Accessible Travel Tips
by Francisca Guzman, DRT Communications and Development Director
We don’t claim to be travel experts at DRT, or experts on fun for that matter, but we do know a little about accessibility. And since it’s summer, we thought we’d share some of that knowledge to guide your family adventures across Tennessee.
Title III of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires places of public accommodation—such as restaurants, theaters, parks, museums, retail stores, and doctor’s offices to name a few—to be accessible to people with disabilities. Title III covers specific requirements related to architectural standards; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication to people with hearing, speech, or visual disabilities; and other access requirements.
ACCESSIBILITY ACROSS TENNESSEE
As vague as some of those terms can sound, they translate into practical solutions and accommodations that allow for people with disabilities to be present in their communities. Below, we take a look at how four Tennessee attractions are making accessibility a key part of their guest services. These are some highlights but certainly not all of the accommodations offered at these sites.
No visit to Memphis seems to be complete without a stop at Beale Street or Graceland, the shrine to the King of Rock n’ Roll. You don’t have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy the Estate that pays homage to his music and life and remains unchanged since his death in 1977.
The majority of the tour is physically accessible, with the exception of the airplane tour and the basement level of the mansion. However, you can still view the planes’ interiors in the museum’s free video at the terminal and view the plane exteriors and take pictures at the airplane display area.
Country Music Hall of Fame
To understand the history of country music and its place in Nashville, there is no better place than the Country Music Hall of Fame. The museum chronicles two centuries of country music’s history through more than 2.5 million artifacts, including recordings, photographs, stage costumes, and musical instruments.
The museum offers numerous accommodations including courtesy wheelchairs, accessible seating and descriptive tours. The museum also provides sign language interpreters for their programs with a two-week advance notice.
Though known for its railroad history, Chattanooga is also home to the Tennessee Aquarium, covering not only the fresh water ecosystem of the Southeast, but also taking visitors on an exploration of the deep ocean. For visitors who are blind, be sure to ask for a sensory bag at guest services. The bags have tactile exhibit components, such as beaver felts and alligator skulls to help guests get the most of their visit. The bag also includes an audio component.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The idea of rugged terrain and steep inclines can be intimidating for some people with mobility disabilities. However, much of this park’s majestic scenery can be viewed from a vehicle with the help of self-guided auto tour booklets available at the various visitor centers. For those wanting to be out enjoying the mountain air, the park does have one accessible trail—the Sugarlands Visitor Trail—a paved trail with interpretive exhibits made possible through a private-public partnership. Accessible camping sites are also available in three campgrounds, which have been modified with paving, specialized tables and fire grills.
There’s also an Access Pass available for many other federal parks. The Access Pass is a free, lifetime pass - available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States who have a permanent disability- that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies. You can learn more online.
PREPARING FOR SUMMER FUN
Despite the accommodations and modifications public entities make to welcome people with disabilities, there is still a role you can play to make the best of these provisions.
Most attractions have a website listing their accessibility features. Or you can call and inquire about their accommodations to meet your specific needs. Some accommodations, including requests for a sign language interpreter, require advance notice to give the venue time to prepare.
One of the challenges of an outing with children—regardless of whether they have a disability—is meeting expectations. New environments, especially those with large crowds, can often be overwhelming. For children with a sensory disability, such as autism, sharing information and details about what to expect is even more important and in some cases can help reduce anxiety. For example, showing them pictures of animals they might see at the zoo could help increase interest and reduce fears.
Though some places have wheelchairs for guest use, it’s a better bet to bring the equipment/items you need to make your visit enjoyable. The same could apply to headphones for audio tours or a magnifying glass that are more comfortable for your use. Attractions usually have limited supplies of accessibility items, so you don’t want their limitations to negatively impact your visit if it can be avoided.
When you arrive at the venue, scope out the accessible bathroom and an appropriate rest area that could serve a quiet space. Make note of benches and elevators to facilitate navigation. Identifying these early in the day will save a scramble when they’re needed later.
Few things are enjoyable if done under a time crunch. In planning your visit, be sure to add time for long waits, particularly during peak times. Attractions can typically tell you when to expect big lines if you ask during your investigation and planning. If the venue allows, make reservations for special components, such as IMAX and other special tours. Don't forget to schedule breaks if planning a longer visit.
Regardless of where your adventures take you this summer, knowing about accommodations and your rights can make planning your travel more enjoyable and stress free. Accessibility has come a long way since the passage of the ADA 26 years ago, but that doesn't mean people with disabilities still do not encounter barriers. It is important to be flexible, but it should never be at the expense of your rights. Take a moment to educate the venue if you run into problems, and if that fails, you can always call your local accessibility “expert” DRT for help. The DRT Intake team can always be reached at 800.342.1660 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to provide information and referrals.