Wheelchair Access: New Haven, Connecticut
Sometimes you just need to get away. Just a short trip to clear your mind and restore your soul. Weekends were made for restoration after all. The trouble is, where to go and how to get there. Traffic can be a nightmare, especially if you live near a major urban center, and driving through hours of honking cars and irritable people can steal energy from your soul before you have a chance to revitalize it. Finding alternative methods of transportation, and becoming comfortable with the lack of control that comes with leaving the driving to someone else, is important.
During the last weekend of February my best friend, Laura, was on a mission to save both our lives. We had both been through years of physical, spiritual and emotional hardships and had not found a way to become whole again. Laura took control and told me we were going away. That was fine but we had to find a place we could both get to easily, she lives in Pennsylvania and I come from Long Island. After some debate we decided on New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University was there, as were other interesting sites. With the destination agreed upon, now we had to find a way for me to get there. I’ve suffered with a terrible, mind-numbing headache every day for the past three years. I don’t drive much. Driving is often more convenient than any other form of transportation for someone who sits in a wheelchair, as I do. However, I don’t want to risk either my life or the lives of fellow drivers if I get a stabbing pain in my head while on the road. Taking the train seemed to be a good alternative.
Before this trip I didn’t know anything about Amtrak. I didn’t know the costs. I didn’t know how convenient it would be for either Laura, or myself. I would have to carry my luggage while navigating on both the Long Island Railroad and Amtrak. She would have to pick me up at the station, after we found out that there is indeed a station in New Haven. As it turns out Amtrak suited both our needs perfectly. Laura didn’t want to come to Long Island to pick me up. This was perfectly understandable since, as anyone who lives in NYC knows, the hardest part of any trip is getting in and out of the city itself. As it was Laura’s trip by car took her five hours. Mine, on Amtrak, at a cost of $65 round-trip, took three. Furthermore, my trip was easier and more comfortable. I took train number 54 out of New York’s Pennsylvania Station. The attendants were both respectful of my needs as a wheelchair user and courteous. They helped me onto and off the train and moved my wheelchair out of the way once I had transferred onto one of the seats.
We had searched the Internet for cheap hotel accommodations. There are many of these in and around New Haven. However, this particular weekend many of the hotels were booked solid with conventioneers and participants in a local squash match. Finally we settled on a Holiday Inn in North Haven (on Rte I-91). At a fee of only $89/night (due to Laura’s AAA membership) the place seemed like a steal. Upon arrival we discovered the property to be a bit on the shabby side but were told they were in the process of being sold and renovations were underway. Despite initial reactions, we found the accommodations to be quite suitable to our needs. The entire establishment is on a single level so rolling around was not problematic for me, and the rooms were well-lit and spacious. One of my pet peeves is when a purportedly accessible room is less than accessible, but I found this not to be the case here. I had plenty of maneuvering space both in the bedroom itself and in the bathroom.
the hotel bathroom had grab bars
everywhere, toilet and tub. there was a tub with a removable (not
foldable) bench. I saw an accessible bathroom in the New Britain museum,
but did not venture into it. the museum in New Haven (on Yale's campus)
had an accessible public restroom, though the wheelchair accessible stall
was just barely wide enough. finally, we ate in the hotel so I don't know
The city of New Haven couldn’t be much better in terms of wheelchair accessibility. Everywhere we looked there were signs for on-street handicapped parking. In all the traveling I’ve done I’ve rarely seen this and it is a blessing. But on-street parking is virtually useless unless there is a way to get from the streets onto the sidewalks. This was never a problem. Curb cuts abound. Every corner of every block that we traveled on had one. This is quite different from the streets in midtown Manhattan, where traversing the sidewalks can be likened to moving through a slalom course. Even where these points of access exist they are not uniform in design and often are not well maintained. Another difference was the storefronts. Few of them had the 1-2 step entranceways that plague Manhattan. As any wheelchair user who rolls around by himself will tell you, one six-inch step might as well be a hundred steps.
Laura and I are both art lovers, Impressionist art being our favorite though we have different tastes within that broad category. Separately and together we have explored museums in several international and domestic cities. We found the New Britain Museum of American Art (a half hour drive from New Haven) to be a rare gem in an unexpected area. We didn’t expect that a relatively small city (compared to New York and Philadelphia) would house such a complete and comprehensive exhibition of artwork. Within the walls of this small and out of the way museum was a treasure trove. On the first floor, which was up a few steps but attainable by a small stairlift for wheelchairs, was a room filled with American impressionists, ranging from Mary Cassatt to Childe Hassam. Photographs taken by Eddie Adams for a book about internationally acclaimed civil rights workers written by Kerry Kennedy took up another room. On the second floor, a musical recital, with Katie Lansdale singing while Robert Merfeld played the piano, was the perfect accompaniment to various types of artwork ranging from Cubism to a marvelous room filled with a spectacular five-panel mural entitled “The Arts of Life in America,” by Thomas Hart Benton.
Before returning to our respective homes on Sunday, Laura and I visited the Eli Whitney Museum. Situated on the old Whitney Armory site, about 10 minutes away from our hotel, this tiny museum sits on lush, wooded land abutting Mill River. A beautifully constructed man-made waterfall powers a nearby hydroelectric facility (originally constructed to power Whitney’s machinery and send power to the small town he built for his workers). The grounds themselves are worth the visit as the waterfall and covered Town Bridge (constructed in 1820 by the architect Tthiel Town) make for spectacular scenery. The grounds are not paved, so any rainfall will make exploration difficult for someone in a wheelchair. However, inside the main building, which was easily accessible by a wooden pathway, we discovered scenes depicting the history of Whitney’s fascination with machinery and manufacturing. Central to this display is a replica of his Cotton Gin.
The trip to New Haven, Connecticut was one that I shall treasure. Not only did I get to spend valuable time with my best friend, not only did I find some temporary relief from the seemingly intractable pain I’ve been in for 3 years, but I was given the chance to discover a wheelchair-friendly location that has charm, grace and treasures that are not well-known by the general population. And all this within a mere 3 hours from my home on Long Island.
Robert Bennett's writings may be
enjoyed at his web site, Enabling Words,
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1995-2011 "All Rights Reserved"
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