NYC - The Official Guide

Accessible NYC: How to Spend a Day in the Theatre District

Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad
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On a recent Sunday afternoon, my family and I beat the summertime heat with a meal in Midtown and by taking in a Broadway show. We frequently enjoy New York City attractions as a family: my sister, Annie, uses a wheelchair, which makes trips out of town difficult, so we’re fortunate that there’s so much to explore here in the five boroughs. I write about our experiences at accessibletravelnyc.com, aiming to inspire and empower those with disabilities to plan their trips to our amazing hometown—seeing Times Square and attending Oklahoma! ought to be on every visitor’s itinerary. Read on and see the video below for more information and some helpful tips.

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A summertime view of Times Square. Photo: Brittany Petronella

Experiencing Times Square

With its bright lights and oversize billboards, Times Square is the electric epicenter of NYC. In recent years, the City has converted much of the area into a pedestrian zone with public seating, landscaping and rotating art installations; curb cuts in the vicinity are wheelchair friendly. There are plenty of food and drink options in the neighborhood, including fine-dining experiences, street food and everything in between. Times Square offers a wide array of entertainment and great people-watching opportunities too. For photo options, we like the intersection of 46th Street and Seventh Avenue, which allows for a perfect framing of the district, both uptown and down.

Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad, her sister Annie, and their family in Times Square. Photo: Brittany Petronella

Tips for Times Square:

  • The area is mostly wheelchair accessible, with the exception of the red stairs above the TKTS booth.
  • Though Times Square is inevitably busy, you may be able to avoid the crowds by visiting early morning or late in the evening.
  •  For more information on the area, as well as listings of upcoming events, visit timessquarenyc.org.

Wheelchair accessibility inside Circle in the Square Theatre. Photos: Brittany Petronella

How to Explore NYC with a Wheelchair

In this short video, Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad and her family offer tips for visitors with mobility issues.

Seeing Oklahoma!

Broadway shows are among the most popular attractions in NYC. Many theaters are nearly a century old, but great strides have been made for them to be inclusive, with designated accessible entryways, wheelchair seating and accessible restrooms. We chose to attend Oklahoma!, which won 2019 Tonys for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress. The latter was given to Ali Stroker, who delivers a phenomenal performance as the sexually liberated lead, Ado Annie. (Stroker made history by being both the first wheelchair user to appear on Broadway and the first to win a Tony.) The musical tells the darkly comic tale of a small-town girl torn between accompanying a pleasant, handsome cowboy or a brooding, mysterious hired hand to a country dance. The show takes place at Circle in the Square Theatre, an intimate 776-seat venue; the spare set evokes a barn, and the costumes and decor have country-and-western flair. In keeping with the theme, chili and cornbread are served during intermission.

The family meets Tony-winning actor Ali Stroker. Photo: Brittany Petronella

If you want to meet the stars from a Broadway show, the secret is to wait at the stage door after a performance. This can take some time, but fans will be thrilled to have a signed copy of their Playbill as a keepsake. When we attended, we were fortunate enough to speak with Ali Stroker. She told my sister that when she began her acting career, she played Annie from the musical of the same name, and then commented on how she’s now playing another character named Annie. (Our Annie got a kick out of that!) My sister thanked her for representing people with disabilities, understanding the significance of seeing a wheelchair user on stage.

Tips for purchasing Broadway tickets:

  • For comprehensive accessibility information, visit theateraccessnyc.org. The site provides specific show information for wheelchair users, as well as guests who require aisle seating or cannot climb stairs. It provides similar details for guests who are hard of hearing or deaf, guests with low vision or who are blind, and those on the autism spectrum or who have developmental or cognitive disabilities.
  • Seating for wheelchair users is usually located in the orchestra level. However, tickets for wheelchair users and their companions are priced at a lower cost (the same as the least expensive non-accessible seat in the theater), which helps make shows accessible and affordable. If there are more guests in your party, they would pay full price and typically be seated a few rows away.

Tips for Oklahoma! at Circle in the Square Theatre:

  • To get to the main lobby, staff escorts visitors using a wheelchair and anyone in their party to the accessible entrance, located in an adjacent, connected building, followed by one quick stop on an elevator.
  • Wheelchair-accessible bathrooms are in the adjacent building. Advise the escort ahead of time that you’d like to have a bathroom break at intermission, or see staff in the lobby, who are happy to help.
  • There is no accessible pathway to get chili and cornbread during intermission; ask for assistance from a staff member, who will bring you and everyone in your party a serving.
  • An escalator is available for those who are unable to take the stairs.

Wheelchair access at Carmine's in Times Square. Photo: Brittany Petronella

Dining at Carmine’s

We chose to have lunch at this established Southern Italian restaurant in the heart of Times Square, popular for pre- and post-theater meals. The warmly decorated eatery serves family-style portions, which means one dish easily feeds four (expect to take home leftovers). The food was excellent—don’t miss the delicious mixed seafood pasta in white sauce or the perfectly seasoned chicken parmigiana—and the staff was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. The restaurant is accessible by using a ramp at the front entrance. A service elevator that fits a wheelchair user and two additional people provides a route to the accessible restroom on the second floor. Book your reservation in advance on OpenTable, and add a note in the “special request” field that you’re visiting with wheelchair user. If you have a seating preference, call ahead of time.

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Annie and her mother Pearly inside Carmine's. Photo: Brittany Petronella

Tips for NYC restaurants:

  • Accessible information about restaurants isn’t readily available on most websites, which can make planning a meal out challenging. New York City’s Restaurant Access Program is one helpful resource; the program asks owners, where appropriate, to self-identify as wheelchair friendly. (These restaurants are identifiable by a blue wheelchair decal on the restaurant window.)
  • Our rule of thumb is that restaurants in newer buildings and hotels are usually wheelchair-friendly. But if there is a specific restaurant you’d like to dine in, it’s recommended that you call ahead to find out what services they offer.

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