Saturday, July 28, 2007

Inspecting the grounds: Part 2 of a report on Monticello

Every admission to Monticello includes a tour of the main house, lasting about 30-40 minutes. As detailed in Part 1, the staff does a good job of adapting the house tour for wheelchair users. There are also two other tours you can take -- one of the extensive garden and one that takes you along Mulberry Row and explains the lives of slaves on the estate. There's no additional cost for those tours. We knew we would have time for one and opted for the latter. It was very interesting and our guide knew the material thoroughly. She fielded questions patiently and you got the feeling she could only share a part of what she really knew on the subject. I defy you to walk away from that tour and not have a lot to talk about in regards to your perceptions of the founding fathers. A bonus for me was that the tour made its way along the path above the garden, which I was also interested in seeing. So it was kind of like two tours in one for me. The plantation life tour made its way along a gravel and dirt path. The day we were there was hot, hot, hot and the ground was very dry, so the wheeling was very good. I'm not sure how it might be on a moister day. Near the end of Mullberry Row, the path curves on a slope down to the garden, so if you're on wheels, you can then view the whole garden starting on that end.

Top photo, the plantation life tour stops along Mulberry Row while the guide holds forth. (Photo by Darren Hillock) Second photo, I pose with some Jeffersonian summer squash (Photo by Mallory Hillock) .

Part 3: Coming down from Monticello -- literally.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Accessing Jefferson: Part 1 of a report on Monticello

Our ultimate destination for this year's family vacation was The Outer Banks of North Carolina. But with a high schooler intent on becoming a history teacher someday along, we decided to see Monticello, the estate of founding father Thomas Jefferson, on the way down. Located in Charlottesville in southwestern Virginia, Monticello was roughly on the way between Wisconsin and the beach.
Jefferson is a difficult historical figure to access. He was a man of many contradictions -- a outspoken opponent of slavery at some points in time who nevertheless owned some 600 slaves in his lifetime. A man who pledged to his young dying wife that he would never remarry, and fulfilled that pledge, but likely fathered several children by a enslaved house servant, Sally Hemmings.
Luckily for those visiting Jefferson's home on a wooded Virginia mountaintop, Monticello is much more easily accessible than the man -- even if you have physical disabilities.
You get up to the mountaintop two ways. Walk up a third of a mile walking path or take a shuttle bus up. (More about the path option later.) We chose the bus, since we knew one of the vehicles had a wheelchair lift. When they saw our party they trotted out the lift-equipped bus, loaded us on and took us up the mountain via a curvy road that might double as a mild amusement park experience for those who don't do roller coasters.
When you buy your admission, you receive a ticket time-stamped with a tour time for the main house. Seems like the times were about 20 minutes after purchase. After the bus ride, I think we had about 15 minutes to kill, which we did in the air conditioned (and ramped) gift shop on a 90-plus degree day. Standing in line waiting for your tour, which we did for less than five minutes, was under shady trees on the hard gravel paths that encircle the house.
Having done my research beforehand, I knew Monticello was accessible. But as we approached the house, I sure didn't see how. But soon our guide pointed out the ramp to the right that wheelchair users access to get into the house. Once inside, my son and I were able to enter every room that everyone else on our tour did, with the exception of one guest bedroom where the doorway was just too narrow. Our tour guide, and some other staff inside the house standing by apparently for just such an occasion, ushered me and my son in the slightly different paths we needed to use to get to the same places the rest of our group was going to. It didn't bother me, but if you're shy this situation might bug you some, because -- while smooth -- it was far from inconspicuous. Inevitably, we had to be the first ones out of the room, and everyone had to step aside to let us out, and we then often entered through some other door or hall.
Monticello may be an architectural masterpiece, but it was of course constructed well before the era of universal design. However, the accommodations needed seemed reasonable to me.
As an aside, ever wonder how prevalent are visitors with disabilities to historical sites like Monticello? I don't know if the experience was typical, but in the 45 minutes or so we toured the house, we encountered two other tour groups with wheelchair users.

The photo shows the kids in front of the front entrance to Monticello (the opposite side of the view on the nickel). You can just see the metal ramp to the right. (Photo by Darren Hillock)

Part II: The grounds

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Firsthand accessibility tales comin' at ya

I'll be taking a break from relating the news of the world for travels with disabilities to relate a few personal experiences from our recent family vacation. We had a few interesting accessibility related experiences along the way -- positive and negative. Photos too. Maybe video, if I can figure it out. So be on the lookout for some firsthand tales from the road soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Moscow's 'potholed pavement' set for improvements

Moscow sounds like a rough place if you have mobility challenges. This Moscow News article cites its "potholed pavement and roads," "heavy doors to enter buildings and the underground" and "urban transport ... equipped with impossibly high steps. Wheelchair ramps are a rare luxury.""How do the disabled people survive in Moscow?" the article asks.
The good news is that there is improvement planned. The city government has announced a comprehensive effort at improving access significantly over the next two years. The city's budget for the project is 22.5 billion rubles (about $900 million U.S.) . (Photo of Moscow scene by antoniolite via

Blogging again

After my recent vacation, the plan is to get back to blogging this week. I have some material from my trip, and there's always news being made out there. Thanks for hanging in there during my silence.