Visiting different places is something most of us enjoy. When we plan our holiday we want to get the best possible taste of the place we’re visiting. We want to be able to move around the city efficiently, see the sights and eat at local restaurants. Here’s where things can get tricky – not every city is completely wheelchair friendly. People in wheelchairs often encounter accessibility problems while traveling.
While many cities around the world have an ear from this problem and the situation is gradually improving, not every place is going to give you the same possibilities. Many countries have laws and regulations regarding accessibility, but the implementation is not always on the same level from one city to the next.
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Top 8 Wheelchair Friendly Cities in the US
The US is among the leading countries in the world when it comes to wheelchair accessibility, and accessibility in general. Many cities around the country have put in great effort to make streets, parks, facilities, accommodation and attractions available to everyone. These are the cities that often stand out the most in these terms, and are interesting to visit for one reason or another.
Seattle is one of the most wheelchair friendly cities in the US. Even though there are parts of the city which are steep and there is sometimes abundance of rain the public transportation system here is top notch. You have buses and light rail at your disposal, and also get a discount on tickets for handicapped people. The wheelchair accessible taxi fleet is among the biggest in the country. The maps are very good, and there is even an app to mark out the best accessible route when navigating through the city.
So, what is there to do in Seattle? The Pacific Northwest has one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. You can take a cruise on Puget Sound, visit the Space Needle or the Seattle Aquarium. You can also visit the Boeing factory and museum which are located an hour away. All of these attractions have excellent wheelchair access, making Seattle one of the best wheelchair accessible cities.
Boston is a beautiful and very organized city. Even though it has one of the oldest public transport services in the country, it has been adapted for wheelchair users so even the subway system is easily accessible. There is a very good wheelchair accessible taxi service, and city maps with information on how to best get around in a wheelchair.
This is an amazing place to visit, because it offers much in terms of history and education. You can roll along the Freedom trail which is 2.5 miles long and passes by 16 landmarks important to the history of United States. You can visit most of these sights free of charge, while a few charge admission. Another great place to visit is the famous Fenway Park. Even though it’s very old, it is very wheelchair friendly, so you can treat yourself and go see a baseball game.
Washington has been one of the most wheelchair accessible cities in the US for a long time. It has a large disabled community which is very active and visible. The public transportation is fantastic here, so you shouldn’t have any obstacles getting anywhere you need. Wheelchair users have elevators at every metro station around the city.
The sights in the nation’s capital don’t need any special introduction – Capitol Hill, White House, Lincoln Memorial and the National Air and Space Museum among others are all fantastic places to visit. They are all wheelchair friendly so you can be sure to have a great time if you choose to visit.
San Diego, California
San Diego and California in general are very popular destinations among wheelchair users. The city has a mild sunny climate, long sandy beaches, and many festivals and year-round events, making it a great choice for your vacation. Besides being very modern, providing everything you need to move around and offering great accommodation tailored to your needs, the city has a few extras.
When you travel to a destination like that, you certainly want to visit the beaches. For this reason, the city provides free beach wheelchairs on seven of its beaches for both children and adults with disabilities. In addition to this, the sightseeing tours are also wheelchair accessible, with boats and trolleys providing easy access and spaces for wheelchairs. If you are a fan, Del Mar Racing Season and the Comic Con are fantastic annual events that offer special services for disabled visitors.
Another sunny city on this list, Orlando truly is wheelchair friendly. This is mainly because of two reasons. The area itself is home to a large number of older population and the city pays attention to their needs. This is why accessibility in public spaces is excellent, as well as access to facilities and everything a person needs to function daily. Also, the public transportation is great for wheelchair users – the SunRail system and LYNX buses are wheelchair friendly.
Also, there is lots of entertainment in proximity, which attracts millions of tourists every year. The city wishes to accommodate every visitor properly – this is why there is a really large number of hotels that offer a great choice of rooms to people with disabilities. Also, all the big amusement parks in the area – Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando pride themselves as being incredibly wheelchair friendly, with most if not all of the rides and attractions being wheelchair accessible.
Philadelphia is perhaps one of the best cities to visit if you are a history enthusiast. The whole city is incredibly wheelchair friendly. The public transportation in the city – SEPTA is one of the largest and constantly ranked as one of the best in the country, with great accessibility. You will get where you want to without any trouble.
So, where should you go? Of course you should visit Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, which are both wheelchair accessible, though some parts of the hall are only accessible by stairs. A nice way to get around and see what Philly has to offer is to use the Philly Phlash, which is a bus service that is completely wheelchair accessible and makes stops at all the important landmarks around the city so you can get on or off.
Portland is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the US. It is excellent when it comes to accessibility. All means of public transportation are easily accessible by wheelchair – buses, streetcars and MAX Light Rail. TriMet Lift service is also available for registered users with more than 250 mini buses. This gives you plenty of options to get around, despite the city not being known as flat.
You can visit some of the great attractions Portland offers – museums, parks, the zoo and others which are all wheelchair friendly. A nice thing to do is roll along the Harborwalk Trail, which is very beautiful and goes along the water. Even though some parts of the city are a bit difficult for manual wheelchair users, the local government is investing time and energy in making things better constantly.
Although accessibility isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Chicago, the city has really done a lot to make the transit system accessible. The elevated train system “L” can take you anywhere, but not every station has an elevator so you should check that beforehand. Where the “L” falls short, you can take a bus that is fully accessible. Visit accessible attractions like the Art Institute of Chicago, Willis Tower SkyDeck and many others that are completely wheelchair friendly.
For people living in Chicago, an added benefit is one of the best disabled communities. There is also the annual Disability Pride Parade. However, keep in mind that winter is not the best time to come since the weather is very harsh, with strong winds and snow.
Most Wheelchair Friendly Cities – International
We wanted to include a few international cities too, for people who like to travel overseas. Besides being some of the most beautiful cities in the world, the ones we chose are among the most wheelchair accessible cities. They pay great attention that all their residents and visitors can fully experience everything they offer, so almost everything is accessible not only for wheelchair users but for people with other disabilities too.
Barcelona is one of the most popular travel destinations for wheelchair users, known for its beauty. Being home to a large number of disabled people, it has adapted to make their life much easier. It’s really easy to roll around town exploring or you can take a bus or metro to transfer yourself. All buses are wheelchair friendly and almost all metro stations have elevators. There is a lot of wheelchair friendly accommodation in the city so you can choose one that best suits you.
There is really a lot to see and try in Barcelona. Taste the local food in one of many wheelchair friendly restaurants, or visit fantastic landmarks and Gaudi’s architectural jewels all across the city. When you’re finished, roll down to the beach – one of the most wheelchair friendly beaches you can find anywhere. It has a wheelchair accessible walkway to the water, a lifting crane and adapted changing facilities. Also, a lifeguard can come to your aid at any moment.
Sydney is a very modern city, that really takes care of the needs of its handicapped residents and visitors. Transportation system is very easy to use, and there is also a large number of accessible taxis available. When it comes to moving around, the streets are well maintained with gently-sloped curbs. Stores, bars and restaurants are usually also very accessible.
When rolling around town, you will come across numerous public bathrooms specially for wheelchair users. The sights around town are wheelchair friendly, for example you can go see an opera at the famous Sydney Opera House without a problem. A thing I liked very much is that you can borrow a beach wheelchair on Bondi beach free of charge, so you can enjoy a nice day in the sun and sand.
Singapore is probably one of the most disability friendly cities in the world. They implement a universal barrier-free standard, so the city is fantastic for people with other disabilities too, not just wheelchair users. The public transportation service is excellent, with the train system (MRT) leading the way. Also, almost half of public buses and taxis are wheelchair friendly.
The city is very futuristic and has many amazing sites you should visit. Of course, these sites are all wheelchair accessible and you won’t have any inconvenience. So be sure to visit attractions like Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa and Singapore Night Safari.
What Makes a City Wheelchair Friendly?
There are several main things required to be able to call any place truly wheelchair friendly, but put together it all comes down to one thing – that a person in a wheelchair can function, move around and enjoy themselves without trouble.
Let’s start off with streets – the sidewalk curbs should be dropped to enable free movement. This also goes for parks and other public spaces.
It’s good that the public transportation is wheelchair accessible, without any barriers. Some cities even offer ticket discounts for disabled people, which is very nice. If you don’t like to use the public transportation or you’re in a hurry, many places have wheelchair accessible taxis. The city you’re visiting needs to have a good number of hotels that offer accommodation in ADA compliant rooms – adapted for people in wheelchairs. The airport should be accessible for people traveling by air with wheelchairs also.
While you’re out exploring, some tourist offices offer city maps with accessibility routes around town. Museums, galleries and other places of interest should be accessible for wheelchair users. While cruising around the city, it’s a big plus if there’s a sufficient number of disabled toilets nearby.
Also, many of us are food enthusiasts. If you are in this group of people, access to bars and restaurants is very important in order to fully enjoy the place. The best cities for wheelchair users offer all of this, and even more.
Finally, the climate of the place plays a role here too. Although cities can’t really change the weather, there are certain periods during the year that are much better for a visit, so consider that too. Take a pick off our list and book a visit, you will certainly have a great time!