh Ave. or call (212) 484-1222.
And for more information on accessible travel, check out:
- Wheelchair Accessible Lodgings-London
- Wheelchair-Accessible Gulf Coast Travel
- Accessible Travel: The Basics Of Wheelchair Travel
- Accessible Travel section
By Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN for PeterGreenberg.com. Barbara and Jim Twardowski are freelance writers based in Louisiana. Together, they contribute to publications such as AAA Home & Away, Global Traveler, and Disaboom.com. Photo Credit: Jim Twardowski and Weston Twardowski.