Tourism Abroad - Disabled Accessibility

Tennessee May - June 2012

The Airline and the Airport

At Heathrow Terminal 3, no queue skip for check in was provided and I had to stand for around thirty minutes. There was no lower desk areas for wheelchair users to access. However, the airport has plenty of space for disabled travellers including disabled toilets.

American Airlines allows disabled passengers to board first and my communicator guides and my seats were allocated near the tail, which was good for easy access to the lavatory. When we sat down a flight attendant approached us and asked if I required any special assistance, I was even offered a braille guide.

We connected in Chicago O'Hara Airport and had plenty of time for our next flight down to Knoxville. Upon arrival at immigration we saw around thirty wheelchair users queuing up behind us. There is an area for the disabled, that had the sign, 'Wheelchairs', but I was eligible to use this section. Strangely, the section does not have a lowered counter, but the thumb print scanner can be lowered down. After collecting the cases and dropping them at baggage transfer, we then had to switch terminals via an accessible tram (shuttle).

As it was an international flight we had to go through security again. I do not enjoy the flow of security as it feels too rushed. I find it rather frustrating that you have to remove shoes. Besides, there was no alternative section for disabled travellers, which I feel is needed.

The flight to Knoxville was American Eagle which was a very small plane with around fifty passengers on-board. Entrance was through a walkway then over a narrow bridge with a rather tight aisle inside. I would not recommend this airline to wheelchair users as it did not seem accessible.

Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains

At the Hotel

At Bent Creek Golf Village, there are two disabled parking bays outside the reception area. There is a ramp up to reception with adequate lighting inside.
There are four disabled accessible cabins, though our cabins were not one of them, but they were spacious and a wheelchair user would get around with ease.  The only issue here was the shower which had a small step down.

The Great Smoky Mountains is a vast national park with at least two disabled parking bays at all car park areas. There is an accessible visitor centre where I enquired about the use of the UK Disabled Blue Badge with a Park Ranger and it is permitted.

Clingmans Dome is the highest observation point in the park. It is a seven mile drive to reach it from the base and at the top a 0.5 mile paved trail leads to the observation deck. This is accessible for wheelchair users, but bear in mind the trail is quite steep and there are no barriers for protection. The car park has two disabled toilets.

The Great Smoky Mountains

Cades Cove is a great way for wildlife spotting which is mostly done in the car, driving around slowly, with lots of scenic vistas. The route to the John Oliver Home is on foot, but this is not easily accessible; there are lots of tree roots obstructing the pathway making it difficult.

We decided to take the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway, which is a short ten minute journey into the Smoky Mountains. There are no concessions for disabled visitors, but we were allowed to board the tram first. The tram is fully accessible for disabled people with slopes up to the boarding area and a level entrance.


Jack Daniels Whiskey Distillery is around four to five hours drive from Gatlinburg. This attraction provides a free one hour tour, which is not accessible for wheelchair users. There is a bus with three steps to board and after a short ride there are flights of steps required to see the whole distillery. It is quite hot and noisy inside and can be quite narrow at times. The tour guide was very patient as she knew that my communicator guide was interpreting for me so it was not rushed.

Jack Daniels Distillery


At the Hotel

Holiday Inn Express is fully accessible with electronic doors and has a lowered desk area for wheelchair users. They have eight accessible rooms all complete with a wet room. There are two lifts taking guests up to all three floors.

Specific Attractions

We arrived in Memphis on Sunday morning and figured the best way to start an American Sunday was to visit Al Greene's Gospel Church. The access here is generally good with disabled parking bays and a ramp to enter the church.

Next on the itinerary was a trip to Graceland, you can't possibly miss America's greatest icon. This attraction does not offer concessions for the attraction and parking so it may seem expensive but it is worth it. There is disabled parking available with disabled toilets. The ticket area is accessible despite not having a lowered counter. The tour bus is not wheelchair accessible with three steps required to board. Audio guides were provided but as I am hearing impaired I did not need one. The mansion is not quite accessible with the basement being the only issue. However, the car museum is fully accessible.


Beale Street is the heart of entertainment in Memphis and is fully accessible with most bars and restaurants offering step free access. However, this area can be quite rough at times and my communicator guide and I were a bit worried.

Access to the Peabody Hotel is good with disabled toilets. We did not stay here, but went to see a great show of ducks! Every morning at 11am, five ducks come out of a lift across a red carpet and into an indoor pond where they remain for six hours.

The Civil Rights Museum was set up in memory of Martin Luthor King Jnr which is accessible to all, but no concessions are provided. Most text is at a reasonable level and the museum has adequate lighting. There are not many seating areas inside the museum, but there are plenty of seats allocated outside the main area. There is a small cinema showing Martin Luthor Kings life, however this short film is not subtitled and as it was quite dark inside my communicator guide stood interpreting to me by the door. This museum can really go into detail and can be very tiring.

Where Martin Luther King was shot

We took a fully accessible monorail to Mud Island Museum. This museum is not fully accessible with steps in various places. However, a member of staff at the help desk explained to me that if I find the steps too difficult, to come back to the desk where a lift was.

Cotton Museum is a small museum, with a flat entrance. I noticed a step to get into one of the rooms which didn't look accessible. Everything is well spaced out and has plenty of space for mobility.

Sunset on the Mississippi

Eating Out

Eating out in Memphis is generally good for disabled people. Some restaurants with good access were The Arcade near the Civil Rights Museum and TGI Fridays in Downtown.


At the Hotel

Days Inn was located ten miles out of Downtown, with an accessible reception area, but there was no lowered counter for wheelchair users. The hotel does not have wheelchair adapted rooms, despite there being lifts and plenty of space in the bedroom; the bathroom is very small with a bathtub and shower in one.

Getting Around

As the hotel was quite a distance out of Downtown, my communicator guide and I were provided with a shuttle bus which took us to Downtown. Most car parks were full in Downtown and I felt driving there would be difficult.


The reason why I went to Nashville was for the Country Music Festival as I am a massive fan of the music. The festival went on for four days, with shows at six different areas in downtown during the day. Then in the evening, to LP Field for a rocking night!

I had purchased tickets for the evening concerts by email in January. However, there were no concessions for the tickets so I had to pay in full for two people. The CMA Festival is probably one of the biggest music festivals in the world, with more than 200.000 fans on the streets of Nashville. This was not a problem for me as Americans are very aware of disability and most people gave me space whilst passing by.

Throughout the four days, the Chevrolet Riverfront was a popular venue. There was special seating for disabled people; there were steps down to get to the front of the stage. I saw a few bands right at the front whilst standing which was amazing!

Sawyer Brown at Chevrolet Riverfront

When we arrived at LP Field for the first night, we were enquiring about disabled parking with a member of staff but it was all full. She then asked to see our passes and upgraded them free of charge from section J to A. The new seats were located twenty rows from the stage! This made it even more enjoyable for me as I could see the stage much better.

Access to LP Field was very accessible; a lift took us down to the lower level which was completely flat, with two disabled toilets. Getting to our seats was easy as we walked out a tunnel and into the stadium before coming round the corner of the stage.

Alan Jackson at LP Field

The Nashville Convention Centre is fully accessible with escalators and lifts taking you down to the lower levels. There is plenty of space for mobility with disabled toilets. However, this building is due to be moved to a new venue to be opened in Spring 2013.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is fully accessible with a ramped entrance around the side and lifts taking you up to two floors. There was a short ten minute video of the history of Country Music with subtitles. Most artefacts are encased in glass with the descriptive text inside, making it difficult for visually impaired people to read. This attraction does not offer concessions to disabled people.

Eating Out

At Merchants there is a flat side entrance, there is one step to enter at the front.  This restaurant has disabled toilets and may look posh but the prices are not as high.

The Airline and the Airport

We flew from Nashville via Miami for our return journey home. Nashville Airport is fully accessible, with lifts and disabled toilets. The flight to Miami was the small aircraft American Eagle. When I was seated, I was asked by the flight attendant for the very first time, to put my symbol cane in the overhead cabinet.

At Miami Airport, we disembarked the plane by a tunnel and had a small two hours till our next flight to London Heathrow. Whilst we were heading down an escalator, it stopped suddenly which was quite a jolt and we had to walk down.

When we arrived at the gate for our flight home, boarding had just started which wasn't too difficult as there was not much of a queue. When I boarded the British Airways flight, there was no awareness shown towards my disabilities, until we were descending. A flight attendant approached me, asking if I required assistance at Heathrow, which I politely rejected and he surprised me by signing "thank you" in British Sign Language. My point here is that no cabin crew offered me assistance in the eight hour long flight till the last minute.

On arrival at Heathrow Terminal 5, there were lifts, disabled toilets and wide walkways, and we were out of the airport within thirty minutes.