Anchorage, Alaska Is Surprisingly Accessible

IMG_2887Alaska is the home of the grizzly bear, avid fisher-folk, cruise-ship mavens, hipsters and artists, and the highly-caffeinated. It is not, in general, an easy state for a wheelchair-user to navigate, but Anchorage stands out as an oasis.  (In the summer, that is.)

I prefer big hotel chains for accessibility, because they tend to be more predictable. The downtown Hilton Anchorage was bleh and expensive but accessible. (I do, however, thoroughly applaud the usefulness of their website for wheelchair travelers.  If only all hotel websites were this descriptive!)

I would suggest staying downtown, as the sidewalks are wide, wheelchair-friendly, and there are many well-timed pedestrian walk lights (meaning that you can actually get across the street before a rented Jeep or truck with mounted gun-rack mows you down).

You can easily spend a day or two in Anchorage.  Here’s what I’d suggest:

– drink espresso (Kaladi Brothers is accessible and excellent) but skip Side Street Espresso (terrible latte and so-so egg burritos)
– eat the salted caramel ice cream at Fat Ptarmigan (their pizza establishment next door gets great reviews, and they’ve got locally brewed beer too) IMG_2911
– visit the Anchorage Museum (couldn’t peel my 13-year-old from the interactive science displays, had a fantastic meal at Muse in the museum, appreciated the multi-faceted display on Alaskan culture, was transfixed by the earthquake monitor and tsunami display on the second floor; GREAT exhibit on ocean trash, photo below)IMG_2899
– go on Saturday to the Anchorage Market and Festival (it’s accessible and you can find art, jewelry, crafts, clothing, food and more food).  Loved Octopus Ink‘s clothing and crafts (they have a shop and are represented at the Saturday market too — or you can buy online)
– motor or wheel on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (11 miles of views, although check on the status of the bridge before you go; if it’s still out, your trip on pavement will be considerably shorter)IMG_2916
– indulge your inner outdoor-enthusiast and go shopping at 6th Avenue Outfitters

From Anchorage, drive the Seward Highway for some breath-taking views and wheelchair-friendly pull-outs (some even have ADA port-a-potties).  National Geographic published a piece with suggested places to stop on the highway.

DSC_0088Anchorage and its surrounds provide an adventurous day or two (maybe three) if you’re a slow walker or wheelchair-user. Those long daylight hours of summer give you even more time to get around, and the abundance of espresso shops can only help keep you motoring along.


One weekend, two museums…what kid wouldn’t love THAT?

Years of parenting have taught me that my kids will tolerate a short stint in a museum if they are promised:   a) candy  b) ice cream or c) decaf coffee (if the kid in question is Marianne).

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Recently, Marianne and I checked out two Boston museums, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).  The MFA is wondrously, marvellously accessible.  I could spend all day there (Marianne, not so much, and promises of decaf coffee only go so far).

MFA, Boston

MFA, Boston

Many of the interior doors are outfitted with accessible door openers, as are the exterior doors.  There is plenty of clear signage to direct you.  Docents are everywhere, and in our experience, they are extremely helpful;  one even took a picture for me of the two of us!  Bathrooms and water fountains are on every floor, with excellent wheelchair access.  There is an accessible Green Line T stop across the street, and there is decent parking in an outside lot (two caveats:  it is expensive at $10, and that is with the membership discount, and there seem to be only about five ADA parking spaces).  There are multiple venues to have a bite to eat, ranging from the expensive restaurant Bravo on Floor 2 to the serve-yourself cafeteria on the lower level.  There is also a glorified coffee shop on the first floor (Taste cafe) and a more upscale cafe (The New American Cafe) near the Chihuly glass in the museum’s indoor courtyard.  We had a terrible but inexpensive latte at Taste;  I think I’d schedule a little more time and budget for The New American Cafe next time around.

Photograph from "She Who Tells A Story" at the MFA, Boston

Photograph from “She Who Tells A Story” at the MFA, Boston

"She Who Tells A Story" exhibit at the MFA

“She Who Tells A Story” exhibit at the MFA

If John Singer Sargent is your cup of tea, there is an exhibit running at the MFA until January 24, 2014.  Marianne and I skipped it in favor of “She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World.”  The title describes it, but you really have to see it for yourself (showing through January 12, 2014).  I can’t recommend this exhibit enough;  it’s thought-provoking, mesmerizing, disturbing, and more.   (Note:  there is a curator talk on Thursday, December 19th from 6:30 to 7:30 pm in Remis Auditorium; tickets on sale as of November 21st)

Hippie Chic exhibit at MFA, Boston

Hippie Chic exhibit at MFA, Boston

We also visited the Hippie Chic exhibit (all clothes from the 70’s) and Think Pink (small exhibit that explores the significance of the color pink throughout history).  Interesting, but I’d skip these two exhibits next time and spend all my time with the photographers in “She Who Tells A Story.”

I used to be able to get guest passes for the MFA at our local library;  if that doesn’t work, single admission is $25 (7-17 are free after 3 pm on weekdays and on weekends).  I bought a membership at the supporter level for $75 which gives me and my children (17 and under) free admission for the year, plus a discount on parking and at the gift shop. That’s two more visits, kids!

Chihuly sculpture and The New American Cafe space at the MFA, Boston

Chihuly sculpture and The New American Cafe space at the MFA, Boston

In my experience, weekends are crazy busy at the MFA.  If you can get there late afternoon, say an hour and a half before closing on a weekday, it’s quiet.  Wednesday through Friday night they are open until 9:45 pm, which might also be a promising time to visit.  And if you’re over 21, you can enjoy a glass of wine at either The New American Cafe or Taste, the coffee shop on Floor One that doubles as a wine bar!

The Harborwalk, Boston, near the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Harborwalk, Boston, near the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) has beautiful, industrial space and has the advantage of sitting on the Boston harbor, with the Harborwalk running alongside and beyond.  The Harborwalk will remain a separate adventure – and blog post.  Suffice it to say, for now, that there are almost 40 miles of pathway and many segments are ADA-compliant.  Of course, the big question is: which sections aren’t?!  I’ll let you know.

Amy Sillman's exhibit, "one lump or two" at the ICA, Boston

Amy Sillman’s exhibit, “one lump or two” at the ICA, Boston

Amy Sillman’s exhibit “one lump or two” is on exhibit now through January 5, 2014.  I appreciate her use of color in the abstract pieces, but it’s the faces she creates that I love.  That alone is worth the price of admission to me ($15 for an adult, kids 17 and under are free; Thursday nights all are free from 5 to 9 pm).  The other space I appreciate at the ICA is the media lab, which looks out over the harbor as though through a camera viewfinder, and which has computer resources for researching contemporary art, artists or exhibits at the ICA.  The top level is accessible, and has two accessible computers, but the other three or four levels in the lab are not.  There is a kid-friendly (and teenager/wheelchair-friendly) art space on the first floor with ongoing projects for kids and teens.

The downside to the ICA:  the only parking, really, is at a public lot that charges $15/day.  The parking lot is in rough shape, and the wheelchair access through a gate doubles as a parking spot….so you have to hope that the car parked in the spot has left enough room not only for a thin person but also for a wheelchair or carriage.  Seems wrong to put the spot there, somehow.

The Bee's Knees Supply Company, Farnsworth Street, Boston

The Bee’s Knees Supply Company, Farnsworth Street, Boston

We walked and motored to the Bee’s Knees Supply Company for an early dinner.  The Bee’s Knees has a little bit of everything:  deli, sit-down cafe with great pizza and salad, wine story, charcuterie – in short, a gourmet grocery store, with in-store light dining.  The real reason we braved the sidewalks (see photos – ARGHH!):  the salted caramel ice cream.  Oh joy!  Oh rapture!  We’d brave these sidewalks again for that ice cream.  Our friend thought the pumpkin latte (seasonal, I am sure) was also de-lish.

Teeny tiny sidewalk space near Sleeper Street, Boston

Teeny tiny sidewalk space near Sleeper Street, Boston

But don’t wheel there, as we did, from the ICA.  Yikes.  The whole area around the ICA is still very much a work-in-progress, and the sidewalks are in terrible shape with potholes and sporadic curb cuts.  There are not enough crosswalks either.  The side streets around Sleeper Street, where the Bee’s Knees Supply Company is, are even worse.  The sidewalks are not always wide enough and there are holes galore.  Go there for sure, but not on foot or wheelchair from the ICA!


Is it “Jackson” or “Jackson Hole”? Or: A Wheelchair and A Week in Wyoming

View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Mormon Row

View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Mormon Row

A quick geography primer:  according to Moon Handbooks, Jackson Hole is the name of the valley at the base of the Grand Tetons, a jagged set of mountains named “Teewinot” by the Shoshone Indians.  Jackson was named after a trapper who was based in the town;  the “hole” means a valley ringed by mountains.  Apparently it used to be called “Jackson’s Hole” but the name was eventually changed to “Jackson Hole” to end the sly comments.

Jackson is the town at the southern end of Jackson Hole.

This summer, my family and I stayed in Teton Village, about 12 miles northwest of of Jackson.  My favorite thing about this village is its proximity to the entrance of Grand Teton National Park (   For $25, you can get a seven-day pass for a car for both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.  If you are a US citizen and have a permanent disability, you can get a free pass to all US national parks;  see:

In my experience, there are always facets of the national parks that are accessible to the mobility impaired:  the visitor centers are often educational and accessible; there is usually one trail or more that works for a wheelchair; and most of the parks have a loop for cars with roadside parking for scenic viewpoints (that are often labeled with informative signs).  I have yet to meet a park ranger who was not resourceful and helpful when it came to my questions regarding accessibility.  The website at has detailed information on what is accessible in the park.  I cannot stress enough what a good resource the National Park Service (NPS) website is.

Grand Teton National Park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming (just south of Yellowstone National Park).  A few highlights follow:

  • Marianne at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Marianne at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    The Craig Thomas  Discovery and Visitor Center (also known as Moose Visitor Center) is 12 miles north of Jackson.  It was renovated in 2007 and is a green and accessible building, with gift store, accessible bathrooms, exhibits and auditorium.  It is fully-staffed with rangers, at least in the summer.


  • The Jenny Lake visitor center is 8 miles north of Moose at Jenny Lake.  This visitor center is much smaller and not truly wheelchair-accessible, although there are accessible trails around the lake.   There is also accessible parking and curb cuts, as well as accessible rest rooms.  The big draw here is Jenny Lake;  you can rent kayaks or take the shuttle over to hike Hidden Falls (not accessible).  There is a scenic boat tour (narrated tour around the lake, about 45 minutes long)  that operates out of Jenny Lake and it is wheelchair-accessible; contact the visitor center there for more details.
  •  Colter Bay Visitor Center is 25 miles north of Moose and adjacent to Jackson Lake.  We didn’t have a chance to explore this area of the park beyond a drive-through.  Jackson Lake is bigger than Jenny Lake, and the Jackson Lake Lodge has a wheelchair-accessible restaurant, which is supposed to have beautiful sunset views over the lake.
  • Mother moose and baby on Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Mother moose and baby on Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Just driving through the park is a beautiful experience, affording sightings of moose, elk and prong-horned antelope.  My youngest daughter, Delia, and I got up at 5 am several mornings and parked ourselves (in our car) along Moose-Wilson Road hoping to spot a bear, but to no avail.  They are here, as are wolves, eagles and the pica, but we didn’t see them.

My second favorite thing about Teton Village was our hotel, The Hotel Terra.  (See my post review of the hotel.)

Other things to do in the Jackson area if you have mobility challenges:

  • Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding stables,‎
    • IMG_2831Our daughter had a private lesson here, and we would consider coming back just so that she could do a week of camp (really, daily lessons); the staff is supportive and welcoming, and they have a fantastic hoyer lift set-up to help someone with mobility challenges get on a horse
    • Wildlife Art Museum,‎
      • A small museum but interesting rotating exhibits, beautiful lounge room with views over National Elk Refuge, and an accessible pathway for viewing the outdoor sculpture
    • Jackson Hole Whitewater,‎
      • they’ll accommodate you in their rafts with (extra) supportive seating for scenic float trips down the Snake River but you have to transfer into their big blue rafts
    • And there’s always eating:

IMG_2497The biggest downside to the town of Jackson if you use a wheelchair?  A deranged person designed the downtown sidewalk system.    Sidewalks are raised for no apparent reason, with steps spouting from nowhere;  ramps appear and disappear into stairs, and many sidewalks are missing curb cuts.  I guess you could motor down the street in your wheelchair, as we did, but frankly, it seems like you’re increasing your chances that one of the parallel-parked cars will back out over you….