I finally visited New York, it’s been on my destination list for years, and luckily two of my best friends were also keen to go. With a deteriorating condition like MS, things only get harder, so I know that I add urgency to experiences… why wait? The easiest and best time is always sooner. I’m aware the flip side of this is that it can suck the fun out of any situation or plan, like a constant back seat passenger demanding ‘are we there yet?’, but having known my two co-travellers most my life, and going abroad with each of them before, they get it.
We ticked off all the tourist sites, it was awesome, everyone was exhausted.
- The Tenement Museum – An interesting look at America’s immigration history from an old apartment building on the Lower East Side. It’s not a passive walk through, you need to book on to one of the guided tours and could spend a week going on the different ones.
- One World Observatory – At the top of the new trade centre, next to the Twin Towers memorial and museum. 360 views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey.
- Liberty and Ellis Island – I was surprised at how moving I found the Statue of Liberty when faced with it, and the Ellis Island museum was especially chilling when you learn that all disabled and sick people were separated from their families and forced back on a boat to Europe. Today, the trip is completely accessible, and as there are stairs leading to the pre-ferry security check, ramp users can skip the queue.
- Brooklyn Bridge – Has to be crossed off, but to get to the restaurants in the DUMBO area at the Brooklyn end, avoiding the stairs means quite a long and unsignposted walk around.
- Mean Girls on Broadway – Tina Fey is a genius. I can’t wait to see this again if it comes to London.
- The Rockefeller Centre – Great views of Manhattan once you can find your way to the entrance, not an obvious tour round the foyer for step free users!
- Chelsea market – Yum…
- The High Line – An old raised rail line now a walkway through the city. A great perspective with regular lifts down to street level.
- Central Park – It’s hilly in places but if you stick to the walkways there are smooth routes through it. Totally beautiful and worth the visit.
So all to plan once we got past the shaky arrival; New York’s JFK airport assistance was abysmal. We waited on the plane for crew to arrive to get me off… and waited… and waited. The flight staff and pilots can’t leave until all passengers have left so were gathered too. Eventually two guys turned up, who didn’t speak much English, and wouldn’t transfer me into the aisle seat, seriously, WHAT IS YOUR JOB?! The guy then repeatedly tried to pull me down the plane using my legs. Luckily mine aren’t painful, and an air stewardess took over from him. The Virgin Atlantic staff watched on in horror. I’ve experienced worse, as I’m sure most disabled travellers have, but it’s always comforting to see the reaction of those not used to the cattle-like treatment we’re often met with. On the return flight we were surprised with an upgrade to Virgin’s Premier class and Club lounge in apology. It’s so great when an airline shares responsibility for its disabled passengers, rather than helplessly pointing to the airport’s assistance, credit to Virgin Atlantic’s response.
The same can’t be said for the Holiday Inn Group. I often veer towards hotel chains, they can be less pleasant or interesting, but you can at least be more confident of access. I’d spent a tedious afternoon booking with them, and agreeing that as three people couldn’t fit in an accessible room, they would offer a second single room free of charge. Obviously when we arrived, beaten from the JFK assistance debacle and luggageless (this mix up was our fault, but still), there was no record of it. Eventually we agreed to squeeze an extra bed into the accessible room rather than pay for a second room, and I am still pursuing reimbursement of the cancellation fee applied for it. The lack of protocol always baffles me. I cannot be the first disabled guest wanting a three bed room, but it feels like I’m trying to organise a space mission every time.
Getting around was okay, some subway stations are accessible, but like London you have to plan your route pretty inflexibly. There are a range of yellow cabs, we took a wheelchair accessible large one from the airport to Manhattan which was waiting in the taxi rank. But on the whole, the wheelchair accessible cabs driving around the city only have space for one other passenger (because y’know, disabled people have max one friend), so we mainly had to transfer into cars and ubers. The good news is they’re much cheaper than London black cabs.
One thing for sure is that Manhattan is smooth, with wide, concrete pavements. The constant kerbs and road crossings along the grid systems are annoying interludes, but all with dropped slopes. The fact I didn’t notice stairs and inaccessible toilets blocking me from cafes and venues means it must have been pretty good.
(I actually went in April, but exhaustion and the return of UTIs has knocked me back a bit hence the delay in posting!)