Los Angeles for Disabled Visitors

Photo courtesy of Greg Bellis, Flickr

Los Angeles is one of the most disabled-accessible cities in the world according to the true experts — not bureaucrats, but disabled visitors themselves who know what really works and what doesn't. They know that a couple of high steps at the front entrance can make a place off-limits. In LA, visitors with disabilities can they really enjoy themselves and fully participate.

A few of LA's top attractions that get the thumbs-up sign from disabled visitors: At the Aquarium of the Pacific, wheelchairs can maneuver right up to the tanks to examine jellyfish, manta rays, kelp forest and brightly colored fish. Complimentary wheelchairs are available at the Information Center, as well as free audio tours for visitors who are blind; copies of show scripts for those who are deaf or who have hearing disabilities can be borrowed as well. 

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is smaller than the Aquarium of the Pacific, but is no less fascinating, with its thoughtful exhibits of marine life. It was designed by Frank Gehry of Walt Disney Concert Hall fame. This museum is mostly on one level (with elevator access to the second-floor Virginia Reid Moore Marine Research Library), and people in wheelchairs or with canes can get right up to the popular touch tank on the rear patio. The museum loans sand wheelchairs (with big, fat wheels) that permit disabled visitors to explore Cabrillo Beach, which is right across the parking lot via a cement walkway.

One of LA's most significant architectural and cultural gems, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the home of the LA Philharmonic and offers seating for patrons in wheelchairs (and their companions) in all price sections. Music Center Guest Services representatives will assist patrons with mobility impairments by escorted wheelchair transport to and from the theater. Reservations are necessary. Ramps and seating spots without fixed chairs are part of the design of this Frank Gehry stainless steel wonder, which is the talk of classical music world for its commitment to acoustics and splendid setting. Assistive-listening devices may be borrowed free of charge; patrons are welcome to bring their own as well.

At Universal Studios Hollywood, many rides, shows and attractions are wheelchair accessible. The park also offers a detailed informational brochure online and at the Guest Relations desk at the front entrance. Sign language interpreters are available free of charge with a minimum of one-week notice. Assistive-listening devices and attraction scripts can also be found at Guest Relations.

Six Flags Magic Mountain prints a disabilities guidebook so that visitors will know exactly how to approach rides, shows, games, shops and restaurants. Rental wheelchairs are available near Guest Relations.

L.A. LIVE in Downtown LA is a dazzling complex of dining, shopping and entertainment, including Club Nokia, Nokia Theatre at L.A. LIVE, the GRAMMY Museum and ESPN studios. Nokia Theatre offers accessible seating in the orchestra and loge, and disability requirements should be noted when tickets are purchased. Visitors are not allowed to remain in their wheelchair during a performance. Pre-purchasing of disabled parking spots is highly recommended. Two weeks prior notice is required for a sign interpreter, though the service is not guaranteed for every event.

Santa Monica Pier is not just a fishing pier but the hub of lively Southern California beach life with an amusement park, restaurants, bars and street entertainers. The secret is to park on the pier-level lot, not below. Then it's an easy journey down to the end of the pier, where you can see the amazing sweep of the coastline at its absolute best.

The Grove at Farmers Market is so much more than a shopping mall. The brick streets and sidewalks are easily maneuverable so that everyone can enjoy the restaurants, shops (major stores have handicap-assisted doors), central park and water fountain. Wheelchairs are ready at the Concierge Desk at the parking structure (there are tons of handicap parking spots on the first floor). Also, there is valet service. The Grove's popular trolley has a wheelchair lift to take visitors to the Farmers Market next door.

Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade is another one of LA's heavenly all-year open-air strolling areas. Because it is a pedestrian mall (closed to cars except at cross streets) there are broad walkways, plenty of ramped curbs and easy-to-cross streets.

Venice Boardwalk, one of those you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it spots, is one of the most accessible places in the city. The perfectly flat walkway draws thousands of visitors on weekends to enjoy the carnival atmosphere — the wildest street performers, cheap eats, cool breezes and the sun setting over the Pacific.

Historic Olvera Street is cobblestone, but these well-worn stones require only vigilance and are not prohibitive to wheelchairs and canes. That makes this charmingly restored piece of old California accessible for exploring. Many of the restaurants and cafes have flat access, so you can sample a plate of carnitas or, if you're more adventurous, maybe some cactus salad, and enjoy the strolling mariachis. It's a straight flat shot from Olvera Street to the Plaza, considered the birthplace of LA.

The Getty Center is perched on a very accessible mountainside. From the underground parking, up to the tram station, and then up one more elevator to the acropolis itself, the trip is smooth. The center is a complex of galleries around a central courtyard. The view of the city from south-facing balconies is as accessible as the paintings  and the renowned gardens include a gently sloping zigzag path. Wheelchair rental, sign-language interpretation, assistive listening devices, and TTY public phones are available.

The Getty Villa provides the same services as the Center.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens' new structures are well planned for disabled art-and-garden lovers.  A color-coded map of the grounds is available online and also included in the Visitor's Guide, showing recommended routes for wheelchairs and steep areas that should be avoided. Wheelchairs are available for loan at the entrance arcade. Many of the extravagant gardens are accessible by gently sloped paths.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) makes its world-famous collection of post-1940 art accessible by taking a wheelchair lift up to the office level (a rare chance to get behind the scenes) and then into the gallery levels, which connect by large elevators. Wheelchair loaners are available. A sign-language interpreter may be requested in advance for groups.

The Los Angeles Zoo is huge and hilly. Not to worry. Disabled visitors can get to a number of areas via the Safari Shuttle (for a fee) that loops the roadways. Fully trained service animals are also permitted with proof of recent negative TB test; a staff member or volunteer will need to remain with you at all times. Both traditional and electric wheelchairs can be rented at the International Marketplace. The zoo also offers sign-language interpreters (with advance notice) and assisted-listening devices.

The Natural History Museum's historic structure has front steps that defy ADA adaptation, but disabled visitors are taken care of by entering at the staff entrance on Exposition Boulevard. It's the lower level, yes, but the exhibits are just beyond this area. Loaner wheelchairs are available at the Expo entrance.

To travel from landmark to landmark, consider the Los Angeles Metro Transit Authority (Metro). Metro buses and rail systems can accommodate all types of wheelchairs, as well as hearing, mobility and visual aids such as Braille-encoded and large-type “Metro Flash Books” for signaling the correct bus. In addition, Metro offers reduced fares to disabled passengers.

Access Services is a curb-to-curb shared-ride service that operates on the same schedule as most buses. Regular service is offered from 4am to 12am, seven days a week. One-way fare is based on the distance you travel with a maximum fare of $3.25 (except in Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys). IMPORTANT: Access may not be able to transport a wheelchair or mobility device larger than 30” wide and 48” long and weighing more than 600 lbs when occupied.