Wheeling + Pushing
If you are going to be in NYC, be willing to push your wheelchair around, a lot. Or if you can’t do a lot of pushing, have someone with you. Although Manhattan is fairly flat in most areas, there are some hills and some gradual elevation changes. As a general rule, it is better to start from the higher streets and work your way down. For example, if you start from the Metropolitan Museum and head down to Grand Central Station, there’s a gradual decline. If you go the reverse way, there’s a gradual incline. Also if you are coming from East to West from First Avenue to Fifth Avenue, it’s a bit uphill. If you are coming from the West to East from Eleventh Avenue to Fifth Avenue, it’s uphill too. So starting from 5th to 7th Avenue, and working across, there is more of a decline.
To + From Airports
I have only flown into JFK so I don’t know much about the other airports like LGA (LaGuardia) or EWR (Newark in New Jersey), but I hear they are good options and there are ways for wheelchair users to get to and from those airports.
From JFK, you can take a taxi that will run you about $60 (without tip) to and from the city. It is a flat rate. You can also try to call Accessible Dispatch to schedule a wheelchair accessible van ahead of time to take you to your destination. I tried them once and had to wait 45 minutes. My experience wasn’t so great, but hopefully, it may be better for others.
Another option is taking the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) or subway system from JFK into the city (see map). You take the JFK AIRTRAN to Jamaica Center and then transfer to the LIRR (the Penn Station stop is near Times Square) or the subway (E J Z lines). Here is the MTA (Mass Transit Authority) link on how to do this.
At LaGuardia, you can take the M60 SBS bus to and from Manhattan. It ends somewhere off 125th Street in the Upper West Side (UWS). Here is the MTA (Mass Transit Authority) link on how to get to and from LaGuardia.
The first thing you should do is get a map of the MTA subway. This was my bible to get around. You can pick one of these up at a station with an attendant or at one of the various tourist information booths they have around the city. Or you can download it in PDF and save it to your smartphone or tablet. The map shows all the accessible lines at their respective stations. Remember that there are express lines (e.g. Lines 4 & 5) that skip some stations and local lines (e.g. 6) that stop at all stations on the route. Being able to read the subway map correctly will help you navigate the subway system. Try to avoid rush hour, it does get crowded.
There’s something about taking the subway that makes me smile. I guess it’s just being able to use a mode of transportation that everyone else uses and mostly takes for granted. Also, I find it’s a fast way to get to your destination, assuming there’s a working elevator and your final destination isn’t many blocks away. Here is a good article on what to expect when riding the subway with a wheelchair. Also, make sure that the station you want to get in or out of has elevators that are working. I found that the MTA elevator and escalator status information page was mostly up to date.
From a bus driver, he told me that all buses in Manhattan have ramps and are equipped for wheelchair users. I used them a few times and I believe him. You should get a bus map to see where each bus will take you. You can download a PDF file. I find the bus convenient when accessible subway stations are too far away from my destination. For example, if I want to get to the Metropolitan Museum by subway (6 train), the nearest stops are Lexington Ave & 51st (about 30 blocks) or Lexington & 125th (about 40 blocks). It’s much easier to take the bus that runs up Fifth Avenue or another parallel bus line that will drop you off nearby. Try to distinguish between the local buses that stop at all stops versus some of the express buses.
There are many ferry ports around Manhattan Island. For example, Pier 11/Wall Street will take you to Brooklyn, Queens, and Midtown East in Manhattan. Different companies run the ferry lines. You have to buy tickets from the right company. All the ferries I took were wheelchair accessible. If the ramp is too steep to climb to get on and off a ferry, the attendants will generally help you get over them so you can be off on your way. Besides the Liberty Island/Ellis Island ferry, I would recommend taking a ferry to Governor’s Island if you have time and want to. It’s a great quiet Island and has great views of the NYC skyline from the south.
Tram to Roosevelt Island
The Tram that will take you to Roosevelt Island is wheelchair accessible, assuming the elevator is working. The Tram is located at 2nd Avenue and 60th Street. You can use your Metro Card to pay for the ride. The Island is quite small and fairly flat. It has a great view of the city from the East side.
Access-A-Ride is a transportation service organized by Paratransit and New York City to assist those needing an accessible ride. The website does a good job detailing everything from how to schedule a ride to areas served and when and more.