Tourism Abroad - Disabled Accessibility

California Road Trip August - September 2006

America has its own version of the Disability Discrimination Act, which is the 'Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)'.

San Francisco

When in America, hiring a car is the most essential thing to do. In San Francisco, there is a wide proportion of public transport, such as buses, trams and cable cars. Each require a few steps to board, making it difficult for wheelchair users. There are several taxi companies, which have taxi vans with ramp access and wheelchair tie-downs. Walking in San Francisco is generally fair, with wide pavements, though the city is very hilly and steep.

San Francisco tram

Like any other major city, there is an abundance of things to see and do. One not to miss is Alcatraz Prison, which is accessible for all by boat. The walk from the dock to the cell block is steep and can be tiring. However, there is an electric shuttle named SEAT: Sustainable Easy Access Transport, which can accommodate wheelchairs, runs twice an hour from the dock to the main prison area. Anyone with a mobility or physical condition, plus a carer may ride the shuttle. There is also an audio walkthrough guide, making it difficult for a hearing impaired person. However, there are transcripts and other interpretive materials available for loan upon request for visitors unable to access the audio tour. Please note there are no wheelchairs available for loan on Alcatraz Island.

Other attractions are generally accessible; Pier 39, Oaklands and the Muir Woods. The submarine, USS Pampanito on the other hand, is very hard to access for the physically disabled; there are lots of ladders and narrow walkways.

The eating out experience in San Francisco is very easy to access, with some menus easier to read than others. Louis, a 50's diner, had very bright lighting, which can be good for visually impaired people.

Yosemite National Park

The Yosemite National Park is a vast park, which is a pleasure whether walking or driving. Throughout the park, a total of 186 miles of paved roads all offer a variety of scenery and vistas.

The park has many facilities accessible for people with physical disabilities. The park designates facilities as accessible as they comply with Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. Yosemite also has several hikes which are wheelchair accessible with assistance. There are routes up to the top of the mountains, but for anyone with a breathing problem it could be difficult.

There are free shuttle buses which operate daily in Yosemite Valley. Three buses are identified with the international disability symbol. These run on the regular shuttle bus schedule and are equipped with front-door wheelchair lifts and tie-downs for two wheelchairs. Disabled parking bays are available throughout the park. These are reserved for visitors with physical disabilities whose vehicles display a special license plate or temporary disabled placard.

Large-print trail guide brochures are available at the visitor centre. For roaming around the valley, a few trails are wheelchair accessible with some assistance. Signal and guide dogs are allowed on shuttle buses, on Yosemite Valley trails, in the backcountry, and in concessionaire accommodations, shops, and restaurants.

A 20-minute captioned orientation slide program is shown throughout the day at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre. Inside the visitor centre a captioned video describes popular park features.


The old coast town of Monterey is generally easily accessible. The aquarium has good accessibility features with lifts and ramped access in place. A normal visit to the Aquarium can last up to three hours, and for anyone with a physical or mobility condition, there are wheelchairs available, free of charge. There are limited disabled parking bays on-site, but are on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the exhibit videos are captioned, and assisted-listening devices for the hard of hearing are available at the information desk. Special tours can be arranged with two weeks advance notice.

Pismo Beach

As this was a short overnight stop over, there were three features that we sampled. The first was the Cracked Crab Restaurant which is step-free, with no barriers for disabled people, and is easily accessible. There are no Braille menus available; menus are printed daily, so to have it printed in Braille is unrealistic. However, staff are happy to describe the menu in detail as well as print out a version in extra large print for anyone who would request this service. Disabled toilets are also available at this restaurant.

At Pismo Beach there is a promenade before the sand, which provides easy access for all. There is also a 1,200 foot pier which is wheelchair accessible. Finally, the outlet stores are easily accessible for all. However, space in some stores is too tight to fit wheelchair users through, though staff are always happy to assist. Most stores have disabled changing facilities, which is a bonus.

Palm Springs

The Joshua Tree National Park has an easily accessible visitor centre. However, when admiring the scenery outside, it can be difficult for wheelchair users; most of the park consists of desert terrain, so can be quite sandy.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which travels 5,873 feet up the San Jacinto Mountains, goes to Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness, where the attitude here is at 8,516 feet. Both the tramway and state park are easily accessible for all disabled people. Though, this attraction may be complicated for some people with breathing difficulties. There is a slope leading down from the main centre into the park which appeared to be a bit steep. However, there are handrails in place to help with balance and mobility.

Disabled Toilets

Please note that America has disabled toilets in nearly every establishment. However, they are in the main toilet areas, unlike in the UK, where they are kept separate.