There's an often-repeated phrase that "everything is bigger in America." This phrase can be applied in any number of ways from the sheer number of overweight people to the size and scale of many popular American events. The question this piece is looking to answer is whether this phrase holds true for the question of disability access in and around Manhattan and the 2017 U.S. Open tennis. I had been to Manhattan once before in 2016 but this time I specifically went knowing that the question of disability access in New York was a potential piece idea for bespoken. I've now been back in my hometown of Aberdeen for 24 hours and I'm here to report what I found.
Manhattan is something to behold. Twice I have visited it and both times I have been amazed by the sheer scale of the place. Times Square in particular gives you the sense of being an ant-sized creature among people going about their daily business. But I already knew most of this from my last visit. This time around I was specifically on the lookout for signs of disabled access around New York City.
I'm sorry to say I did not find a great deal of positives. New York does have the sloping curbs that are pretty much necessary for wheelchair users to get around but I saw very few specific facilities for those with disabilities. Maybe this fact is part of the whole long ant like culture of NYC as a whole but you only need to look at a previous piece I did about journeys through London to see how broadly positive I was on those experiences.
Don't get me wrong, I had a fantastic time during my week there but none of this was due to particularly good accessibility (unlike London). The thought that consistently went through my mind in terms of potential improvements was that disabled access within Manhattan (and New York in general) simply needed to be more visible in order to be more effective. Thinking about my visit to London in particular even when disabled access was not immediately obvious I always knew it would be somewhere in some capacity I did not get this hence whilst in Manhattan and I came away with the distinct feeling that this very small improvement of making disabled access more visible would do a lot in terms of increasing potential effectiveness. I’m in the very lucky position of having a dad who is very passionate about the fact that we can travel anywhere we want with the wheelchair even if it means pushing it up steep hills. This would be impossible if I was on my own.
The U.S. Open
In order to get to the U.S. Open you have to go outside Manhattan and into the borough of Queens. Using the subway to and from the event I did get to see a slightly different side New York beyond the heaving throng of Manhattan. I’ll get to the disabled access at the U.S. Open in just a moment but first I want to say how incredible an experience it was just to be there. I was lucky enough to have tickets for Arthur Ashe Stadium on both days and this was an absolutely mind-blowing experience.
The disabled access at the stadium was a bit sketchy to the point where I did not find a suitable disabled toilet. Instead I found a few enlarged toilet cubicles for people who have disabilities. When I think of accessible toilets I imagine a separate room with enough space to enable a person with whatever disability to be able to use the toilet comfortably and without hassle. With able-bodied people taking up the enlarged toilet cubicle meant for disabled people, I just ended up having to use regular able-bodied toilet cubicles. I'm lucky in that I can use an able-bodied cubicle toilet if necessary although I find them cramped and difficult. This made me wonder if the lack of proper disabled facilities was a sacrifice in terms of focusing in large part on the overpriced sponsored snacks and merchandise that is typical within these type of events in America. By the end of my two days at Flushing Meadows I thought this was the case.
The one unquestionable positive
For all the negatives which I am admittedly focussing on I want to take time to highlight one particular gold star I had to award. The last time I went to Manhattan we stayed at the Double Tree Hilton in Times Square. The one key disabled access related positive (staying at the same hotel) with this visit was that as soon as my dad, his girlfriend and I checked into the hotel the concierge looked at me and gave us a disabled access room. The main difference with this room was a walk-in shower that was definitely beneficial and it's good to see hotels like this have the facilities to cater for different access requirements.
There is no denying I once again had a great time visiting Manhattan as well as going to the U.S. Open for the first time (an experience I will never forget). However, I must be honest and say I did not find the city’s disabled access very impressive. I'm incredibly lucky to have a dad who will always help me get around places and overcome poor accessibility. However, the one thing that decidedly struck me about this visit is that New York would be practically impossible to visit if I was on my own.