130th Annual Meeting
Gaining Access: What Historians with Disabilities (and Everyone Else!) Should Know before the 2016 Annual Meeting
Welcome to Atlanta! It's a city full of wonderful restaurants, memorable attractions, and kind people from all walks of life. But how accessible is it? As a 20-something with mild cerebral palsy, I'm comfortable getting around Atlanta, but I can only speak for myself—others' experiences might be different. Nonetheless, since the AHA asked me to present a mini-guide to this fantastic city, I'm happy to offer some insights.
I'll start with annual meeting hotel accommodations. Registration and the Exhibit Hall will be at the Hilton Atlanta. The main entrance includes a ramp access, two push/pull doors, and a revolving door equipped with a motion sensor. My first thought was "Sure, this works for me. But I'm not sure what someone with a service animal or in a wheelchair would think." With the push of a button, it is possible to adjust the speed at which the door revolves. The Hilton has accessible restrooms and elevators with Braille symbols.
The Job Center will be at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, which has 43 accessible rooms, including 13 double occupancies. The main entrance includes automatic doors and no stairs. The elevators feature Braille symbols and announced floors. Sear, one of the Marriott restaurants, has a well-thought-out floor layout, which includes a wheelchair-accessible ramp at the back of the restaurant, leading to private back rooms. These have less noise than the rest of the restaurant and controlled lighting. Sear's one flaw is its heavy entrance door.
The third hotel, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, has an accessible front entrance and elevators. Accessible restrooms are available on every floor. Sway, a southern-American restaurant inside the Hyatt, has a handle/pull entry, railings, good lighting, and few acoustic distractions. Large silverware is available if requested ahead of time.
Hotel accessibility has improved over the years, and all three annual meeting hotels have rooms featuring wheelchair-accessible doors, peepholes, climate controls, and bathrooms; close-captioned television decoders; telecommunication devices for the deaf; alerting devices for telephone and front door; vibrating alarm clocks; portable audio-visual smoke detectors; and more. A skywalk connects the three hotels. It's definitely the most efficient and the easiest way to move among them. The Marquis floor of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis leads to the Hilton Atlanta. The skywalk doesn't have an automatic door, but it will be propped open for the annual meeting. Rails are installed along the entire skywalk. The Atrium floor of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis leads to the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Surprise—automatic doors! All three hotels are conveniently located close to an accessible parking garage. The area around the hotels is often very traffic-heavy, and some of the sidewalks are less than perfect as you venture out to area restaurants.
There are a number of excellent restaurants within a half mile of the hotels. Alma Cocina (191 Peachtree St. NE) is a great Mexican spot featuring booths and tables with chairs. The noise level is reasonable, but the lighting is rather dim. If requested in advance, Alma Cocina can arrange for larger silverware as a disability accommodation. The restroom has a handle entry and grab bars/railings. If you just want a burger or custom tacos, surf-themed Big Kahuna (303 Peachtree Center Ave.) in downtown Atlanta may be the spot for you. The restaurant includes a push/pull entrance, several table/chair arrangements, and an accessible restroom.
Several noteworthy options are also available within two miles of the hotels. Café Intermezzo (1065 Peachtree St. NE), one of my personal favorites, is a Vienna-inspired coffeehouse with many wonderful options—cakes, breakfast delicacies, sweet and savory crepes, sandwiches, and main courses. The restaurant has dim lighting and an accessible restroom toward the back. On the opposite side of the street, Ra Sushi Bar (1080 Peachtree St. NE) may catch your eye. A number of tables and chairs are included in a modern setting with dim lighting. You've got to climb stairs to access the upstairs part of the restaurant, but they are equipped with a rail. Braille menus are available, too. The restaurant also includes an accessible restroom. Mi Cocina (1080 Peachtree St. NE), an intriguing Tex-Mex spot, includes an accessible entry and an elevator. The inside of the restaurant has good lighting and a variety of seating options.
When it comes to public transportation for people with disabilities, MARTA Mobility (http://www.itsmarta.com/accessibility-Mobility.aspx or 404-848-4212) is the most economical option. (If you're a paratransit user from out of state, you'll need to contact MARTA Mobility's eligibility department at 404-848-5000. Once MARTA receives your documentation and proof of service, you'll be eligible for MARTA Mobility for the duration of your visit.) Each one-way fare is $4 per person, which can be paid with cash or a MARTA card. You'll need to contact MARTA and book an appointment the day before the trip (at the latest) and provide specific pickup and drop-off addresses. Some passengers use the steps to get inside the van, while others prefer to use the wheelchair lift. In any case, the driver will assist if requested. Inside tip: plan in advance. MARTA representatives will book rides that are 60 to 90 minutes before your arrival time. Why? The drivers are given a 30-minute window to arrive at the pickup location. When urgency is the number-one concern, ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft may be useful. The drivers are sensitive to various requests from passengers, including disability accommodations.
Atlanta is a diverse southern city with a lot of charm and welcoming people. I hope that you see that for yourself and have an absolutely incredible time at the AHA annual meeting!
Yuliya Gileva received her BA in international relations from Emory University in 2012 and is currently an ACT tutor in Atlanta. She's passionate about international and domestic human rights and disability topics in the United States and abroad.
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