Monday, March 2, 2009

Accessibility in Yosemite

Two weeks ago I went to Yosemite with my mother, who has Parkinson's. It was her Christmas wish to visit Yosemite in the winter-- a place she had spent many happy hours in her youth but never seen in snow.

Here is my rundown on accessibility in our flagship national park, revised based on experience. Ironically, when I asked about accessibility I was told by a staff member who had clearly been trained to respond to this, "As a national park, we are a federal government agency and comply with all aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

With over 4 million visitors a year, many of these foreign nationals who come from countries with no legal status or protections for persons with disabilities, Yosemite is an opportunity to show the world a particular American strength: Universal Design.

For all the urbanization, YNP falls sadly short of the vision of ADA. Just like home, urban does not equal accessible.

F: PARKING/ENTRANCE WALKS: The handicapped parking is located across the bus loading drive-through from the entrance to the lobby, and the curb cuts take one across a wandering path with no cross walks. At one point we started through one curb cut to cross the street and had to look for the other, which was located diagonally across but not marked. The handicapped entrance is what my brother in law Jim used to resentfully call a "servants entrance" about a 50 yard detour away from the front steps up a ramp that is out of sight of the public. The Awahnee entrance is much better.

F: WALKWAYS: It had been snowing when we arrived, and while the stairs and walks for the general public were shoveled, the ramps and curb cuts were not. When checking in with my mother (in her chair) I explained that we needed a room we could access (I was thinking ahead of the snow). The nice young man at the counter assured me this was and sent us across the road, through a parking lot and down snow covered walks to a room several hundred yards and a few snow banks away. We came back and requested a different room. When I suggested we should preview the room to see if we could actually get there, he was less than helpful. The rooms are all located in separate outside buildings with few covered walks, so shoveling is essential. I crossed several areas by running my mom's chair at full speed through the snow and shoveled our own walks into our room.

D ROOMS: One can reserve an accessible room, which we did not because the only accessible rooms have only one queen bed and a roll away and like people with a disability, we were traveling with children. The regular rooms are completely inaccessible, the doors to the bathrooms are to narrow even for a walker. The showers are inside standard tubs and there are no grab bars anywhere.

C CAFETERIA: The chairs are too close in the dining room. No one offered assistance, in spite of the fact that we clearly needed help. Many things are too high to reach.

B+: The new trail to the Yosemite falls bridge is very nice, as is the valley floor trail from the lodge into the meadow. The only issue we had is, once again, the curbcuts from our rooms were missing, so that we had to take a long detour to then roll through the parking lot before we could find an accessible entrance to the trail. Everyone else? Cross the street in a cross walk. BOOO.

B+: We went here for dinner one evening. Surprisingly, this historical landmark was the most accessible in the park. We did not see the rooms, however. In spite of the fact that the only accessible bathroom was up the elevator (unpleasant but not uncommon.) There was an accessibility map in the lobby, unlike in the lodge, showing where all the accessible trails and restrooms are. The staff were respectful and helpful, a difficult balance to strike, in my experience. Even in the national parks, It is good to be wealthy, especially if you have a disability.

F: Now, if you have not a disability yourself, you might say a ski area does not need to be accessible (which this is absolutely not- stairs everywhere, no ADA bathroom, and of course, snow and no covered walks). We did not even find ADA parking. But if they offer adaptive ski lessons (call two weeks ahead)- don't you think they would make the lodge and ski school accessible? Good thing my mom opted not to come up and instead hung out at the lodge napping and drinking hot chocolate. Too bad she did not get to see her grandchildren ski. It would have been nice if she could have hung at the ski lodge and watched from the window.

F: We could not even get into Curry, due to the snow. Or the ice rink (again, she wanted to watch her grandkids skate for the first time). I'll have to go back in summer to evaluate this part without snow.

C: Thank goodness they have kneeling busses. And wheelchair spaces. The driver was very nice- always a plus. Unfortunately, she did not know how to use the wheelchair tie downs, and when I showed her how she explained that she had asked when they were trained on these new accessible models and the trainer told her she did not know how herself, and did not think it was important! How lame is that? The park service invests in new ADA compliant busses and then does not properly train the drivers in their use.

So, for all the urbanization of this natural wonder, there is little to recommend it in terms of accessibility. That is a shame. So much of the development in the park is to make it seem more familiar, less strange and wild-- really to make it seem more accessible to the masses of able bodied people. It is tragic, in my opinion, that this development has made it more like home and less of a natural wonder, a place to connect with the serene, the tranquil, with wild. I have always resented the intrusion of fast food, ATMs, markets full of fake indian goods made in other countries, many low quality restaurants that highlight the worst genres of American food. I would resent it less if the city were actually were accessible, because at least accessible development would be for the purpose of making Yosemite the experience that Muir and Roosevelt meant it to be, a "tonic for the soul", instead of simply familiar in all the worst ways.