I’ve been involved in a research project these last few weeks. I hadn’t intended to go quite so deeply into my research, however, once I started, it was hard not to see examples everywhere I looked.
It began with a trip to San Francisco. My daughter and I were invited to my niece’s wedding in Exeter, CA, and we decided to go by train. A friend of mine asked if I would report back and let him know how accessible the train would be for people using wheelchairs. Great! Not only would I be researching for my friend, but learning about accessibility options and traveling is also good for me. Though I’m not so restricted in my ability to move, it can sometimes be a challenge to get from point A to point B. A wheelchair may someday be in my future.
We found out that Amtrak has a special sleeper room that is accessible. They also give discounts to people with disabilities. In San Francisco, we learned that even the old streetcars (not the cable cars but the electric streetcars) are accessible as are the buses. This is needed in the city. I couldn’t quite imagine a wheelchair going up or down those hills, not until I saw one do it. I got off a bus and looked up just in time to see a man approaching the curb in an electric wheelchair and, as I watched, the chair climbed right over the curb! I did a double take and when I looked next, the wheelchair was balancing on two wheels allowing the man to be at eyelevel with the other people around him. I stood there staring stupidly with my mouth wide open. I eventually found out that he was using an “IBOT” (www.ibotnow.com), invented by the same man who invented the “SEGWAY”. Unfortunately, the nearly $30,000 price tag would deter most of us from taking advantage of this new technology.
We also rode in my cousin’s car in San Francisco. One has to know how to drive well in the city. I mean, in Denver, you’d hardly ever see anyone driving down the light rail tracks! In San Francisco, I couldn’t figure out whether there were any hard and fast rules about driving. The intersections looked like spiders’ webs of electrical wires strung in a seemingly chaotic pattern above the street. Cars darted in and out, sometimes right in front of the streetcars. No one seemed to mind, too much. At least everyone seemed to generally be going the same direction. As busy and hurried as New York, but a lot more mellow, San Francisco is like New York after a couple glasses of wine.
The most accessible form of transportation that we found was the ferry boat. After attempting to navigate my way around the hills and streetcars, we ditched the city and took the ferry to Sausalito. There, the hills were a little friendlier and the buildings shorter. I could figure out where we were. And the ferry ride was delicious! Not only was it accessible for people who used wheelchairs, there were many people who brought their bicycles right on board. We stood by the rail the whole way across the bay. Being from Colorado, large bodies of water are a source of endless fascination.
Coming home again, we learned that there had been a freight train derail just outside of Reno. That meant we would be bused to Reno and there we would catch the train. The bus ride was less than desirable. If the ferry was easily my favorite form of transportation, the bus would be my last choice. Though it is technically accessible, the man who rode in his wheelchair was packed in tight right next to the ramp. It didn’t look very comfortable and a larger wheelchair wouldn’t have fit at all.
And if this wasn’t enough for my research, we came home and decided to spend a day at Elitch Gardens Amusement Park, where our son is working as a ride operator this summer. I wanted to see him at work. My daughter and I went with our good friend and his daughter. They were amusement park pros. We continued on with our research in getting from point A to point B, though in most cases, it was more like getting from point A to point A again with a lot of spinny, twirly bits in between. Many rides are wheelchair accessible but only if you can transfer easily from your wheelchair to the ride. Otherwise, don’t even think about it.
I actually did fine after I had something to eat but on the first few rides I got more than a little queasy. And of course, it didn’t help that my friend kept talking about how one should really eat Chinese food before going on wild rides so, just in case you threw up, it would be more interesting, all the while he was making the car spin as fast as possible.
As for the train, I would recommend train travel to anyone, especially the California Zephyr trip between Denver and San Francisco. You go through exquisite canyons through the Rocky Mountains, following the Colorado River for many miles. The ride is long, approximately 35 hours, but you can walk around, go to the observation car, eat in the dining car, and get to know your fellow travelers.
And no one notices if you walk a little funny. Everyone walks a little funny on the train.