INDEPENDENT CHOICES: A National Symposium on Consumer-Direction and Self-Determination for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities. Washington, DC Welcomes Physically Challenged Travelers


Washington, D.C. Convention and Visitors Association
1212 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005-3992, 202-789-7000, Fax 202-789-7037

For the physically challenged travelers, Washington, DC is one of the most accessible and welcoming cities in the world. Nearly every museum, hotel, restaurant, shopping mall and public transit system can accommodate travelers with special needs, whether it be wheelchair ramps, menus in braille, telephone numbers for the hearing-impaired or large print brochures.

The following information outlines how physically disabled visitors can make the most of their visit to the "capital city!"


Some of Washington's more traditional attractions, such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, have always been equipped to accommodate physically disabled visitors. Both are outfitted with special handicapped parking facilities and elevators to the interior chambers of the memorials. The staff at the Washington Monument keeps a wheelchair on the premises and allows physically disabled visitors a "right of way" policy to bypass waiting lines. In addition, wheelchair patrons may obtain a hand-held periscope to experience the view from the monument.

The National Capital Park Service, which operates all three monuments as well as a host of other national treasures in the Washington area, has made an effort to make its properties accessible to all visitors. For instance, large print information brochures and sign language interpreters are available at certain park sites. For complete information on special services for physically disabled visitors at sites operated by the National Capital Park service call (202)619-7222 or (202)619-7083 (TDD).

The White House, another favorite destination for visitors, is accessible to the physically disabled. A special entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue is reserved for visitors arriving in wheelchairs, and no admission ticket is required. White House tour guides may allow blind visitors to touch some of the articles and furnishings during the tour. For more information, call (202)456-2200 or (202)456-6213 (TDD).


The Smithsonian Institution, a magnificent assembly of 15 distinctive museums, (ten of which line the National Mall) also caters to the thousands of disabled travelers who come through their doors. All museum buildings are accessible to wheelchair visitors. With at least two weeks advance request, members of the Smithsonian staff may serve as sign language interpreters or "touch tour" leaders. The Smithsonian also publishes large print, braille and cassette materials for several of its museums. Its monthly calendar of events, which includes information from all its museums, is published in the Friday Washington Post and is made available on audio cassette tape.

"Smithsonian Access," a free publication explaining special resources for disabled visitors, is available in large print, braille, audio cassette and from America OnLine (keyword: Smithsonian). For copies, write Smithsonian Information, SI 153 MRC 010, Washington, DC 20560, or call (202)357-2700 (voice) or (202)357-1729 (TTY).


The newer sights, which have given the city a more modern, cosmopolitan atmosphere, also welcome disabled visitors. A beautiful gallery of boutiques and restaurants, The Shops at National Place, is equipped with a wheelchair ramp at one of its entrances, as well as elevators and escalators to accommodate people of limited mobility. Wheelchairs may be obtained at any of the gallery's security offices on each floor as long as you call ahead, (202)662-1250. The Pavilion at the Old Post Office, a colorful collection of eateries, cafes and gift shops, is also equipped with a wheelchair ramp and internal elevators, as is Georgetown Park, an expansive luxury mall in the heart of Georgetown. Union Station is fully accessible, including all AMTRAK facilities.


Many of the larger theatres in town have installed special listening systems for the hearing impaired theatre buff. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts installed infrared listening systems in three of its six main theatres. A hearing impaired patron may simply borrow a set of headphones before the performances, sit anywhere in the house, adjust the volume and enjoy. The Kennedy Center provides for its blind patrons by writing and recording special scripts and detailed descriptions of sets and costumes in some shows performed in the Opera House, Eisenhower and Terrace Theatres. "Touch tours" of the Kennedy Center can be arranged for visually-impaired patrons and sign language interpreters can accompany hearing-impaired visitors on their tours. All the theatres within the Center are accessible for patrons arriving in wheelchairs. For further information, call (202)467-4600.

The National Theatre, in the heart of downtown Washington, also provides for its disabled patrons. Once a month, the main house performance is narrated for visually impaired theatre-goers. The National Theatre is the only theatre in the country maintaining a permanent booth near the mezzanine staff by a narrator who describes the show scene-by-scene. To obtain earphones for the narration, or to secure infrared headsets for hearing-impaired patrons, simply see an usher before the performances. The National Theatre also offers a limited number of half-priced tickets for disabled patrons on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and for Sunday matinees. For further information, call (202)628-6161.


As a disabled traveler, the question of how to get around town once you've arrived can be a difficult one. In Washington, the answer is easy--ride Metrorail, Washington's subway system.

The Metrorail system is a comprehensive, modern railway line built above and beneath the city. Each metro station is equipped with an elevator (complete with braille number plates) to reach train platforms. To aid visually-impaired travelors, the driver makes station and on-board announcements of train destinations and stops. And, as an extra measure of safety for hearing-impaired travelers, the Metrorail system warns of an approaching train by pulsating lights along the edge of the platform.

In addition to stations with elevators and trains with wide aisles to accommodate wheelchairs, the Metrorail system offer reduced fares and priority seating. And don't forget the Metrobus system! Certain Metro buses are equipped with state-of-the-art wheelchair lifts. For a free guide that provides information on Metro's bus and rail system for the physically disabled, as well as the elderly (202)635-6434.

For a special tour of Washington and other nearby sites, including Arlington Cemetery and Mt. Vernon, disabled sightseers may ride aboard a Tourmobile Sightseeing tram. Regular Tourmobile trams are easily accessible to the physically impaired tourists, and narrators provide a documentary of each sight. Tourmobile also operates a special air-conditioned van for immobile travelers, complete with a wheelchair lift. Reservations for the van must be made at least 24 hours in advance. For more information, call (202)554-7020.


Washington Ear, Inc., a non-profit organization for the blind, provides a Radio Reading Service for the blind. Patrons may hear newspapers, magazines and books being read, once a specialized radio is obtained from Washington Ear, Inc. (free of charge). Large print and tactile atlases of the Washington metro area and the state of Maryland with audio cassette commentary can be purchased from Washington Ear. These maps outline major streets and highways, building, bodies of water, the DC metro system, and include an extensive index. For more information on the guidebook or the atlases, call (301)681-6636.

Free transportable tactile maps of the Washington Metro system can be obtained from Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, a non-profit organization, by calling (202)462-2900.


Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind
202-462-2900 x3005
Contact: Robin Draper

Good Resource for Information:
National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped


Sign Language Associates
Contact: Kamille Gillies

Good Resource for Information:
National Information Center on Deafness

Centralized Interpreter Referral Service

Partners In Sign

Bimbaum Interpreting Service


Area Access

Wheaton Party Rental (no scooters)

Convalescent Aids, Inc.

Grubbs' Care Pharmacy

Health Care Concepts (no scooters)
301-568-0600 or 703-750-0914

LNN Oxygen (no scooters)
301-868-8079 or 800-445-1116

New Hampshire Pharmacy & Medical Equipment (no scooters)


AA&N Transportation

Red Top Cab

Battle's Transportation Inc.

Safe Transportation

Elrod Transportation Service


Handi Ryde Inc.

Wheelchair Mobile Transport, Inc.