Here, There and Everywhere

by Andy Vladimir on March 1, 2005 - 11:39am

If you’ve been contemplating a trip to France, know that Paris just got a lot more accessible. In September a company called G7 launched a fleet of 30 minivans with retractable ramps or rotating seats for people with disabilities. This is big news.

There have been accessible taxis before in Paris, but none using American-style minivans. These taxis cost the same as regular cabs, 2 euros plus 0.62 euros a kilometer (1 euro = $1.33 as of January). They run 24 hours a day, and higher night rates begin at 7 p.m. For a slight extra fee, they can pick you up from or deliver you to Orly or Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airports, which are some distance from the city.

In these new taxis you can easily get to the Louvre, the D’Orsay Museum, the Galleries Lafayette department stores, and major hotels and restaurants. What are you waiting for? To book a cab, call G7 in Paris at (33-1) 47.39.47.39 or go on the Internet to www.taxisg7.fr.

For more information on accessible public transportation in Paris, try the Web site www.infomobi.com, mais attention! It’s in French.

Tennessee accommodates

The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN.
The Civil Rights Museum is one of Memphis' attractions.
Cedars of Lebanon State Park is in Middle Tennessee.
Cedars of Lebanon State Park is in Middle Tennessee.

The state of Tennessee wants our vacation business. A new press release proclaims that visitors with disabilities will find the state’s top tourist attractions accommodating, “from Graceland to the Great Smoky Mountains.”

In West Tennessee, in Memphis, head for Elvis Presley’s mansion and 14-acre estate, Graceland. There’s free parking, lift-equipped shuttles, an auto museum, restaurants and more. Everything is accessible except two basement rooms and Elvis’ private jets.

Also in Memphis, be sure to visit the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s at the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.

You’ll also want to visit or stay at the Peabody Hotel, one of America’s finest. It’s famous for the five ducks that spend their day in the lobby fountain. They march in promptly at 11 a.m. every day and leave at 5 p.m. for their penthouse digs.

In Middle Tennessee, the capital of the state as well as of country music is Nashville, where accessible sites include the Opryland Hotel complex, the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A lovely mountain drive separates Nashville from Chattanooga, where you can stay at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel, a remodeled classic rail depot (I’ll bet you didn’t know that), or ride the Chattanooga Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. It, too, is wheelchair-accessible.

In East Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a wildlands sanctuary that preserves forest plant and animal diversity in a setting of spectacular natural beauty. Visitors on the Tennessee side of the park will find accessible the Sugarlands Visitor Center, a new nearby trail and several campsites. In addition, information is available for self-guided auto tours.

To learn more about Tennessee, visit www.tnvacation.com.

Israel highlights accessibility

If you watched the Paralympic Games in Athens last summer, you may have noted that Israel took home 13 medals. One reason is the country's move toward accessibility.

Haim Gutin-Golan, an Israeli tourism official, says, “Israel’s preparedness to serve the special needs community is without compare. We never want anyone to feel limited by a wheelchair, a visual or hearing impairment, or any other disability. Israel has tremendous resources to help you plan the trip of a lifetime.”

They mean what they say. They’ve done a superb job of putting together a Web site with accessibility information about holy sites, hotels, restaurants, shopping, you name it. Go to www.access-unlimited.co.il and click on “English.”

Survival strategies for going abroad

Here’s a new book that may be of interest to you world travelers (and I’ve heard from several who read this column). It covers everything from navigating the Great Wall of China to taking your animal companion to Costa Rica.

Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities focuses on academic, volunteer, short-term work and other types of cross-cultural exchanges for people with a variety of disabilities. It compiles tips and stories from 20 people who’ve studied in Australia, consulted in Japan, taught in Jamaica, volunteered in Russia and more.

The publication of Mobility International USA and the National Clearinghouse on Disability Exchange costs $16.95. To order, contact MIUSA at (541) 343-1284 or visit www.miusa.org.

ADA, cruise ships and the U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court was set in February to hear an Americans with Disabilities Act case that will be of interest to present and prospective cruisers.

The case, Douglas Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), is about a group of people with disabilities who took cruises on two NCL ships. They claim discrimination because physical barriers denied them access to public restrooms, restaurants, pools, elevators and more. Norwegian Cruise Lines says the ADA doesn’t cover foreign cruise lines.

On the whole, the cruise lines have done more to make their facilities accessible than most land-based resorts. That includes NCL. But you’ve got to go on newer ships to find the results of the cruise lines’ efforts. Many of the older ships are inaccessible.

In my mind that doesn’t mean the lines are discriminating against anyone; they’re doing their best to keep up in a changing society.

The case does remind me, however, that fewer than 50 nations have any regulations to protect the rights of those with disabilities. There are still some horrible injustices in tourism.

For instance, a Washington Post story in November reported that a court in Europe awarded damages to plaintiffs who sued a hotel because they “had to” dine with a guest who had no arms and held her fork with her feet. Those of us who travel must complain loudly and clearly when we receive this kind of treatment or observe anyone else receiving it.

The kavorting Kassens

Valerie Kassen of Harrisonville, Mo., has Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair. Her husband, Ron, is blind. Valerie is an insurance agent and Ron is a computer network engineer.

Now get this: These two are world-class travelers. They’ve been to Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii and the Caribbean. They’re thinking about an African safari next.

Valerie Kassen told me about their last trip, a Princess Cruise of Northern Europe that took them to England, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France. “I stick to Princess and Royal Caribbean,” she said. “They’re the most accessible lines.”

I knew the ships were accessible; what I didn’t know is how the Kassens managed the shore excursions.

“We just booked them,” Valerie said. “Then we figured out how to do things.”

Valerie, who can stand but can’t walk, travels with both a power wheelchair and a manual one. She also needs a respiratory device at night. In Germany there was a tour to Berlin. Ron got her up the steep stairs onto the bus. The shopkeepers and restaurant employees helped her get inside.

“The Europeans are more accommodating than the Americans,” she said.

Peggy Rick, Ron Kassen, Michelle Semrau and Valerie Kassen in  front of Windsor Castle near London.
Clockwise from left: Peggy Rick, Ron Kassen, Michelle Semrau and Valerie Kassen in front of Windsor Castle near London.

At short stops they stayed on the bus. At longer ones, they got out. Ron pushed her manual chair, and she told him where to go. “He loves the smells, the sounds and the history,” she said.

“My gosh,” I thought, “if they can do these inaccessible European shore excursions, I can too.” And I will on my next trip.

“You’re not going to be able to do everything,” Valerie said. “But if we wanted to go somewhere, and we weren’t sure it was accessible, we’d go anyway.”

In Hawaii they didn’t know how much of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island they could visit. They saw the volcano but stayed on the bus at a macadamia nut farm.

“We like to people-watch, too,” Valerie said. “If I can’t see something, I say to myself, ’Hey, I’m in Hawaii!’ instead of letting it ruin my day.”

Of course the couple researches everything before going anywhere. Valerie likes www.accessable.com and www.gimponthego.com.

In the end, Valerie believes, your attitude has everything to do with the kind of travel experience you have. “If you are gracious to people and have a smile on your face, they’re much more accommodating.” Amen.

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