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Tips for Traveling With a Disability in New York City

Subin Yang / © Culture Trip
Subin Yang / © Culture Trip
There are plenty of resources that help make tourist attractions, theatre trips and other classic New York City activities more accessible for all. Here’s how to take advantage of them.

Though the definition of ‘accessible’ varies greatly depending on the needs of each individual, New York City’s government and accessibility organizations have made huge strides in this area thanks to initiatives such as greater wheelchair access in iconic tourist locations and sign-language interpretations of Broadway productions. Find out about accessibility options in hotels, theatres, transport hubs and more below.

Accommodation

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that hotels provide certain accessible accommodations, not all of these accommodations are created equal. Wheelchair Jimmy, created by frequent traveler Jim Parsons, is a website dedicated to wheelchair-accessible travel. It offers lists including wheelchair-friendly hotels, as well as accommodations to avoid. His criteria include being able to navigate the hotel’s common areas, and availability of roll-in-showers. Conrad New York and Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan are two of his favorites. NYCgo also provides a list of accessible hotel suggestions.

Subin Yang / © Culture Trip

Getting around the city

Most New Yorkers navigate the city via the subway, but only 24 percent of stations are accessible to mobility-impaired customers, according to a survey conducted by the city controller. Find out which stations are equipped with elevators, as well as where those elevators are located, on the MTA website. The majority of MTA buses are wheelchair accessible, and the most up-to-date information on bus arrivals can be found via MTA Bus Time on your computer or cell phone.

If you have time to plan ahead, you can apply for the city’s Access-a-Ride paratransit service, which allows you to reserve an accessible vehicle in advance. The paratransit service extends to all areas covered by public transport. But beware: scheduling can be difficult and the vehicles rarely arrive on time. Accessible cabs might be your best bet, as they are much more reliable. While you may be able to hail one cab from the street, you can also call the dispatch or request a car through their Accessible Dispatch app. Many rideshare apps, including Uber and Lyft, also have options tailored towards the elderly and people with accessibility concerns.

Taking a tour

Walking tours are a great way to experience New York City, and many companies offer tours that are suitable for those who have accessibility concerns. Turnstile Tours is a great option, as they regularly work with tourists who are traveling with a disability, and they also offer autism-friendly tours. If walking tours are not the right option for you, bus and boat tours can be a great alternative. The team behind Classic Harbor Line make a special effort to ensure their tours are as accessible as possible. The city’s docks are not particularly wheelchair friendly, but the crew is there to make sure you get onto your harbor cruise safely.

Subin Yang / © Culture Trip

Museums and historical sites

Most New York City museums are fitted with elevators, ramps and audio-assistive devices. There are also tours offered in American Sign Language (ASL) for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Some museums – such as the Brooklyn Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art – offer ‘touch tours’ and ‘touch exhibits,’ which give visitors with limited vision the opportunity for a more tactile experience. These tours happen on a regular basis or can be booked in advance. See individual museums for more detail.

Restaurants and bars

There are thousands of restaurants to choose from in New York City, but it can be hard to know which ones will suit your needs. Those looking for a quieter dining experience should download SoundPrint, an app that measures the noise levels of restaurants. And NYCgo offers information on restaurants that are wheelchair accessible and ones that have menus in Braille, among other useful accessibility details.

A night at the theater

Broadway theaters have taken steps to make their shows more accessible. Many have introduced wheelchair ramps, for example, and others have scheduled ASL-interpreted performances into their regular programming. The Autism Theater Initiative offers autism-friendly shows by reducing jarring lights and keeping the house lights on, among other adjustments. Theater Access allows users to search by show and accommodation needed. (It should be noted that ASL-interpreted shows are only offered on special occasions, so it might be worth planning your trip around the show you want to see. For people with less flexibility in their travel plans, Deaf NYC offers a list of events happening every day that are suitable for those with hearing difficulties.)

Check out Accessible NYC for even more accessibility information.