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Accessible Chicago

Tips for how to navigate the Windy City when traveling with a disabled child.

 

Take a walk along the Magnificent Mile, peruse the shops in Water Tower Place, dig into Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East (famous for its graffitied walls), and cheer on the Cubbies in bright blue and red at Wrigley Field. The easy-to-navigate streets and skyline of high-rises along the shores of Lake Michigan are yours for the taking.    

Chicago is an easily-accessible city (as a landscape, it’s essentially flat, except for the notable Art Institute staircases). So, as you gear up to tackle Chi-town, here are the best and smoothest ways to take on the Windy City.

Getting Around

The easiest way to get around town is by taxi (if you don’t have a car of your own or don’t want to hassle with learning a new city). Call the Chicago Accessible Taxi Program to book one of the accessible vehicles (tel. 800-281-4466). The Blue Ribbon Taxi Association has a fleet of accessible vans (tel. 773-508-9100 or www.blueribbontaxi.com).

Public transportation—buses or the elevated “L” train—is also an option. All of the Chicago Transit Authority buses are handicapped accessible, as are many of the L train stations. (Visit the CTA website www.transitchicago.com/maps for more information.)

See the City

The best way to see the Chicago skyline is from the Chicago River. Chicago’s First Lady river tours has an accessible drop-off point at the Michigan Avenue bridge and Wacker Drive. (The drop-off at the dock level is on lower Wacker Drive, though there’s no parking, so plan accordingly. If you’re taking a cab, ask the cab driver to pick you up after the tour; no cabs stop on lower Wacker.) The members of the First Lady staff are happy to accommodate travelers with disabilities, especially with advance notice. They’ll let you board first, and two of their boats (the Little Lady and the Fair Lady) have accessible restrooms.

See It All Chicago Tours takes you around town in a climate-controlled mini-bus (no wind blowing through your hair, but also nothing to bother a child that has trouble with too much sensory stimuli). A grand introduction to the city (Tour 1) will take you through the museum campus, the Loop, the Gold Coast and Wrigleyville.

From the top down, visit the Sears Tower Skydeck. From 1,353 feet in the air, you’ll see for up to 50 miles and into neighboring Wisconsin and Indiana on a good day. Throughout the Skydeck are kid-level displays—print a Skydeck Scavenger Hunt before you go, so you can play along (www.the-skydeck.com/kids_hunt.asp). Expect long lines in the summer; come first thing in the morning or later in the evening to minimize waiting.

Latest and Greatest

The big silver jellybean next door to the Art Institute is the entryway to Chicago’s latest Millennium Park. The jellybean, actually a sculpture by Anish Kapoor titled “Cloud Gate” will mesmerize your kids who will literally see themselves 100 different ways. The park, including the Frank Gehry-designed pavilion, green spaces, visitor’s center, and gardens, is accessible via gently-sloping ramps (there are also accessible bathrooms).

Oldies But Goodies

The Navy Pier is a year-round family fest. The entire complex is wheelchair accessible, and accessible parking is available in the east and west garages. Be sure to visit the Chicago Children’s Museum, jam-packed with interactive exhibits (the first Monday of every month is free admission day, so avoid it if you don’t want crowds). Check out the Navy Pier Web site (www.navypier.com) for more information and to see what family events are planned during your visit.

Chicago is blessed with two zoos—Brookfield Zoo, located in suburban Brookfield, 14 miles west of downtown. It received an award in 1999 from the American Association of Museums for its accessibility. Lincoln Park Zoo is the smaller of the two, but that also means that it’s more approachable for kids and manageable for you. 

The Art Institute of Chicago is fully-accessible, from the ramp at the Michigan Avenue entrance to sign language interpreters for gallery talks. Recently, they’ve added TacTiles—paintings like Joan Miro’s “Personages With Star” and other works of art from the collection have been translated to hand-held tiles with a Braille description of each piece. The kits are available through the Escorts for the Blind Tours (call 312-443-3929 for reservations). Also at the museum, the Touch Gallery (below the grand staircase), has five portrait busts from the collection. (Call the Department of Museum Education for more information and specific programs for visitors with disabilities, tel. 312-443-3680, TTY 312-443-3890)

Chances are, someone in your family wants to see Sue, the largest and most complete T-Rex skeleton. The Field Museum, and all its natural history exhibits are wheelchair accessible (accessible parking and entrance are on the east side of the building). Visit the Web site (www.fieldmuseum.org) to plan your visit, and check out the free days (or not, if you don’t want to be mobbed).

The Shedd Aquarium, from shark reef to dolphin show, is a must-see with kids. The Shedd recommends coming first thing on Sunday morning for the most relaxed experience. The building’s accessible entrance is south of the main entrance, parking is in the North Garage at Soldier Field. Plan two weeks ahead, and the Shedd will arrange for a sign language interpreter for you (tel. 312-939-2438, or TTY 800-526-0857).


Destinations: Chicago

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums, Parks and Playgrounds, Sightseeing


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