Accessible Outdoor Events and Activities in NYC

By The Slatin Group

New York City is best known for its skyscrapers and historic streets, not as a prime destination for outdoor adventure. But there’s plenty of fresh-air recreation to be had in the City—much of it accessible to visitors with disabilities. With only a quick glance at the Department of Parks & Recreation calendar, you’ll realize that you could spend weeks enjoying activities in the City’s green spaces.

This comprehensive calendar includes nearly 1,200 events through August, and listings can be filtered by those in accessible locations, as well as by date, neighborhood, activity (concerts, theater and movies, to name a few) and more. Even if something is organized by or geared toward NYC residents, visitors are more than welcome and can easily participate. Also, many of these programs are aimed at kids, so when your child wants to cool down in the sprinklers, take part in a nature-themed scavenger hunt or just socialize with other young ones, there are plenty of distractions available. The Accessibility in NYC Parks page has links to a reasonable-accommodation request form, an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) complaint form and contact info for the Department of Parks & Recreation’s disability services facilitator.

Photo: Joseph Moran

Alongside these smaller-scale activities, the City delivers numerous events that are on a whole other level, such as SummerStage, a performing arts festival, and Shakespeare in the Park, produced by the world-famous Public Theater. Gaining admission to the latter can be tough, especially with Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream playing this season. Tickets are released only on the day of the show, and they’re distributed at noon at the Delacorte Theater (a limited number are given out by lottery at the Delacorte Theater), but people begin lining up at 6am for that evening’s performance. However, there is a separate—and much shorter—line for people with disabilities, with seats set aside for wheelchair users and others needing accommodation, both in Central Park and at The Public Theater. (For more information, visit Patrons may also email on the day of the show to inquire about accessible ticket availability. In addition, each play has performances featuring sign language, audio description or open captioning. SummerStage, meanwhile, offers both free and ticketed concerts, many at accessible locations such as Rumsey Playfield in Central Park and Harbor View Lawn in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The concerts feature international stars, some of whom perform with other artists on blockbuster bills.

Not all parks in NYC are maintained by the City, however. Riverbank State Park, which, as you’d gather from its name, is a New York State green space, sits along the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan in Harlem. It boasts an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a high-quality outdoor running track, a covered roller-skating rink and activities all summer long. New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recommends that people seeking accommodations for accessibility contact the facility manager of the specific site they want to visit. You can call the park’s general number at 212-694-3600.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

New York City is also home to several parks in the National Park Service system, encompassing historic sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Governors Island, General Grant National Memorial (only the visitor center is wheelchair accessible), Castle Clinton National Monument and Stonewall National Monument, as well as the huge Gateway National Recreation Area, which covers parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. The NPS recommends visiting the “Plan Your Visit” drop-down menu on each park’s webpage and clicking on “Accessibility” for information. For details on the sprawling Gateway, however, we suggest calling the park at 718-338-3799 or 718-807-9287 (Brooklyn), 718-318-4340 (Queens) or 718-354-4606 (Staten Island).

Courtesy, Achilles Track Club

The City presents plenty of other warm-weather things to do. Among the most popular in Manhattan is the River to River Festival, organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The festival comprises a series of arts programs including concerts, dance performances and theater productions. Although most of the venues are accessible, it would be wise to contact the LMCC for info on specific events—and to spell out for them what you will need—by calling 212-219-9401 or emailing Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has numerous exciting presentations each summer as part of its Lincoln Center Out of Doors program and Midsummer Night’s Swing, a series of live-music performances that bring out the groove in anyone attending. And for those looking for an even more active outdoor experience, Achilles International organizes walking and running events throughout the City, and InTandem offers cycling opportunities in Central Park for people with disabilities. It helps to register in advance for either of these programs. Achilles will provide a guide who can match your ability and speed—whether you simply wish to walk or are a competitive runner training for a marathon. The InTandem program will likewise pair you with an experienced tandem cycling captain—and, of course, a tandem bike.