How I Make Accessible Trips from New Jersey to the Big Cities

Disability and the City

Those of us living in New Jersey are lucky enough to have easy travel access to two of America’s greatest cities: New York City and Philadelphia. However, having a disability can make these trips tricky to manage. Hi, my name is William Volkmann and I have Cerebral Palsy. When I was younger I could walk down city streets and hop into cabs, although it was demanding. Now that I’m older, I see now how much harder it is to get the same experience, but I don’t discourage anyone from making it happen. You just need to plan, research, map it out and most importantly have fun! I mostly get around by driving and using a walker, but when I hit the city streets, I use a wheelchair. It makes sense for me and is the easiest decision I have to make when planning a visit to these cities.


Accessible Trips
Wheelchair Users St Pauli Disability Hamburg


Access and Travel – How to Have Both

For instance, to go to New York City, it is hard to drive in the city and parking is super expensive. So, while for most people without a disability, taking a train to the city is easy and fast, this is not the case for me or others using wheelchairs. First off, to get on and off the train, you need a ramp. To get a ramp, you have to wave down a conductor to put down the ramp for you. You also have to hope they remember you when you arrive in the city so they can put the ramp down for you to exit. Now you are off the train, you have to make sure the platform’s elevator is working. If it isn’t… you may find yourself stuck way underground. Luckily, they work most of the time. When you finally get to the main area in Penn Station, there are only two elevators to bring you up to ground level, and they are hidden. Best bet? Ask someone to show you where they are or you could be cruising around the station for an hour trying to find them.

Once you get to street level, you’ve got three options:

  1. CAB: If you want a wheelchair accessible cab, be prepared to wait a while. They are fewer in number and you will have to wait for everyone else anyways.
  2. ROLL THE STREETS: I mostly just roll down the streets, you might think this is easy, but New York City isn’t the most accessible place. Not every street has curb cutouts, so sometimes I feel I’m on an island with no way to cross the street unless I backtrack. I end up hoping there’s a clear way in a different direction that is also headed in the direction of where I want to go. More often than not, there is, but sometimes I am stuck and can’t go where I want to go. To learn what works and what doesn’t may take some trial and error.
  3. SUBWAY: You might be thinking “why doesn’t he take the subway?” Well, only 93 out of 425 subway stations have elevators (this is counting all the five boroughs) and a recent study shows 75% of them are not working most of the time. So I don’t even bother with this route.

Take MYSELF Out to the Ballgame

Accessible Trips the the CityUntil this year, the Long Island Railroad didn’t have an elevator at Citi Field, which I was bummed about because I wanted to go watch a game. To get there, I had to take NJ Transit to Penn Station, hop on the LIRR, get off one stop BEFORE Citi Field, and THEN had to go on the subway for one stop, JUST so I could use that elevator there get to the ballpark. Very frustrating. Mind you, you need to look all this up on the internet beforehand if you don’t want to get stuck. For everything else, I recommend apps like Wheelsmap to learn where there are accessible bathrooms, restaurants, etc. but they don’t help much with street routes.

In Philadelphia, it is a bit different, I drive there in my wheelchair van. The most difficult thing is finding a disabled wheelchair spot. Even if I do, most of the time I can’t get my wheelchair lift out of the side because the spaces are so narrow. I found the city streets not as hard to get around as in New York City. There are more ramps and curb cuts so therefore you will be less likely to have to reroute your journey. Still, I recommend using the internet and the app I mentioned to plan out your routes ahead of time to save you time and the inevitable headache.

I still have fun in the cities, but it comes with the pressure of having to map everything out and you still might hit a snag or two. Whether it’s your wheelchair being low on power or construction alters your direction. The best way to look at it is as a mini adventure and you must be prepared at all times. You’re foraging into the concrete jungle to discover new things and overcome obstacles. In the end, the struggle will make the reward that much more enjoyable. Have fun and I hope this post helped you prepare for your next city excursion.

About the Author:

Bill Volkmann is a New Jersey resident with Cerebral Palsy and a guest blogger for Easterseals New Jersey. He previously lived in Texas where he helped a local politician develop a platform that addressed the needs of people with disabilities throughout the state. Now he is lending his writing skills to Easterseals and wants to share the following message:

“Through the blog, I want to help start a public discussion about the things the disabled community is concerned about. How to volunteer, get a job, get an education, overcome social barriers,  find transportation, deal with physical obstacles, and the other challenges we face every day. I look forward to helping Easterseals, to inspire, encourage, and listen and to help young adults with these challenges and more. I hope you come on this journey with me as we try to make it easier for people with disabilities integrate into society for this generation and the next.”


5 Essential Tips on How to Shut Down Offensive Labels

R-word, Labels

A War of Words: “Politically Correct” vs “Plain Speaking”

Political Correction for the Politically Incorrect Labels

When it comes to the community of persons with disabilities and special needs, labels are a hot topic. We use certain words to describe individuals or ourselves. Unfortunately, words have the power to hurt feelings and limit expectations. We’d rather those words NOT be used to label us. On the other hand, we have a number of individuals who are opposed to using “politically correct” language. They feel they should be able to use whatever words they so choose without retribution. People draw a line in the sand and stop listening to one another. Let’s dive in and see why this is and how we can start a conversation, rather than a war of words.

Unfortunately, the battle lines are drawn and the sides have been established. On one side, we have those who favor “politically correct” language and on the other, we have those who favor “plain speak.” Many people are fed up with having to police their words and feel like, no matter what they say, they will inevitably offend someone. They don’t understand why people have such “thin skins.” In response, these “plain speakers” are condemned for their choice of words. Attacks such as these put people on the defensive and shut down any opportunity for anyone to walk away the interaction feeling like there was a positive outcome.

How do we change this? How can we turn this negative into a positive? We have a few ideas.

Most People are Good People… No, really.

The first step towards making everyone more aware that they should not be using offensive language, is by first accepting that most people, are good people. They don’t understand how hurtful this language is to people with disabilities. Granted, there are individuals who DO use these words callously or to be purposely hurtful. Changing THESE people is not something we can cover in this post, better to move on and focus on what we can control, rather than what we cannot. If you ever do encounter someone who you feel is being purposely hurtful, do your best to ignore them or report their actions to someone who will help separate you from the offensive individual.

TIP 1 Avoid the high-horse.

Righteous indignation feels good. When you are so convinced that you are in the right and that whoever you are speaking to is wrong, it can feel sooooo satisfying to rub it in their faces. The problem is that this is not the most effective method to affect change. If someone has said something offensive and you feel morally obligated to address it, take a moment and remind yourself that most people are good people. Approach the situation with humility, understanding that, at some point, we’ve all said silly things without thinking. Try to remember how we were treated in those moments and how we wish we had been treated. This is your opportunity to change someone’s mind and make a difference, don’t throw it away just to feel superior.

TIP 2 Breathe.Keep Calm

Before you say anything, take a deep breath and try to relax. You have faced ignorance and are now understandably upset. The problem is, you may lash out and end up saying something that won’t be very constructive. The last thing you want is to turn a conversation into a shouting match. Be true to your emotions, but don’t let them get the best of you.

TIP 3 Isolate When Possible

People grow incredibly defensive when confronted in a group setting. They feel that if they do not retaliate to a perceived attack on their character, they will end up looking weak. Their response will be unpredictable and uncontrollable. Better to ask if you can speak with the individual privately, this can help avoid the awkwardness of calling someone out in public.

TIP 4 Educate and Express

Take the time to explain to the individual that the word they used hurt your feelings and that you’d prefer they wouldn’t use it in your presence. Afterward, be sure to let them know that you know they weren’t using it to be hurtful and that you don’t think less of them. Follow it up with letting them know why that word disturbs you. You could tell them a personal story or even draw a parallel with other words that are offensive.

TIP 5 Gratitude

Only use this tip if you feel the person has taken the time to listen to you and empathized with your point of view. If you feel you’ve gotten through to this individual, thank them for their patience and understanding. This is the cherry on top of the education cupcake. Both parties walk away with a feeling of positivity and surety that the matter is closed. When we leave an encounter with such a positive ending, it encourages long-lasting changes in a person’s behavior.

We hope these tips come in handy when addressing these issues in the future. It’s crucial to open up a dialogue if you want to see things change for the better. If all goes well, you will have made a significant victory in the war of words in which both sides win.


6 Tips to Beat Back the Winter Blues

Winter Blues

By Martha Wolfe

Why So S.A.D.?

Winter Blues, also known as “Cabin Fever,” can keep you down this cold and dreary season.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) affects half a million people in the US.Woman alone Three-quarters of sufferers are women.” Still, I’m sure anyone can relate with the affect less daylight, colder temperatures, and inclement weather can have on our moods. With that being said, what about those that already have a mental health diagnosis?

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Halloween Without the Scary Price Tag

Halloween Scary Wallet

by Shruthi Srinivas

Costume Woes to Wins

Halloween is almost here and everyone wants to be part of the spooky fun. But the toughest part is finding the perfect costume for a reasonable price. As a person with a disability, this can be doubly difficult as some of the cheaper costumes on the market may not be the best for your body type or may end up causing sensory distress. So how do you get around the costs this Halloween? Make your own costume!

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Accessible Vacation Destinations? You Know it!

Van in paradise

Everyone Deserves a Vacation

by Elise Giacobbe

Summer is here and the thought crossing everyone’s mind is, “I need a vacation.” We’re all ready to get away and enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. However, before you pack your bags, you may need to make some preparations if you are taking a trip with someone who may have special needs. Many important questions need to be answered: will medical needs be available? Is the area accessible? Will we have fun?

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How to Make New Jersey Beaches Accessible

Beach Wheelchair

Sand, Sun, and Saltwater Taffy

Ned Stark Meme: Summer is ComingFrom North to South, most New Jerseyans agree that the place to be this summer is the Jersey shore. For some, it can even be a second home.  There isn’t a weekend that you won’t see them enjoying the Atlantic or strolling the boardwalk with family and friends. The question we ask ourselves here at Easterseals New Jersey, however, is how accessible is the beach?

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Keeping Your Fitness Resolutions!

6 Winter Fitness Tips for People of All Abilities

By Guest Blogger James Richardson, Health and Wellness Coordinator


Though it was off to a slow start, winter is officially here. And let’s face it; it’s easy to shift into hibernation mode. However, that won’t help keep us in optimal health. Though we tend to slow down in the winter months there is an easy way to keep things moving: Weather permitting – take a vigorous walk! Walk indoors or outdoors when conditions allow. Twenty to thirty minutes a day of walking has been shown to

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Managing Holiday Temptations for People with Special Needs or Disabilities

By Guest Blogger Laura O’Reilly, R.N., B.A., AVP Health and Wellness, Easter Seals New Jersey

Celebrating the Holiday Season is a reason to eat, drink and be merry. Who can resist? Is it possible to get through the holiday season without gaining weight? I cannot promise that, but it is possible to minimize weight gain and use each day as a chance to get back on track by trying some of these tips.  It is important to know that all of us, whether or not we live with a disability or other special need, can enjoy a healthy and productive holiday season!

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6 Helpful Tips For Caregivers During National Family Caregivers Month

Thank you to all family caregivers!

Easter Seals New Jersey recognizes the various struggles that many caregivers sometimes face when they are caring for a loved one.  Often times, these same individuals neglect to care for themselves.  For all of you that do not know, November is National Family Caregivers Month, and to honor all of you caregivers out there who work hard all day, every day, to care for your loved ones, this post is for you.

In the most recent studies on Caregivers in the US there was an estimated:

  • More than 65 million caregivers nationwide
  • 52 million caregivers caring for adults with an illness or disability
  • Caregivers spend on average 20-35 hours per week providing care
  • 17% feel their personal health suffers due to caregiving
  • 40%-70% of caregivers show significant signs of depression
  • Only 12% of caregivers report using respite services
  • 78% report needing more help and information about caregiving
  • 35% of caregivers report having difficulty finding time for themselves,
  • 29% report trouble balancing work and family responsibilities


As most of you know, being a caregiver can be extremely stressful, not giving yourself enough time in the day to worry about your own needs because you are always concerned about someone else’s.  When you do focus on your needs, it may feel selfish and unnatural.  It is important to understand that an essential part of being a caregiver is to make sure you put yourself first at times.  While you may think it will compromise the care of your loved one, you have to understand that it will not.  Both your life, and the life of your loved one, depends on your well-being.

With that being said, here are 6 helpful tips on how to manage caregiver stress and the busy lifestyle that comes with it.

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Tips To Avoid Back To School Bullying for Individuals With Special Needs and Disabilities

1It’s that time of year again, summer is officially over, and youth all across the country are now back to school.  For some parents, it’s a day that they were waiting for all summer, finally able to get their children out of their hair.  While for other parents, they have been dreading the day because of the chances that their child may be bullied in school.

Parents of youth living with special needs and disabilities, such as physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional, and sensory disabilities, may be at an increased risk of their child being bullied while at school.  While bullying may not seem like an issue to most parents, to a parent of child with a disability, it can be a big worry.  Ensure your loved one is not being bullied at school by following some of the tips below.

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