The U.S. is a leader in accessible travel thanks in part to the Americans with Disabilities Act enacted over 30 years ago. The Act drove accessibility to public buildings and transport, helped change attitudes and gave recognition to non-visible disability.
Kate Kenward, CEO of Visit USA UK, whose members lists accessible information and resources online, says: “The U.S. has a wide range of transport, accommodation and activity options for travellers of all abilities.
“There are many wheelchair accessible beaches and nature trails, braille and sign language tours, as well as autism certified attractions and dedicated ‘quiet hours’ at major galleries and museums.”
Confirming progress, a survey by The Valuable 500 (a collective of CEOs dedicated to disability inclusion) recently ranked Las Vegas, New York and Orlando in the top five most disability-friendly cities in the world, having asked 3,500 respondents worldwide.
“The U.S. National Park Service has committed to providing visitors of all abilities equal opportunity to enjoy its facilities, programmes and services. Travellers will find accessible options at state and local parks, as well as mountain and beach resorts, across the country”
Attractions for all…
Leading attractions such as Walt Disney World now have Disability Access Services, which help manage wait times, assistive listening systems for the hearing impaired, and braille guidebooks. Likewise, Knott’s Berry Farm has a Boarding Pass programme which allows guests with mobility restrictions or cognitive impairment to access attractions at specified times via alternative crowd-free entrances. Staff have also been trained to assist those with autism. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex recently became a Certified Autism Center, supporting sensory-sensitive visitors.
One theme park developer has taken things a step further. Morgan’s Wonderland, in San Antonio, Texas, claims to be the world’s first fully-inclusive theme park specifically designed for special needs children. Founder Gordon Hartman (whose own child has special needs) created the accessible theme park from an abandoned quarry. The park now has more than 25 ‘Ultra-Accessible’ rides, playscapes, and interactive elements.
In New York City, Broadway theatres provide wheelchair-accessibility, audio description and open captioning services.
Life’s a beach…
Beaches can be a specific challenge so look for those with accessible boardwalks, beach wheelchairs, Mobi mats and chairs which all ensure easy sand and sea access.
Huntington Beach in California offers all of the above, has built an inclusive playground, and offers adaptive surfing or chair boarding lessons. Others with good facilities include Gulf Shores, Alabama; Silver Beach, Michigan; San Diego, California; Hanauma Bay Beach, Hawaii; Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico.
Into the landscape…
Elsewhere, iconic U.S. landscapes are becoming accessible through wheelchair-friendly boardwalks and trails, while free-to-use, all-terrain wheelchairs are available for those wishing to access more challenging state and national parks. Braille trail markers and signing ranger tours are also widely available. The National Parks Service app provides accessibility information for more than 400 parks. Among the best are Yosemite NP, California; Yellowstone NP, Wyoming; Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin; Acadia NP, Maine; Big Bend NP, Texas, and Everglades NP, Florida.
Accessibility in action
City-wide: Visalia has become the first Certified Autism Destination in California with over 42% of hotels and 15 key attractions autism trained.
Partners: WheeltheWorld.com works with accessible U.S. destination to match disabled travellers to itineraries based on their personal requirements. Recent partnerships include with Mesa, Arizona, and Palm Beach Country, Florida, both of which have accessibility programmes.
Access to history: In Sacramento Old Town, ramps now give wheelchair access to the narrow pathways, hills and historic buildings.