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Saturday, December 31, 2011



Editor's note: We arrived home on Dec. 31 from a week in Mexico City. The City was great, our Hotel -- the St.Regis -- was spectacular but the flight getting there was a nightmare caused by American Airlines employees who are abusive toward the needs of disabled travelers. It is no wonder why this carrier is in banktruptcy. We will share our tale of disability discrimination during the next several days. The postings are in the form of a letter to American Airlines, which has not even been addressed -- despite the urgency of our complaints.

I am writing to make American Airlines aware of a terrible situation for disabled travelers -- one that very negatively impacted my wife and me.

My wife, an attorney and the American with Disabilities Act coordinator for one of the largest counties in America, has flown dozens of AA flights with me.

She uses a super-lightweight manual wheelchair that folds in half and can be further reduced in size with easy removal of the foot rests and wheels.

We learned more than two decades ago that when we gate check her wheelchair, it often gets broken either by a careless ground crew or by other items in the cargo hold.

That is why we invested in a very expensive lightweight, collapsible wheelchair -- because the disassembled chair readily fits in the closet area entry of aircraft.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Hector Guillermo Gerardo Barraza Ugalde

Outanding ideas for wheelchair-accessible walking tours in Mexico City from our Hermano Hector:

a) A Downtown tour. We could arrive to the Zocalo by car and visit the Cathedral which is easily accessible, then we could stroll along Madero street which is a pedestrian street visiting the Profesa church and the Casino Español, then another accessible building would be Iturbide Palace, Count of Valle de Orizaba Palace and the old cloister of the ex convent of San Francisco, we could see from the outside Fine Arts Opera House and after it the Franz Mayer Museum, if your wife and you are in the mood we could finally see the Rivera Mural on the alameda park.

All of the above are easy access buildings, if i don´t mention i.e. the National Palace is because they could be very cumbersome to visit.

b) Coyoacan, could be very nice to explore, there is only a small area with cobbled stone streets that could be not entirely accessible, but the rest is flat, shady and with very interesting buildings to see, the Blue House (Frida Museum has too many stairs)

c) San Angel. This area is full of cobbled stone streets and very hilly, but very nice, it could be a bit up hill, but I can always help you, it is the area where you will find the Old church of Chimalistac, el Carmen or San Jacinto, with lovely squares and the beatiful San angel Inn Restaurant.

d) Chapultepec park. The Castle is a must see, we could visit the ground floor, with most of the rooms dedicated to Emperor Maximillian and Empress Charlotte, with a great view of Reforma avenue and the surrounding areas, after it, the anthropology Museum of very easy access (two or three rooms).

Cost. Downtown and Chapultepec park, US$130 (4 to 4.30 hours)

Coyoacan and San Angel, US$150 (4 to 5 hours)

Transportation, we could hire a cab by hour, some US$12 per hour or to take taxis from one place to the other, I always take with me a Taxi stand phone number and we can call the cab, once we are done with the walking.

Thursday, December 29, 2011



As we count down the final days of 2011, our theme this week is to give thanks to exceptional people who we have "met" via the interet.

Héctor Barraza is a sucha person.

He's helping us plan a trip to Mexico City for sometime in 2012.

From his bio:

I am a lawyer with more than twenty years of experience in private international
banking. I am a native of Mexico City, but I have also lived and worked in Los
Angeles, Houston, and London. My passions are the history, art, and architecture of
Mexico, and I have now chosen to spend my time sharing my knowledge with
visitors. I approach Mexico City and its surroundings from the perspective of social
history, establishing a link between the stones you see and the stories of the men and
women who built and lived in these places.

I provide customized tours for visitors eager to know about the history and culture of
Mexico. I have had the privilege of working for the American Comparative Literature
Association, Johnson & Johnson, Dartmouth College, the University of Houston, the
Houston Seminar, the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), the University of
Ottawa, and many wonderful individuals and families from around the world.

We sent a simple email to Héctor, explaing that one of us uses a wheelchair for mobility.

Tomorrow, we'll share the wealth of information he kindly and rapidly responded with:

Check out his site at:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011



We are not rich people.

We need to pinch pennies and travel cheaply.

We are famed for flying out of town at 6 a.m. on a holiday because it's way cheaper than flying out late afternoon on the day before.

We subsribe to countless services that send updates on discounted hotel rooms, flights, etc.

If we could get half off by washing the dishes at a 4 star restaurant, we'd probably think about doing it for the savings.

Like everybody who is prudent, but not dirt poor, we sometimes toast our victories or drown our sorrows with a little splurge.

Someday, the St. Regis Mexico City will be such a splurge.

Normally way to rich for our blood -- rooms come with a butler that unpacks your clothes for you & the building was designed by famed architect Cesar Pelli -- the St. Regis recently advertised some great deals.

While we were unable to pull the trigger on the pending deal, we were incredibly impressed with the service the St. Regis delivered to a pair of would-be guests simply doing research.

Heidi uses a wheelchair for her mobility, so we found the email of the St. Regis Manager and zapped some messages asking about roll-in showers, common area access and bed configuration in the barrier-free rooms.

Soon, we not only had replies from the Manager, but we also got a phone call from the person in charge of rooms.

In her imperfect English (which we very much appreciated because folks in Miami forgive our imperfect Spanish), she explained all the amenities for people with disabilities.

The person even memorialized our conversation in an email and followed up the next morning with customized photos taken for us to show the bathroom accessibility.

Soon, the concierge was advising us on a driver for accessible transport and filling in details about which museums are best set up with ramps and elevators to serve wheelchair-using visitors.

Wwe could go on and on about the St. Regis' committment to serving a potential booking by a pair of people who would be paying an internet rate nearly half off the usual cost of a luxury room.

Someday, we shall splurge at the St. Regis and get to give our face-to-face thank yous to all the people there who are committeed to serving ALL guests, inlcuding those with mobility needs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011



Mexico. Oft-maligned, today it conjures up every ugly American's nightmare of a place where you walk out for coffee and wake up with one of your vital organs harvested.

While there certainly are many places with crime problems inflicting unspeakable horribles on the locals and scaring off cultural visitors aplenty, there are many places that are just as safe as home.

Guanajuato is one of them.

Even in Mexico City, choked with traffic, smog and more than 20 million people trying to feed their families, has dozens of safe places to wander -- from Condesa to Reforma, Chapultapec Park to Polanco, the Zocalo to the Alameda Central, Coyacan to San Angel to many other historic and significant urban sites.

Mexico Today is a government-sponsored site to get out all the good stories (and to obviously combat the US Media image of violence in the pround aned historic nation).

The writing is top notch.

This is no press release and propoganda site.

We highly recommend you visit:

Monday, December 26, 2011



Observations, news and Travel Tips by Jim Johnston

On this lazy holiday day off, we'd like to refer our nearly 20,000 readers to our favorite blogger in Mexico City.

Jim Johnston, author of exico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler, shares his vivid writing about the magical Condesa neighborhood, murals and dozens of other cool things in the historic and bustling Distrito Federal and its 20 million-plus inhabitants.

Since this is a lazy day, we'll simply lift Jim's bio right from his blog:

Born in New York City, Jim Johnston grew up in the woods of New Hampshire.

After studying architecture at the University of Virginia and graphic design at the School of Visual Arts, he worked as a professional artist and potter in New York City for 27 years.

He moved to Mexico in 1997, where he continues working as an artist and writer.

For more information visit the website:

For Jim's outstanding blog, visit:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Warm Season’s Greetings from Our Family to Yours

We wish you peace, happiness & prosperity and invite you to mark this special time of year by:

• Embracing family and friendship.

• Empowering yourself to make positive changes.

• Celebrating the holidays by sharing with those who are less fortunate.

• Relaxing with loved ones and entering the New Year renewed and refreshed.

Saturday, December 24, 2011



As our story on Casa Zuniga draws to a close, we have to note a few things.

First off, Casa Zuniga is not wheelchair accessible.

Perhaps it is odd to heap such praise on such a place in a blog dedicated to barrier-free access and urban walkability/rollability.

The thing is, most of Guanajuato is not wheelchair accessible.

It's pure topography.

Guanajuato makes San Francisco look like the flat filled swamplands of Florida by comparison.

GTO also is a very old place.

Some callejones (alleyways -- there are nearly 4,000 of them in this village) are barely two feet wide.

All of them are series of steep sidewalks and stairs.

GTO was a caregiver's respite for me.

Casa Zuniga is built on a hillside.

You have to walk maybe 50 steps down from Pipila and equal amount within the Casa Z property just to get to your room.

It's that kind of city -- buildings have multiple levels....people just keep building up and out on the hillside until they run out of land held by their family.

I'm sure if he could acquire a site downtown -- where GTO is moderately wheelchair-accessible at the very best -- he would do so.

His raw energy and ingenuity would surely serve wheelers.

The other thing worth noting is that Rick is a bit of an iconoclast and certainly and character.

To 99% of us who love travel and the quirky things you find on the road, that makes him an ideal host.

But I can see where Senor Zuniga's strong personality and opinions could rub somebody the wrong way.

But he's truly a saint. Most innkeepers would do well to offer one tenth of Casa Zuniga's hospitality.

Check them out at:

dial 011-52-(473) 732-8546

Friday, December 23, 2011



Rick's tours also include the mines.

Guanajuato was built on silver.

The Spaniards funded their nation on minerals plucked from the rich mines in the hills around Guanajuato.

The silver created a beautiful city lined with plazas, colonial buildings, cathedrals, museums, theaters and more.

The silver also came out on the backs of enslaved indigenous peoples.

Padre Hidalgo, from a nearby town, grew greatly concerned about the plight of such peoples and with others -- who paid for their revolutionary activities with their lives -- rebelled against mother Spain on the very streets of Guanajuato.

The couple in this photo is Bob and Lucy.

They're from New York City and they joined me on a trip down Boca Mina.

The trip is a bit claustrophobic, even though you don't go very far down the mine.

Everybody at the mine -- and every other historic site in town -- knows Rick.

He should run for mayor of GTO.

Thursday, December 22, 2011



Rick's tours are another added bonus of staying at the heavenly Casa Zuniga.

You would pay a good $25 US or more for a comparable tour.

Rick does 'em for fee.

By the by, Rick is in his 60s and has a post-polio condition that leaves him in a lot of pain after walking.

But he's in better shape than most 30 year olds and he simply needs a day before head's up to do some stretching and he's ready to walk you to death (in a good way).

My first tour was a tag along with a young couple traveling through Central Mexico. She's from London and he's a Dubliner -- they're in the photo above.

We took off on foot, down those narrow, twisting, historic craggy steps and sidewalks filled with history.

My pausing to take photos robbed me of some of Rick's fabulous storytelling.

His love of all things GTO is obvious.

He lives and breathes the history of one of the most important cities in all of Mexico.

He loves to wander along the callejones and point out the amazing things that have taken place -- from floods to the start of the revolution against Spain.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011



Casa Zuniga has another super-duper bonus.

Its located footsteps from the only funicular in town.

Folks who grew up in Pittsburgh or other hilly towns will know that a funicular is a sort of loving elevator or inclined rail car.

It allows lazy, portly folks like this writer to avoid walking what seems like a quarter mile up twisting, endless steps and passageways to make it from downtown up the hill to Casa Z.

The funicular runs from about 7 a.m. to about 10 p.m. and its costs little more than a dollar US.

But you don't even have to pay!

Rick buys tons of punch cards for you!

The cards have about 10 rides on them and the funicular attendants take out a hole punch and literally punch your ticket once for each ride down or up.

If you run low, Rick's around to give out more cards.

So if you're afraid of practicing your Spanish, you don't even have to worry about buying a funicular ticket en espanol.

For the record, you should try out your Spanish -- don't be an ugly American.

For the record, part II -- Rick speaks perfect English, as does his wife Carmen.

The live in the San Francisco Bay area, so any gringos worried about language barrier need not.

And because it's their home, Rick and Carm are always around to help.

The City itself is pretty espanol-dominated.

San Miguel de Allende is the gringo town about an hour's drive away.

Guanajuato -- or GTO as the locals abbreviate it -- is full of students and visitors.

Many of the visitors are professionals from Mexico City or other areas.

So the shops, restaurants and museums function in Spanish.

Picking up some lingo on the streets of Miami equipped me perfectly for conducting all tourism matters in town.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011



The view from Casa Zuniga is so perfect, they could charge $10 bucks to outsiders just to watch the sunrise and sunset over the magnificent colonial city of Guanajuato...which covers every hillside and rolls down into the valley below Casa Z.

Just about every room at the Casa features a window with a million dollar view. The ones that cost a few bucks more have fabulous patios -- but the grounds have lots of common areas for spectacular viewing, so even a piker can take pictures like a pro from many vantage points.

Guanajuato gets rain in the summer, but the rest of the year it is pretty dry.

The summer is like Los Angeles, but without the traffic and smog.

I went in November and the days were in the mid 70s and the nights got down around 40 degrees.

That was cold to my Miami bones, but perfect weather for those from just about anywhere else in North America.

Casa Zuniga has fans, not air conditioners.

With all the breezes that blow through it, I can't imagine it getting too hot even midday in the summer when the temps could reach the high 80s.

Casa Z does not have central or individual heating. No place in Guanajuato does.

My room had about 6 layers of sheets, blankets, comforters, etc., so I never got cold.

But Rick, remembering my trepidation about near freezing night temps in an email I zapped a month before booking.

I came back up town to Casa Z one frigid evening to find a space heater purchased just for me and set up in the room.

Would a Ritz Carlton go to this length for a guest paying 10 times what I did at Casa Z?

I doubt it.

Monday, December 19, 2011



Casa Zuniga rooms start as low as about $60 US per night.

But rather than a low-ball hidden cost that has hidden extras, Casa Zuniga rooms are the opposite -- they come with so many extras that you would darn near pay $60 US just for those bonuses that don't include a quiet, huge, beautiful room to sleep in.

First off, the taxes are included in the price.

The biggest room is maybe $100 US per night.

When you wake up, you see the kitchen going 100 miles an hour, working at least 90 minutes to make your breakfast from scratch.

Breakfast at Casa Zuniga features foods that most gringos think of as dinner food -- enchiladas, pieces of beef, chicken, huge bowls of beans, guacamole and tons of other gut busting but perfect food stuffs.

There are some eggs, fruits, juices, coffees and breads for those who crave more familiar breakfast-type grub.

They even fried up some bacon for this homesick gringo on his next to last day of a 6-day, 5-night stay.

Right off the bat, Rick asked about food allergies, likes, dislikes....I told him it's not like they kill me, but onions flip flop on my belly and eggs really give me tummy troubles.

Just like that, I had chilies rellenos without the customary egg batter outside.

Each day, the wonderful gals in the kitchen made me my own little sin cebolla (without onions) guacamole.

I felt guilty about such kindness and luxury visited on lazy old me.

Sunday, December 18, 2011



When you approach the outskirts of Guanajuato, tell your cabbie you want to be dropped off at Pipila (pee-pee-lah) a huge stone statue that everyone knows.

Pipila, whether myth or real man, was a local hero of the independence.

Next from the towering, lit monument to Pipila, is Casa Zuniga -- where proprietor Rick Zuniga is a hero to all travelers.

Casa Zuniga is an inn that is sort of like a large house...but each room has its own bathroom, shower, lockable door, etc.

So you get the best of both worlds -- hotel class accommodations with B&B charm and friendliness.

Rick is a no nonsense guy.

If you start emailing him questions that sound like you're more inclined to want to stay at a Holiday Inn, he has no trouble directing you to such accommodations.

Carmen, Rick's wife, is the other half of the Casa Zuniga team.

She is a quiet, steadying force to Rick's Energizer Bunny-like movements, enthusiasm and constantly running deadpan commentary.

Saturday, December 17, 2011



Mexico. Oft-maligned, today it conjures up every ugly American's nightmare of a place where you walk out for coffee and wake up with one of your vital organs harvested.

While there certainly are many places with crime problems inflicting unspeakable horribles on the locals and scaring off cultural visitors aplenty, Guanajuato is NOT one of them.

From the States, you fly into Leon airport -- a very small, no nonsense place with clean shops, good security and helpful staff -- and catch a taxi to Guanajuato.

There's a taxi stand where you you don't get the price hiked and you get a pre-screened driver for safety.

The cabbie may push the speed limit, but that is the only lawlessness you'll see on the way to Guanajuato.

Friday, December 16, 2011



(10) Le Meridien, 250 Franklin St., in Boston.

Sixteen of its 326 rooms are wheelchair-accessible units with two double beds an extremely well-designed roll-in showers.

Housed in a former Federal Reserve Bank, a national architectural landmark building, the hotel earns high marks for being within walking and rolling distance of Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

Phone: 617-423-2844.

Thursday, December 15, 2011



(9) Atheneum Suite Hotel, 1000 Brush St. in Detroit.

Twelve of its 174 rooms at this all-suite property are barrier-free, with large transfer benches that provide access to spacious shower-baths.

The huge accessible suites feature two beds, a separate sitting room and plenty of space everywhere for wheelchair maneuverability.

The huge restroom has elegant glass block around it.

The commode has grab bars and raised seat.

The sink has room for a wheelchair to roll up to it.

The architecturally restored Atheneum is within the Greektown district, downtown Detroit’s vibrant area of restaurants, coffee houses, bakeries and more.

Phone: 313-962-2323.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011



(8) Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills.

Ten of its 581 rooms are accessible, with bath benches in the tub showers.

It also is home to Trader Vic's (though we didn't spot a werewolf driking a pina colada -- guess they only hung out at the London Vic's).

The Beverly Hilton’s barrier-free room was more than adequate with features such as wider doorways and grab bars.

In fact, when Christopher Reeve made his dramatic appearance at the 1996 Academy Awards, he chose to stay at the Hilton because of its accessibility.

Phone: 310-274-7777.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011



(7) Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, 129 E. Fremont St. in Las Vegas.

Thirty-five of its 1,907 rooms are wheelchair accessible – half roll-in showers, half with bath benches.

The Nugget, with its glittering gold and fine Grecian marble decor, is by far the most opulent of the downtown Las Vegas hotels.

Rooms are large, accessible and extremely quiet -- which is of utmost importance when the ears cannot take another assault from a clanging slot payoff or lounge singer’s howling solo.

Disabled travelers will also love the simply efficient lift that provides easy access into the property’s Olympic-size outdoor pool.

The Nugget’s small, cabaret-size showroom can be reached by elevator and it offers an accessible seating area with good, unobstructed views of the stage.

All restaurants on the property are barrier-free.

Phone: 702-385-7171.

Monday, December 12, 2011



(6) Zion Park Inn, 1215 Zion Park Boulevard in Springdale, Utah.

Five of its 120 rooms are wheelchair-accessible – two with roll-in showers, three with bath benches.

Located just a couple miles from Zion National Park’s gates, the inn has barrier-free rooms and elevator access to all parts of the property, including a fabulous cathedral-ceilinged great room overlooking a 1,300-foot sandstone wall.

The inn also has wheelchair-accessible facilities such as a laundry, convenience store, gift shop and restaurant on site.

The Switchback Grill serves a great fill-you-up breakfast buffet plus southwestern-accented lunches and dinners amid airy, ski lodge-like decor.

Phone: 435-772-3200.

Sunday, December 11, 2011



(5) Queen and Crescent Hotel, 344 Camp St. in New Orleans.

Eleven of its 196 rooms are wheelchair-accessible and equipped with roll-in showers.

The European-style boutique hotel is in a renovated building that used to be a railroad office tower.

The best thing about its location in the Central Business District is that it is close enough – about two and a half blocks – to the French Quarter, but far enough from its noisy partying scene to make for a good night’s sleep.

Phone: 504-587-0700.

Saturday, December 10, 2011



(4) The Benjamin, 125 E. 50th St. in New York.

Twenty of its 209 rooms are wheelchair-accessible one-bedroom suites, which have barrier-free bathrooms to serve disabled guests.

The suites are huge by Manhattan standards and have baths equipped with grab bars, bath benches and shower wands for accessibility.

The ornate rooms also are equipped with galley kitchens, a fax and spacious sitting room.

The location, in a classic 1927 skyscraper at Lexington Avenue in Midtown, is perfect.

We noted the small lobby is easy for wheelchair users to negotiate and the doormen are quick to do their duties.

Phone: 212-715-2500.

Friday, December 9, 2011



(3) Inn at Cedar Falls, 21190 State Rt. 374 in Logan, Ohio.

One of its six house-size cabins is barrier-free.

Guests can access RedBud, the wheelchair-accessible cabin, via a smooth wooden ramp that blends seamlessly with the huge sitting porch.

The first floor includes a bedroom, roomy bathroom with roll-in shower, full kitchen with stove, refrigerator and dining table and two beautifully furnished sitting rooms.

The second story -- accessible only by stairs, but perfectly suited as separate quarters for an opposite sex personal care attendant traveling with a disabled person -- is a sunny loft with a bed and a full bathroom.

The Inn at Cedar Falls is located within the Hocking Hills, a recreational area about 60 miles from Columbus, Ohio.

Within the area are a number of state parks, including a few with paved, wheelchair-accessible trails.

The inn’s main dining room is in a house-like building accessible via a ramp.

Accommodations include breakfast.

Phone 740-385-7489.

Thursday, December 8, 2011



(2) Casa Grande, 834 Ocean Dr. in Miami Beach.

Two of its 34 rooms are wheelchair-accessible with large, roll-in showers with built-in seats.

The exterior of Casa Grande is an inviting, subdued Mediterranean style.

The inside offers pure luxury in a quiet oasis off bustling Ocean Drive.

Suites are spacious, with full kitchens, two bathrooms, huge bedrooms and roomy living rooms.

Staying at Casa Grande is like having use of a wealthy friend’s hip South Beach condo – one with plenty of room for maneuvering a wheelchair.

As far as access, the bathroom was the highlight.

It was huge with a raised commode grab bars and, best of all, the tiled roll-in shower with hand-held wand.

The suite’s gorgeous wood furniture and tile floor give it the feel of a tropical villa.

Best of all, the villa is only steps from the beach.

Phone 305-672-7003.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011



(1) Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, off Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway on the Kona Kohala coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Fourteen of its 243 rooms are barrier-free suites with large roll-in showers and plenty of room for wheelchair maneuvering.

The rooms are spectacular, airy and gorgeous.

Think slate floors, a generous sitting room, functional patio furniture and dreamily comfortable beds.

The luxury resort has a portable pool lift for each of its five pools.

The lift and beach boy attendants gently placed Heidi in the fabulous waters of the oceanside Sea Shell infinity pool.

The granddaddy of all the pools is the King’s Pond, which has 2.5 million gallons of saltwater contained by lava rock and stocked with 3,500 fish representing 40 species.

With the assistance of a beach boy, Heidi was able to float among all sorts of sea creatures

A network of paved, wheelchair-accessible paths cover the lush and expertly-tended grounds. Phone: 808-325-8000.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011



By Steve Wright

They are on the beach, or at the mouth of a canyon.

They are in the center of the city that never sleeps, or in the middle of nowhere.

They are boutique properties, sprawling casino resorts and best of all, wonderfully accessible to people who use wheelchairs for their mobility.

They are members of our top 10 list of hotels that combine location, charm, luxury and down-home comforts with barrier-free features which go far above and beyond the typical standard of wheelchair accessibility.

They are in 10 different states and represent everything from members of huge chains to mom and pop operations.

Accessibility at a hotel, or inn is crucial for my wife, who has used a wheelchair for her mobility -- because of severe rheumatoid arthritis -- for four decades.

Our accessible top 10, ranked and rated, will be posted over the next 10 days.

Monday, December 5, 2011




New York Water Taxi, with several accessible stops in Manhattan, 212-742-1969.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, corner of Old Fulton and Water streets, 718-246-3963.

Patsy Grimaldi’s Pizza, 19 Old Fulton Street, 718-858-4300.

Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Columbia Heights between Montague and Middagh streets.

Junior’s, 386 Flatbush Avenue Extension at Dekalb Avenue, 718-852-5257.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Ave., 718-623-7200.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel, 3059 Denos Vourderis Place (formerly West 12th Street) 718-372-2592.

Nathan’s Famous, Surf and Stillwell avenues, 718-946-2202.

Sunday, December 4, 2011



If you go:

Brooklyn is not a hotel town. Being a place to live, work and play, it isn’t lined with upscale hotels like Manhattan. But you have to sleep somewhere and one of the best locations is the Upper East Side of Manhattan at Lyden Gardens.

Lyden is tranquil and the rooms are apartment-sized. Lyden, at 215 E. 64th Street, specializes in accommodating people with disabilities. Because it is located near several major medical centers, it also has a renown aftercare program for people recovering from surgery. The staff understands mobility issues.

The property has a ramped entrance, an automatic door and several accessible rooms on the first floor.

The amazingly quiet first floor rooms have huge roll-in showers, full kitchens, large living rooms, bedrooms with plenty of space for a wheeler to maneuver around in and large barrier-free bathrooms

Lyden Gardens doesn’t have a restaurant, but it has room service deals with several nearby cafes that will deliver food hot to your door. Room Rates start at $200; phone 212-355-1230 for reservations.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has more than 4,300 lift-equipped buses on the road. Drivers are well-trained when it comes to assisting with tie- and lock-down devices and making sure to stop at a good location for accessibility. For information, phone 718-330-1234. To view extensive transit maps, visit: For information on accessibility, visit:

Saturday, December 3, 2011



Where else can you can you touch, feel and experience such a famous part of New York? – and do it all for free!

One could traverse John Roebling’s steel cable suspension bridge a thousand times and discover something new every 1,600-foot journey.

Rolling west into Manhattan an hour before sunset, one can gaze north for dazzling perspectives of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings illuminated by the low-hanging sun.

But the bridge itself is a work of art, the awesome cables so artistic in the way they spiral upward into the sky.

The fellow bridge walkers are pure New York street theater – fat, skinny, loud, private, friendly, hurried, strange, local, immigrant, tourist, banker, pauper.

The pedestrians on the 1883 bridge prove that Brooklyn truly is America’s Old Country.

Wright is an award-winning travel writer-photographer. Johnson-Wright is an Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator. They live in a restored house in Miami’s Little Havana. Email them at:

Friday, December 2, 2011



The westward journey on Surf should include a stop at the corner of Stillwell Avenue for a final taste of Brooklyn.

Since 1916, Nathan’s Famous has sold hot dogs at Stillwell and Surf.

Modern restrooms in the historic building are completely accessible and the stands are low enough for ordering from a wheelchair.

Downing mustard-slathered all-beef dogs and fabulous crinkle cut fries on a warm summer evening under Nathan’s neon-lit sign is a truly American experience.

For the grand finale, how better to exit the ballyhooed borough than via the Brooklyn Bridge?

The minute you start your ascent up the pedestrian pathway (100 percent barrier-free), your heart skips a beat.

Thursday, December 1, 2011



The fabled Wonder Wheel is at Denos Vourderis Place (formerly W. 12th.) The 150-foot, Bethlehem Steel wheel has a level entrance and can accommodate wheelers, but the smallish cars might be best used by those who can transfer from their chairs.
The family-owned and operated landmark gets high marks for its low key approach to accommodating people with disabilities.

Visitors who roll another 10 blocks east will find they’ve wandered very east – as in a place with so many Soviet immigrants, the area is known as Little Odessa.
The barrier-free Boardwalk continues through the neighborhood, which is better known as Brighton Beach.
Brighton’s brightly-colored Russian restaurants and beautiful art deco apartment buildings create a grand sense of place.

Next, head west on Surf Avenue, the first street north of the Boardwalk. Surf has manageable curbcuts, slow-moving traffic and sidewalks just wide enough to squeeze past the masses.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011



No barrier-free visit to Brooklyn would be complete without visiting one of the most mythical seaside destinations on earth.

Coney Island is a sensory overload of roaring roller coasters (the Cyclone, world renown, but not accessible), towering Ferris Wheels (Deno’s Wonder Wheel, a landmark that has towered over the Boardwalk since 1920, is accessible) and a world-famous strand (totally barrier-free), forever immortalized on black and white postcards displaying hordes of humanity assembled at the Atlantic in a by-gone era.

Heading toward the ocean on W. 16th Street, visitors come upon an iconic figure used in many movies.

The old Parachute Jump, a part of Steeplechase Park’s heyday, rocks gently in the summer breeze.

The landmark ride entertained Coney Island visitors from 1941 until ’65. It’s been repainted and shored up, but chances are slim that funseekers will ever again ride its parachutes to the ground.

The Boardwalk is plenty wide to accommodate wheelers, Rollerbladers, walkers and all other visitors to the beach.

An eastward stroll and roll on the Boardwalk takes visitors past the ocean on one side and the old time shooting galleries and various amusements on the opposite side.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


BROOKLYN To walk off the calories from Junior’s, stop at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a verdant oasis in this dense, urban, stickball-playing-in-the-streets borough. Roll among wide paved paths. Explore the Steinhardt Conservatory -- a series of glass structures so beautiful that wedding parties seem to be perpetually posing among its palms and perfect leafy backdrops. The conservatory is very accessible and there’s an elevator down to barrier-free restrooms. The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden is one of the oldest outside of the land of the rising sun. The looping, gently sloped roll around the pond is so peaceful, one completely forgets about the frenetic cacophony of the surrounding city. In the summer, the Lily Pool Terrace delights with tropical water lilies blended with elegant lotuses and other aquatic plants displayed in large ponds. The beauty can be viewed easily from wheelchair height – there are no rails or obstructions. The pool attracts dozens of photographers -- pro and amateur -- spellbound by the floral delights and the magnificent reflections they cast into the water.

Monday, November 28, 2011


BROOKLYN If the Grimaldi’s pizza was shared and the belly is ready for some late afternoon refueling, pop in to Junior’s -- a true Brooklyn legend. The neighborhood is a little rough around the edges, so the urban safety-conscious wheeler might want to visit before sundown. Those of are more “devil may care” will visit the diner-like deli from 7 in the morning till past midnight. Who knows if Junior’s has the best corned beef and pastrami? Let the hundreds of New York delis battle that one out. What Junior’s does have is nostalgia, a true living, breathing slice of old Brooklyn. Brooklyn lost cityhood around the turn of the century, the Dodgers in the fifties and Steeplechase Park in the sixties, but Junior’s lives on. Enter through a stately art deco building using a wide, level entrance off an extension of fabled Flatbush Avenue. You will find people who have been coming for more than half a century for deli fare, along with lots and lots of barbecued chicken dinners. The cheesecakes are huge, fabulous and consistently voted the best in New York by critics and everyday diners alike. And a hint to those in need of an accessible restroom: steps are required for the old facilities but there’s a big, new, accessible restroom by the kitchen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


BROOKLYN If chocolate ice cream isn’t your thing, then roll a few paces away from Fulton Landing to Grimaldi’s Pizza. Roll through the level entrance door and the aroma of coal oven pizza convinces you to ignore any diet you’re on and contemplate downing an entire pie by yourself. The décor is red-checkered tablecloths and autographed photos of Frank, Dino, Tony and lots of other famous Italian singers on the walls. The place is old, so clearance around tables is tight and the restroom isn’t up to ADA standards. One other note of caution: you will succumb to temptation and burn your mouth while rushing to eat a molten slice. Don’t worry; the pleasure far outweighs the pain. Brooklyn Heights Promenade is just up the hill from Fulton Landing. This level and accessible strip of scenic parkland rises above the East River and provides a panoramic view of Gotham's steel and stone skyscrapers. The serenity of the park epitomizes the beauty of the neighborhood's exquisite old apartment buildings, corner markets and mature tree lines. The walkway is one of the most special places in the city, where one can gaze off into New York Harbor and look at the Staten Island Ferry, and at Lady Liberty herself. Walkers, joggers and wheelers of every age congregate on the Promenade to take in the western sunset over Manhattan – or to just sit and read a book in one of New York’s most picturesque settings.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


BROOKLYN The Fulton Ferry Landing is completely accessible. Water Taxi captains and conductors are quite adept at easing up to the pier and assisting with a ramp, depending on the water level. The Water Taxi can be boarded at one of seven piers in Manhattan. The ride is not for the faint of heart, because the little watercraft bobs like a cork along the Hudson and East rivers until you reach the Fulton Landing. But the view is well worth it and we (Heidi has used a wheelchair for more than 25 years) vouch for the safety and accessibility. When exiting the Water Taxi, you can’t help but look up at the hulking Brooklyn Bridge. The landing site is the perfect place to gawk at the massive bridge from below and to take spectacular photos of lower Manhattan on the horizon. The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, with its inexpensive cups of creamy traditional flavors, is within spitting distance of the Water Taxi station. The sweet tooth nirvana is ramp-equipped for access.

Friday, November 25, 2011



Brooklyn. Is there any other word in the American vocabulary that conjures up so many images?

Hearing the word “Brooklyn” instantly paints pictures of a spectacular and famous bridge, a much-parodied accent, a world of Italian pizza houses and Jewish delis and the home of Coney Island.

Brooklyn is the stuff of movies and stand-up comic routines and teary-eyed nostalgia for the Dodgers, who packed up for LA in the fifties.

Brooklyn has so much art, architecture, ethnicity, history, culture, neighborhood character and unique dining, it would take more than a month to explore it.

Fortunately, the mystical place over the bridge from Manhattan can be explored and experienced quite well by wheelchair. To meander freely about without freezing, it’s best to visit between mid-May to mid-October.

Brooklyn can be reached from a Manhattan hotel by rolling over the completely accessible Brooklyn Bridge walkway or taking a taxi or lift-equipped bus on the famed bridge’s roads. Nothing, however, beats the drama of arriving by water.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE MANHATTAN We watched a play from our wheelchair-accessible seats at the John Golden Theater, then taxied it to the Beekman, where an express elevator provided easy wheelchair access to the Top of the Tower. We were weary from packing so much into one day, but the Beekman’s ethereal charms set the stage for the most atmospheric of all our New York moments. Vodka martinis in hand and a stunning starlit view of the metropolis before us, we knew we had taken Manhattan. Author Steve Wright has published more than 2,500 travel stories. His spouse, an ADA expert, has used a wheelchair for four decades.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE MANHATTAN The world’s most famous skyscraper, on Fifth Avenue between W. 33rd and 34th streets, is 102 stories tall, plus a 16-story mooring mast. Tours of the Empire are wheelchair accessible. Elevators reach the breathtaking open-air observation deck, which has lowered telescopes and lowered viewing areas to serve wheelchair users. We decided it was time to head back for the hotel, but that we’d trek home via Sixth Avenue, so we would see the Midtown deco landmark -- Rockefeller Center. The expansive complex covers West 48th to 51st Streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues and includes Radio City Music Hall. Cutting down W. 50th Street, we admired buildings adorned in art deco medallions. Back at the Benjamin, a classic 1927 skyscraper, we noted the small lobby is easy for wheelchair users to negotiate and the doormen are quick to do their duties. Twenty of its 209 rooms are wheelchair-accessible one-bedroom suites, which have barrier-free bathrooms to serve disabled guests. The suites are huge by Manhattan standards and have baths equipped with grab bars, bath benches and shower wands for accessibility.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE MANHATTAN We were drawn to the granddaddy of all deco skyscrapers. The observation deck closed nearly two decades ago and the building is not set up for tourists like the taller Empire State Building, but the Chrysler is our favorite by far. In daylight, its stainless steel-clad spire dazzles in the morning sun. At night, the Chrysler’s illuminated upper windows make it the most sumptuous siren of all the Manhattan skyline. The 77-story masterpiece at Lexington Avenue and E. 42nd Street also is replete with deco-styled automotive imagery. Nearby at 220 E. 42nd St., the Daily News Building is another deco treasure of the same era. Almost next door to the Chrysler, the structure tells its own story in a large frieze over its entrance. As soon as we saw the long lines at the Empire, we were glad we had CityPass tickets in hand. Not only does the pass booklet offer admission to top attractions, it also allows its holders to skip past long ticket-buying lines.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE MANHATTAN We loosely mapped out an art deco lover’s tour covering dozens of city blocks. First up was the General Electric Building, at Lexington Avenue and E. 51st Street, which is across the street from our hotel -- the Benjamin. The lavishly-decorated 51-story art deco tower is highlighted with stylized lightning bolts. From the same spot, the view to the south shows off the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Waldorf Towers -- an entire block of art deco covering E. 49th to 50th streets between Lexington and Park avenues. The twin structures are noteworthy outside and the luxurious deco interiors are worth a visit inside. We eaded over to the Beekman Tower at the corner of E. 49th Avenue and 1st Street. We admired its classic art deco friezes and made a note to return at night to check out the deco bar on the top floor. We headed south, finding ample curbcuts at the cross streets. Looking west in the morning sun, we gasped every time the steely, shiny crown of the Chrysler Building revealed itself through the canyon of buildings.

Saturday, November 19, 2011



By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

NEW YORK -- Millions of Manhattan city lights twinkled to the left of us while the East River and its magnificent bridges beckoned to the right. We were 23 stories above the city, sipping martinis, listening to live jazz standards on the piano and soaking up the sights at the Top of the Tower lounge. From our lofty perch amid art deco splendor in the peak of the Beekman Tower, we’d reached that magical time when traveler’s exhaustion gives way to a kind of devil-may-care euphoria that justifies every dollar spent on toney restaurants, skyrocketing hotel rates and rising air fares. The Beekman, a deco-drenched gem and a landmark in the city since its 1928 opening, earns our triple-A rating: scoring high marks in architecture, atmosphere and access for people with disabilities. We did our best to combine our love of design and need for accessibility with our third must -- an endless quest for a sense of place, that intangible thing we call atmosphere.

Friday, November 18, 2011


LEED-ND Just as hundreds of municipalities have required LEED standards for building and created incentives for LEED construction, Norquist expects regulatory agencies to eventually adopt LEED-ND standards for zoning and development permits. “We cannot sustain the sprawl created by zoning requirements for huge setbacks, big streets, minimum lot sizes, minimum parking requirements, separation of uses,” Norquist said. “A lot of the current regulatory structure promotes sprawl. “LEED-ND really tries to work with developers and real estate investors to create value. “People like to live in a green environment. It is more and more important to people -- both in a public relations sense and in the reality of the market.” Wright frequently writes about Smart Growth and sustainable communities. He and his wife live in a restored historic home in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. Contact him at:

Thursday, November 17, 2011


LEED-ND “People should not look at it as some kind of radical environmental movement, LEED-ND is very consistent with real estate trends,” CNU’s Norquist said. “Studies have shown greater price collapses in the housing market that is far remote from job sites. In many areas, the far-flung sprawl is doing worse than the old city center neighborhoods. Areas with convenience to shopping, jobs and activities are performing better in the market.” Norquist noted that gasoline is no longer cheap and governments can no longer afford to pay for superhighways and the entire infrastructure needed to support sprawl. “If grade separated highways were the answer to economic vitality, Detroit would be the richest city in the world,” Norquist observed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


LEED-ND The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convened a panel to study the benefits of LEED-ND and found the green neighborhood rating system can: • Reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease and hypertension by making physical activities a part of people’s daily lives by designing walkable, bikeable communities with open spaces and parks close to work and home. • Reduce the risk of asthma and other respiratory diseases, reduce air pollution and injuries from vehicle crashes by building compact communities where people can move about via walking, biking and public transit – rather than being dependent on the automobile. • Improve mental health by reducing the amount of time spent commuting to work and increasing the amount of free time that can be spent with family and exercising in open spaces built into the development. • Encourage healthier diets by making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible because the rating system rewards points to developments that create space for community gardens and other means of local food production.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


LEED-ND The Town of Truckee’s leadership and involvement has been key to the process, which also includes a collective of partners and the general public. Analysis of historic land use and block patterns, the creation of distinct character areas, a regulating plan and place-making drawings for the extended downtown, form-based code and building types study have all been used in the redevelopment process. Together, they facilitate the logical and orderly expansion of the downtown on this former 75-acre lumber mill site and railyard. With Americans dealing with soaring health care costs and illnesses directly related to obesity, LEED-ND also aims to create healthy communities through smart development patterns. “Research has shown that living in a mixed-use environment within walking distance of shops and services results in increased walking and biking, which improve human cardiovascular and respiratory health and reduce the risk of hypertension and obesity,” according to the USGBC’s website detailing the benefits of the new LEED-ND rating system.

Monday, November 14, 2011


LEED-ND Sophie Lambert, Director of LEED for Neighborhood Development with the USGBC, agrees that LEED-ND can help address many of the concerns people have with new development. “Community groups who sometimes oppose new development due to concerns about traffic and the like could see the environmental, health, and social benefits of a LEED-ND project. In addition, LEED-ND is the first national rating system for green neighborhood development in smart growth locations with compact, walkable form, and energy- and water-efficient buildings and infrastructure. Getting the community involved has proven successful for a pilot LEED-ND project in northern California. Working through the LEED-ND process helped to educate both the community and development team about the benefits of sustainable site design," said Darin Dinsmore, Professional Planner and Sustainability Consultant about the Truckee Railyard Master Plan. The railyard redevelopment area is located at the eastern end of the city’s historic downtown and will serve as an extension by strengthening the downtown core and local businesses. Plans include a mix of recreational facilities, commercial shops, restaurants, lodging, and civic uses, plus a variety of residential unit types, including live/work units, work/live units, and multifamily residential units incorporated in a mixed-use development. The redevelopment will incorporate affordable and workforce housing for locals such as artisans, entrepreneurs, and tradesmen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


LEED-ND Justin Horner, Transportation Policy Analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said LEED-ND works for small villages as well as big cities. “A major misconception about smart growth is that it will transform our neighborhoods into Manhattan. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “We need density to create markets for local businesses and to make transit feasible, but most people would be surprised at how modest that density threshold is. What LEED-ND does is give us a concrete image of what smart growth actually is -- and we think people will like what they see.” Horner points out that in a relatively short period of time, LEED accreditation became a respected national standard for sustainable building development. He said LEED-ND will take LEED’s market cache and apply it to entire neighborhoods, so consumers can “separate real sustainable development from the pretenders.” “LEED-ND is the first systematic attempt to really define what smart growth is. The system’s measures and metrics not only provide guidance on how to minimize the environmental impacts of development, they also reflect the latest in cutting-edge urban design,” he explained. “These are the places people will want to live. “Historically, environmentalists have been great at saying `no’ to development, but we can no longer ignore the environmental consequences of where we live and how we live,” Horner continued. “LEED-ND opens the door for environmentalists to say `yes.’”

Saturday, November 12, 2011


LEED-ND “In exurbia, we find that there is often one car provided per adult, sometimes resulting in three or four cars per household. The benefit of living in a LEED-ND community is that the family can downsize their number of cars -- AAA estimates an $8,000 cost per year per auto, including insurance, gas, etc. -- and avail themselves of some walking to meet needs, along with bike and transit options plus car share options,” he said. “Car share is cars placed in public locations, available for rental by mile or hour. So a family that needs a car once a week for a regular activity or outing can reserve a shared car for a couple hours, say, every Thursday evening. In an economic downturn, such options are looking increasingly attractive.” Farr said a decade of working with LEED building standards has shown that a premium green building might cost three percent more than one built with conventional materials, but the structure may see up to a 16 percent increase in appraised value, plus it will be cheaper to operate. “We want to apply those same principles of cost/benefit to an entire neighborhood,” Farr said of LEED-ND. “The benefits to the homeowner are profound; the benefits to society are huge. For generations, we have subsidized the wrong stuff. LEED-ND may help in a national debate to redirect scarce resources to long-term, lasting value.”

Friday, November 11, 2011


LEED-ND “CNU is composed mostly of architects, planners and real estate investors and it played an important role in connecting the rating system to market realities,” he said of the mom and pop benefits of LEED-ND. “There is a whole cascade of benefits that come with compact development: transportation options, walkability, improved real estate value -- it makes the economy more efficient.” Chicago-based architect Doug Farr, one of the fathers of LEED building certification and author of Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature, said LEED-ND has created first-ever certification standards for entire communities and master planned developments. He explained that LEED-ND projects earn points by addressing principles of smart growth applied to the development of virgin lands, sensitive lands, and infill developments. It also incorporates CNU’s charter that urges the creation of walkable communities and coherent urban places with: a mix of uses, choices in types of housing and options for how one gets around, with walking being the most reliable mode of transportation -- plus biking and public transit. “There is a strong argument that this is about choice and giving people rich communities and their ability to find their place in them, not dictating solutions,” he said. Farr said LEED-ND’s sprawl-busting standards can make life much more economical in tough times.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


LEED-ND “The old headquarters was on a transit line, but the new one was built so far away that everybody who worked there had to drive. People who used to take transit had to buy a car,’’ he said. “The energy spent on commuting to the new building blew out the energy savings in the LEED-certified building.” “The Bank of America Tower on Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets in Manhattan is a perfect example of a building that was built to meet LEED platinum building standards, but would also meet LEED neighborhood standards because it is an infill site with something like a half dozen major transit lines reached by elevators right underneath it,” Norquist said of the 54-story skyscraper on Bryant Park. “Not every place is like Manhattan, so the (LEED-ND) system is calibrated to deal with smaller communities and smaller projects. While filled with complex calculations for everything from number of streets per block (small streets and lots of them earn high points) to ways of conserving topsoil and wetlands on-site, Norquist stresses that LEED-ND’s bottom line is market-friendly.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


LEED-ND An exhaustive 100-plus page document creates a checklist for every conceivable element to promote sustainable neighborhood design. Points are given for: connectivity to existing development, water and land conservation, developing with a strong grid of streets, building near transit, creating affordable housing, using infill sites, facilitating a mix of uses, integrating universal design to accommodate people with disabilities, and dozens of other measures of compact, efficient neighborhood design that promotes healthy walkability while reducing automobile dependency. “The LEED building program was limited in that a building could get a platinum (the highest standard of building sustainability), gold or silver certification, but be in a location where the employees or residents would be driving unnecessarily long drives to get to work, shopping or home,” said John Norquist, CNU President and CEO. Norquist said that very example happened in the Chicago area when a major bank headquarters moved to a new location in a highly-efficient building that earned a high LEED rating, but was isolated far from public transit.