Insider tips to help you make--or dispel--reservations, plus other stories from the pages of WeMedia magazine's current Accessible Travel issue.
These days, people with disabilities are traveling more than ever, from interstate bus trips to jungle safaris. Chalk it up to the coming of age of the independent living movement, a healthy dose of wanderlust, and, perhaps most important, a steady stream of legislation.
In 1986, Congress passed the Air Carriers Access Act, which mandated specific steps that airports and airlines had to follow in order to make their services accessible. Within a few years, wheelchair users were no longer an unusual sight on commercial flights. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 had a far greater impact on accessibility. Its sections on public transportation and accommodation opened up new worlds of travel possibilities.
Today, even facilities that were not required to make their premises accessible under the law have chosen to do so in recognition of the emerging economic, social and political clout of people with disabilities.
WeMedia magazine has enlisted residents of seven North American cities to show you their favorite places within a two-hour drive from home. From Miami and Boston on the East coast, Chicago in the Midwest, Austin down South, Los Angeles and Denver out West and Toronto up North, we've got something for everyone.
We will be adding cities to this
page as the summer progresses, as well as some of the other great stories
from WeMedia magazine's current Accessible Travel Issue. Get your free,
one-year subscription today or find out where you can buy a copy here:
Miami, Mi Amor
Welcome to Miami! The first stop on our tour of the seven cities featured in WeMedia magazine's current Accessible Travel issue.
By Marilyn Murray Willison
Expansive beaches, year-round sun and bountiful entertainment opportunities make Miami's neighborhoods sizzle. Place names hint at inhabitants' roots. Little Havana, which has welcomed immigrants from Nicaragua, Honduras and other Latin American countries in recent years, is punctuated with cigar shops and the aroma of cafe Cubano.
The center point of the Little Haiti neighborhood is the Caribbean Marketplace, fashioned after Port-au Prince's Iron Market. At the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, 25 miles west of downtown Miami, visitors can learn about one of Florida's indigenous peoples -- and participate in gaming attractions. South Beach's Art Deco District offers an array of cultural outings, seaside walks and, of course, shopping.
Vizcaya on Biscayne Bay
One of two officially designated National Historical Landmarks in Miami-Dade county, Vizcaya is a 34-room Italian Renaissance villa built in 1916 by industrialist James Deering -- but designed to look as if it had been standing for 400 years. Located one mile from downtown Miami, on Biscayne Bay, the 28-acre estate is the site of formal gardens that reflect Italian and French designs. Topiaries peak out from stands of jasmine and oak trees.
Vizcaya is nearly as accessible as it is ornate. The first floor of the mansion is wheelchair-friendly. And the upper floors -- though accessible only by stairs -- can be explored via videos. There are designated parking spots in the main lot, and audio tours and Braille guides are available upon request. Sign-language interpreters can be arranged with advance notice. And though it might not offer all the universal design solutions you're looking for, Vizcaya does house one of the finest collections of period furniture and decorative arts in the United States.
Stop 'n' Shop
If all those objets d'art give you the urge to shop, head to Bayside Marketplace, several miles north, for an impressive variety of affordable treasures -- in stores and on pushcarts. With Calypso music in the background and exotic plants, birds and fish around every corner, Bayside is a far cry from an average mall in the heart of the United States. The indoor/outdoor complex includes a waterfall and a marina, which are accessible via elevators and ramps.
TDD phones are available on-site and guide animals are welcomed throughout the complex. Boat tours (generally accessible for manual wheelchairs) that depart regularly include glimpses of "Millionaires' Row," the homes -- current and former -- of celebrities like Gloria Estefan, Elizabeth Taylor and Julio Iglesias. Once back at Bayside, you can take advantage of the many dining and shopping opportunities: a dozen restaurants, 80 shops and live entertainment daily.
Hit the Beach
For a change of pace, cool off at Miami's beaches. The boardwalk and beaches are accessible via ramped entrances and specially designed off-road wheelchairs. Entirely waterproof, and constructed from lightweight PVC piping, the chairs have a space-aged look and a funky design. The hollow plastic wheels, which are extremely buoyant, are designed for wading, and can go in up to six inches of water. Go in any deeper and you'll risk floating away.
Be sure to reserve a chair in advance, and take someone who can help you navigate -- the chairs on hand are not manual, and you'll need someone to push you on the shore. Beach wheelchairs are sweeping the nation. In Miami, they're free to use, but you may be asked to leave something of value as a deposit. Lined with shops and restaurants, the beaches are a slice of entertainment for visitors of all ages. So, it would be best to call in advance to plan your freewheeling adventure.
3251 South Miami Avenue
Miami, FL 33129
401 Biscayne Boulevard, R-106
Miami, FL 33132
Leisure Access Services
275 NW 2nd Street
Miami, FL 33128
http://www.co.miami-dade.fl.us/parks/home.htm (General info)
http://www.co.miami-dade.fl.us/parks/baccess.htm (Info on beach wheelchairs)
Marilyn Murray Willison has worked as a journalist on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Former health and fitness editor of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, she also spent five years in London covering celebrities and members of the royal family. The author of four books, Willison has been a wheelchair user since 1990 and is a regular contributor to WeMedia Magazine.
Easy as ABC (and D)
Pre-trip preparation is the key to vacation success
By Adam Lloyd
Before you take to the skies (or roads, rails or seas), it's important to make sure that you're speaking the same language -- in terms of accessibility -- as the people at your destination. Making a few phone calls to airlines, for example, and hotels before departure can help pave the way to a blissful vacation rather than one spent lamenting a lack of foresight.
Start out by listing the features you'll need while away from home. When making reservations, explain your situation in detail. If you tell an airline representative that you are blind, don't assume that he'll expect you to be traveling with a guide dog. Be specific.
Before You Go
It is a good idea to have an itinerary, or at least a list of attractions that you would like to visit during your travels. Contact each of the establishments a month or so before departure to inquire about access and the availability of programs for people with disabilities. Be persistent. It may take multiple calls to get the information you're looking for, but the time and effort you put in up front will pay off during your travels. Vacation time is too precious to waste dealing with problems that could have been avoided.
Call in Advance
Compile a personal list of accessibility questions so you wont need to reinvent the wheel with each call. Here are some to consider:
Get an early start! It's a good way to beat traffic and to take advantage of priority boarding.
Travel directly to your destination whenever possible. Changing planes, trains or buses can be a real hassle, especially if you are late for your connection because of a delay.
If problems do arise, alert travel personnel immediately. Each airline is required to have a complaints resolution officer at every U.S. airport.
Anchors aweigh! Bon voyage! Come back with some great snapshots!