DC is probably the most accessible city I’ve been to so far

I went recently to a two day trip to Washington DC to get something done. While the total time for exploring and touristing in the city was short, it was lovely to notice a lot of positive accessibility in details and attitudes on the trip. So here some impressions while I can still remember them.

Airports

The home airport in Austin is easy to navigate. I know which direction which gates are, so e.g. if flying with American, all the gates are to the right from the shampoo controls, or if with British, usually to the left.

This time we changed the flights in Charleston in both directions. That airport is very loud, especially when there are a lot of people waiting for boarding. And as the airport is quite big, and made for walking, it means that there are a lot of those beeping airport transport things moving around, moving older or mobility impaired people, and any of those who have ticked being blind or deaf in the flight ticket. Loudness at airports is very irritating: it’s difficult to know what happens around you, and loud environments just drain me so fast.

The airport of DC, Dulles, should be quiet large, but it seemed nice and quiet. There were a lot of accessibility marked self check-ins for American (I did not check for other airlines), many with also separate control buttons so it will be easier to use as a blind person. So, braille, headphone jack, control buttons, and I think the machines were also at wheelchair accessible height. One day I’ll want to try to use those myself, until then my other half does the check-in thing.

DC

So many little details, where to start? Many taxis had audio option for the fair reader. One of them had it accidentally on and offered to turn it off – but since I’d never heard or seen those machines, it was nicer to listen to it, and figure how to use it.

We visited two musems, the International Spy Museum and then Air and Space museum, and both had signage indicating that there are audio and text options available. Both museums had plenty of things that were interactive, so touch and try and test things with your own hands. Which is always nicer than the usual museum “only look with your eyes, be quiet, and don’t touch” principle. Both used plenty of audio, and I think the videos probably also had captions on by default (as both places also serve a lot of international visitors, more than one group of customers get the benefit of reading, so not just the deaf or hard of hearing community). In the Air and Space museum (and probably many other big ones?) they now have an x-ray machine at the entrance. The guy operating it was a bit baffled of my braille stylus, so he checked with his supervisor (who probably recognized the item for what it is), and I showed him quickly how the slate and stylus work. The Air and Space museum also has an audio app which is awesome. Download it on your own phone (they have wireless, oh and the museum is free), use your own headphones and explore.

Museum signage is a thing I often notice done wrong. Of course there is often a lot of information about something, but it often gets displayed in giant signs. You can make the text size larger, but it’ll still be difficult to read. A wall of text, with reflections can be very tiring to read thru when you have limited eye power. So if the museums had either an app, or some qr codes or buttons that would read the same thing with audio that could be so much nicer to use. The texts were nicely displayed in these two museums though; larger size, and smaller size of plate where they were. Read quickly (or ask someone to help), instead of being stuck on a wall of text. With many museums I also love getting lost in the exhibit – have I been to this part before? Which way to go? Both had so many nooks that getting happily lost was easy.

Most places had clearly marked wheelchair access doors (if separate from main entrance in older buildings).

Some bus stops had braille sign and a button that would read with voice the numbers and hours of the next buses stopping by. (Some lines in Austin have a button too, for the rest you’ll need to rely on an app telling the timetable. I imagine so does DC)

There were only two small things that were of poor accessibility design. One of them was the entrance to an embassy. (Picture) There was half a step by the entrance. I imagine it is quite an inconvenience as they also had to put a metal sign to warn about the step, and add colored tape to mark it. The sign in turn was blocking the wheelchair access – the wheelchair access started with a ramp on far left, then roll by the entrance wall and past the regular entrance to the next door on the right… after having someone move the sign for you. Not good. Embassies and other public buildings should seem more welcoming, so get rid of the step that makes even typically sighted visitors trip without the warnings, so then you can also get rid of the warning sign, and the need for a separate accessible entrance. I know: design, architecture… it’s the little details when the architects have all good mobility skills. (And for other problems iwth architecture, have good eyesight and no understanding of acoustics, or ignore acoustics for the sake of looks). The other accessibility annoyance was with a restaurant being really loud. Uncomfortably loud, and making your ears ring later loud.

When accessibility is done right, you don’t usually even notice it, unless there’s a good reason to notice one or two little things, after which you may start to notice a lot more…

On the to visit list for next trips around DC: Gallaudet university, and some other museums close to the Air and Space one.

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