Manchester, UK

THIS-ABILITY: How Accessible Is New York City? The Simple Question That Made Me Anxious

As you already know, I had the chance to travel to New York a few weeks ago for a couple of days. I wrote endless blogposts about my expectations, experiences and my ever-constant desire to do it all over again already.
For me, it lived up to its high praise, but I do admit that might have also been the effects of the high adrenaline that came with the first-time experience; I explored, I wandered, I lived.

Rachy sat on wheelchair looking afar

There’s a big part of my travel story, however, that I have only hinted at, or in some ways, haven’t even pointed out in my previous posts up until now.

The most underrated part of travelling abroad include all the moments that come prior to rolling cabin suitcases through security, sitting comfortably in assigned seats or chasing down taxis in airport parking lots. It’s not the part you look forward to and dream of restlessly, or maybe it’s just the moments my impatient tendencies tend to thrive in.
For me, there’s absolutely nothing sexy, glamorous or cool about looking through a ton of overpriced hotels as I struggle to find one that fits my price range or taking care of last-minute tasks before the big day. Maybe it’s because I’m no stranger to the feeling of running late to a crowded airport whilst making sure for one, I have enough cash at hand to pay for the taxi I’m already riding in, and most importantly, nothing essential has been forgotten too many miles away at home. I’m a mess a lot of the time and therefore, travel days for me usually turn into panic days.

The panic for my New York trip, however, started a lot earlier than I’d hoped, and many weeks prior to the big day, I already had a sort of weight on my shoulder every time I thought about one of the biggest dreams coming true. Most people who know me would not believe that I had thoughts that came with intense fear when I thought about travelling to New York and in so many ways I also was surprised at the way my mind and body was reacting to the facts.

For as long as I can remember, my uncontrollable answer to the question ‘What city would you like to go to/visit/live in?’ was always one and the same: New York, New York, New York!
All I knew was that was a place I wanted to be in one day and although I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to, I still answered that question fiercely, as if I was speaking it into existence somehow. So, where did my fear and panic really come from?

Rachy in front of graffitti

I’d take it way back on a trip down memory lane when all I knew was my high school life in an Italian small town where my fondest memories involved kebabs at 2 pm and days in the library pretending to study with friends. I remember talking with a well-travelled classmate about my desire to travel across the seas one day to find myself ravelled by the city that never sleeps.
He painted the picture of New York that I imagined in my head of enormous buildings, tasty street food and crazy people and I certainly wished I could be transported into that reality in an instant. The picture he painted in my head quickly came crumbling down when he honestly told me he didn’t feel the city was anywhere close to being an accessible city. Probably one of the worsts, he said, and deep down I believed that.

Regardless, over the years, I remained firm in my desire to go see the city and the answer to the burning question that required me to state my land of choice remained the exact same. I guess, in some ways, I just ignored what he said so I wouldn’t have to face the fact that a well-rounded journey there would be difficult, and in others, I tried to convince myself he couldn’t be 100% accurate as I was sure there were still wheelchair users living there too and they surely got around somehow.  
That thought wasn’t enough to stop me from spiralling; were busses equipped with ramps? Did accessible yellow taxis even exist? What about the underground? These are some of the questions I always ask myself before embarking on any journey and the answers seemed even more crucially important this time around.

After my tickets were purchased, in my mind the idea of taking flight turned from being a fantasy into something that felt achievable and that was when I fell into a spiral of anxiety. I kid you not I never thought I could feel completely drastically different emotions all at once. Overall, I was extremely happy and overjoyed and super impatient, but I was also worried, scared and terrified that an inaccessible city would only make the experience even more crippling.

Rachy sat on wheelchair posing
Rachy sat on whelchair posing

In my daydreams roaming around New York, accessibility was never something I thought about at all. There were all these things I wanted to do, see, experience and the fact was many of them would have been impossible to do in an environment that was fast-paced, inaccessible with a 60kg electric wheelchair. 
I found myself worrying about too many things, some rational some not, ranging from lack of facilities to gun violence to discrimination. I was aware enough to link my hyped-up fears to the immense quantity of news surrounding America I was consuming, and still do, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself from escalating the situation in my mind.

You can bet I dove deep down into the world wide web to find out all I could about accessibility in New York but all I did was drown in it as all the information I could find were guides that were unsatisfying or comments that were just strongly negative. I found fairly recent articles on Twitter slamming New York subway stations for being the least accessible and wheelchair horror stories that fed my fears all the more. All I could see was red and no matter what anyone said it didn’t seem to appease my worries at all.

Rachy sat on wheelchair

I ended up flying over there with the many questions I had jumbled up in my head and with every place I went my fears were mostly squashed. I rode on buses, Ubers, yellow cabs and even hopped on a few underground trains back and forth Queens and Manhattan. It wasn’t necessarily all smooth sailing on each day there, but I’ll be writing about my actual full experience with accessibility in the big city in a future post soon.

Were my fears valid? Certainly. Were they slightly over the top and heightened? Probably, but it only highlighted the importance of accessibility even more because let’s be honest, most fears are born as a result of past experiences and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s felt the same way.
I can only hope and pray that one day I won’t have to question, wonder, have sleepless nights over my desire or ability to get around.
Imagine a world that was truly inclusive in every way. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever see it.

Your restless romantic roamer

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