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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Until 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.”