Thursday, March 8, 2012

The 2012 Handi Awards: Places That Make Life Easier for the Disabled

I’m quick to whine when I have trouble finding accessible accommodations in my daily life. But sometimes I am blown away by how accommodating a particular establishment or staff is.
So in the spirit of the Southern California obsession with awards, I hereby announce my 2012 Handi Awards: places that have made my life as a handicapped person easier.
First, a word about the methodology: It’s entirely unscientific, comes from a female perspective and is geographically limited to places within easy driving distance of my home. It’s a compilation of particularly accommodating places I’ve visited the last seven years in my wheelchair or walker. 
And while you may not be in my neck of the woods to visit these spots, you can be heartened knowing some people do take care to make disabled lives a little better.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the winners of my 2012 Handi Awards.
AHMANSON THEATRE 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles
After an unpleasant experience in the nosebleed wheelchair section of a show here, I was assured by a season ticket seller things would be different for me if I returned as a regular customer.
Boy are they.
Not only is handicapped parking a breeze via their discounted valet service, but the seats are perfect (not in anyone’s way or blocked in by other patrons) and the attendants are always courteous and efficient. They wheeled me in when I was in a wheelchair and remove and retrieve my walker as needed during other shows. The women’s handicapped restroom is fantastic -- a room in itself including sink -- and separated from all the other stalls. I can bypass the line of patrons at intermission waiting for a stall. 
Carpinteria State Beach, Carpinteria
Free, convenient disabled parking right on the beach makes this a nice spot if I want to see some surf or breathe ocean air. Or visit some of fabulous restaurants nearby. But first I’ll hit the clean, easily accessible public restroom on Linden Street in the free parking lot.
COLLEGE OF THE CANYONS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road,  Santa Clarita
While this venue could use a spot to drop off disabled ticket holders, it always provides a top rate experience once I get into the theater, whether I am in a wheelchair or walker. 
Volunteer attendants kindly escort me to my seat, bring me my walker at intermission and, when I am on the lower level, lead me to an easily accessible handicapped restroom that is not for general public use.
I’ve been in plenty of rest stops I shudder to recall, but this one near Santa Barbara brings a smile to my face. It’s clean, it’s been open every time I need it and it has a friendly attendant there to point out the handicapped-accessible stalls.
Nestled in a beautiful setting and well-maintained, this is a rare rest stop where I would actually consider “resting” and maybe using a picnic table. 
JACK-IN-THE-BOX, 26547 Bouquet Canyon Road, Santa Clarita 
Located in a busy shopping complex, this Jack’s goes out of its way to make a visit enjoyable for the disabled. Parking is convenient, restrooms are lovely and accessible and the seating area inside has at least one designated table for a wheelchair.
When I ordered my curly fries (I had a craving, OK?), I asked for a cup for water. The server set down an empty tray and my cup and then I remembered I was disabled and couldn’t carry these to my table.
 (I do forget sometimes -- like when I recently bought a twin-pack of cute umbrellas at Costco and then, when I got home, remembered I can’t actually hold an umbrella and walk with my walker.)
I took the cup from the tray, went over and filled my water, then stuffed a napkin and straw in my pocket and managed to sit down without spilling. When my made-to-order fries were ready, the counter guy called out my number. I looked at him and when he realized it was me, he walked around the counter and delivered my fries on a tray right to my table. So kind.
THE GREEK THEATER, 2700 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles
The disabled parking in this venue needs major improvements, but the Greek gets high praise for its accessible restrooms. Built along the lines of its bowl layout, bathrooms are easy to get to no matter where you are sitting.  The stalls are plentiful and, during intermission at the concert I attended, the handicapped-equipped were  guarded by an attendant who saves them for those who are truly disabled. Yay!

My treatment at my favorite late-night talk show couldn’t have been better. When I called to see how accessible it was before I brought two friends down to the CBS studios, a guy at 1Iota (the agency who handles tickets) called back to answer my questions and assure me it was worth the trip.
I got primo parking, sat on my seated walker in the shade and chatted with a security guard while others lined up elsewhere on the sidewalk. Restrooms were quite accessible and convenient. My friends and I and other less-abled folks were given a separate elevator ride from the rest of the throng. And while other fans descended via stairs to their seats, I was led backstage and escorted to mine on the stage level. Two courteous staffers helped me climb a few steps to my front row seat. It was just as easy getting out of there after the show was over. 
MASSAGE ENVY, 25636 The Old Road, Stevenson Ranch
My regular massage site makes my day without the added stress of getting in the door and up on the massage table comfortably. When a front desk attendant or sometimes my therapist sees me approaching the glass door, he or she will open it so I don’t have to struggle just to get in. Ditto for exiting.
Best of all, the heated massage tables can be electrically lowered to where I can easily get on them (not the case with fancier spas I’ve been to), then elevated to where the therapist can work. 
When I visited a site in Northern California, I realized not all Massage Envy locations have such accommodating tables. The perk  -- and the wonderful massage therapists -- make me a regular at this location.
(P.S. Take heed, doctors: Is it possible to get examining tables that you can lower? I don’t think I’m the only person who can’t “hop up” on them.) 

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