Jul 11, 2016

Jail time now possible if you have a fake service animal

By Bailey Myers and Christie Zizo, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 01, 2015, 7:38 PM 

A new Florida law means jail time if you pose your pet as a service animal.
Starting July 1, anyone who lies about their animals being a guide or service animal could face up to 60 day in Jail.
For guide dog owners like Richard Darrington, this new law could help discourage imposters.
“I think it will cause people who are on the fence to think before moving forward with the decision,” Darrington explained.
He said that’s important because he is constantly asked whether his dog, Malcolm, is certified and trained.
Darrington is legally blind and needs Malcolm, who was trained for two years to be a guide dog to help him get around.
“I’m questioned all the time, ‘Is this a real guide dog?’” Darrington said. “I know part of that is because there are others out there that are masquerading and that hampers my ability to do what I need to do.”
If the dog is found to be wearing false identifiers, and isn’t properly trained then the owner will go to jail.
The law was sponsored by State Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness. Smith said he was approached by a disability rights group because veterans with PTSD said they were having trouble with access.
"There was a need for it, and local groups in the state of Florida wanted it," Smith said.
Smith said he worked with local groups as well, but it was tricky because the bill could not step on the toes of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"So many people wanted us to do certifications and we absolutely told them there was no way to do certifications because the federal government doesn't do certifications," Smith said.
The main purpose of the bill though is to provide clarity -- for owners, for businesses and for the general public.
Service Animals FAQ
What makes an animal a service animal?
The Americans With Disabilities Act defines a service animal as the following:
Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
Examples include guide dogs for the blind, dogs who pull wheelchairs, dogs who alert and protect a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person to take medications or calming a person who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack.
A service animal is not a pet. If you see someone with a service animal in store, you shouldn't ask to pet the dog because it is most likely working.
In Florida, a service animal can be a dog or a miniature horse, according to the new law.
What's the difference between a service animal, an emotional support animal or comfort animal and a therapy animal?
Service animals go where their owners go. Because they perform specific tasks directly related to the person's needs, they are always needed anywhere.
An emotional support or comfort animal is not a service dog because while they provide therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability through the pet's companionship. Any animal can be an emotional support animal if a doctor is willing to sign off on it. But the animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks. Because of that an ESA does not get the kind of public access a service animal has. However, if the person has an emotional support animal that is approved by a medical professional, they can live in a housing unit that has a "no pets" rule, according to the federal Fair Housing Act. Airlines are also more willing to let an emotional support animal travel in the cabin of an airplane, under certain limitations. Check with the individual airlines.
A therapy dog, however, is neither. Therapy dogs are used in a wide variety of roles. They are best known for visiting people at facilities like hospitals, nursing homes and schools. They can provide comfort and stress relief for patients. They can also help in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers as a tool in therapy and treatment. But they do not have the public access a service dog has.
Where are service dogs allowed?
Essentially every where. Even at places like restaurants and supermarkets where dogs are not usually allowed, or other places where state or local health codes would prohibit animals. However, there are rules:
They must be properly harnesses, leashed or tethered unless the devices interfere with a service animal's work, or the individual's disability prevents them from using them. Then the individual has to maintain control of the animal through voice, signal or other controls.
Also, the animal must be well trained. A person who uses a service dog has to make sure that dog goes through multiple levels of training, from basic obedience to the Public Access Test. While they do not have to show a license or any evidence to training to a business, if they are dragged into court they will have to show documentation that the dog can pass the Public Access Test.
Is it true businesses are not allowed to question people with service dogs?
Businesses are not allowed to ask for proof of certification or medical documentation regarding a service dog. They are not allowed to ask specifically about the person's disability or if the dog is a service dog. They are, however, allowed to ask TWO questions, per the ADA:
  1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
The business also cannot charge a person with a service animal extra fees or isolate them from other patrons.
If the animal is out of control and the owner doesn't take action to control it, or the animal poses a direct threat to other patrons, the business can be asked to remove the dog from the premises. The disabled person can then come on the property without the dog.
And allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access to a service dog, per the ADA.
Is it true you can just register your dog online as a service dog?
No. There are many websites that claim you can register your dog, by a vest or a patch and your dog is a service dog. Unless that dog is properly trained, that dog is not a service dog. A service dog shouldn't bark unless it is to alert the patient to something they need. They should be house broken. They should follow all handler commands. They shouldn't scratch or bite. They should almost be invisible, only active and visible when they need to be to work for their handler. Even if the dog was trained by the handler, and not by an organization, their training must be absolutely stellar and obvious.
Is there actually a problem with fake service dogs?
Finding statistics on documented fake service dogs are not easy. Faking a service dog is a federal crime, and now also a misdemeanor punishable with up to 60 days of jail time in Florida. Fake service dogs become a problem for people with real service dogs because these people face added discimination from businesses and individuals who have had bad experience. It can affect their access.
Some organizations, like Canine Companions for Independence, are looking for ways to work with The U.S. Justice Dept., and this may lead to a standard for service dogs. They've collected thousands of signatures on a petition to get the Justice Dept. to look into this. CCI said they are increasingly hearing complaints from their clients that they have been denied access to public places because business owners have had bad experiences with fake service dogs.
Is this new Florida law enforceable?
"That remains to be seen," said Martha Johnson, spokesperson for Canine Companions for Independence. "We sure hope so."
Johnson said at least two dozen other states have a similar long, and it has been enforceable in those states.
"I think what it really does is just build awareness and make someone think twice before they pass their dog off as a service dog when they're not," Johnson said.

Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

Memorial Dedicated to FDR's Disability Will Feature Personal Tributes to People with Disabilities

Published 2016-07-05 -- Sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt greeting a young girl who is also disabled, will be the first memorial dedicated to FDR disability.
Author: Marc Diamond, Chair, FDR Hope Memorial Committee - Contact: fdrhopememorial.org
Quote: "How people confront their disabilities, with dignity and perseverance, inspires their loved ones, their friends, their caretakers, just as FDR inspires us all."

Main Document

The FDR Hope Memorial, a sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt greeting a young girl who is also disabled, will be the first memorial dedicated to FDR's disability. Designed by artist Meredith Bergmann, the project is planned to open on Roosevelt Island in New York City, with the United Nations within FDR's view.
The memorial is the conception of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, which is running a campaign to complete fundraising for the memorial that asks, "Who's your FDR?" Friends and relatives of people with disabilities are raising funds to honor a loved one with a tribute to be engraved on a stone of the granite plaza that leads to the sculpture.
Jim Bates, president of the association, says, "How people confront their disabilities, with dignity and perseverance, inspires their loved ones, their friends, their caretakers, just as FDR inspires us all." FDR lost the use of his legs after becoming infected with the polio virus at age 39.
Tom Brown tribute stone
Tom Brown tribute stone
Tribute stones were first open to residents of Roosevelt Island and are now publicly available at fdrhope.org One of the tributes planned is for Tom Brown, who, like his former wife Nancy Brown, contracted polio, which led to quadriplegia. Nancy and their caretaker Luisa Huerta started the fundraiser for Tom's tribute. Their friends and relatives have now contributed the amount necessary to ensure that there will be a two-foot-wide stone honoring Tom on the Memorial's plaza.
Tom and Nancy were among many patients at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island who were kept alive with iron-lung machines, full body enclosures that kept them breathing. With advances in medical technology pioneered at the island's hospitals, patients who were dependent on iron lungs became ambulatory. Nancy and Tom were able to move into the new Roosevelt Island residential community when it was built in the 1970s.
Nancy is now the disabled association's vice president and eagerly anticipates the completion of fundraising and construction. "The memorial will be such an inspiring place, not just for people with disabilities, but for all visitors, who will benefit from a greater understanding of the needs for accessibility and inclusion."
Sculpture Rendering
Sculpture Rendering
The sculpture of FDR and the girl are partway through a multi-stage process that will transform them from clay to wax to bronze. Rather than a depiction of an actual event, the encounter is the imaginative creation of the sculptor.
FDR clay sculpture
FDR clay sculpture
"The poses are based on numerous photos of FDR greeting and interacting with child polio patients at Warm Springs, Georgia, and in the White House," sculptor Meredith Bergmann explains. "We see in these meetings exchanges of gentle smiles of recognition, understanding, welcome and hope."
Detailed photo of clay FDR sculpture
Detailed photo of clay FDR sculpture
Photo of clay girl sculpture
Photo of clay girl sculpture

For Meredith, the FDR Hope Memorial continues a theme of addressing social issues with thoughtfulness and wit, as she has done at the 9/11 Memorial at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and the Boston Women's Memorial. Her work is informed by her own experience as the parent of a child with autism. "My son's spirit, determination, and abilities astonish me every day. I have tried to infuse the FDR Hope Memorial with those qualities to inspire others in their own struggle to achieve the fullest humanity."
Meredith Bergmann with FDR sculpture
Meredith Bergmann with FDR sculpture

The memorial will be located just north of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which sits at the southern tip of the island. Designed in the 1970s by architect Louis I. Kahn and finally built in 2012, the four-acre park does not acknowledge FDR's disability. It features a larger-than-life-size head of FDR by sculptor Jo Davidson. The park's lack of reference to FDR's loss of the use of his legs spawned a protest by the island's disabled community.
Rendering of sculptures location
Rendering of sculptures location
Dr. Jack Resnick, an internist who has long treated the disabled and seniors on Roosevelt Island, advocated for memorializing FDR's strength in conquering his disability, noting that the island was renamed for FDR in large part because of his connection to polio.
Rather than modifying the design of Four Freedoms Park, a new memorial dedicated to FDR's disability was planned. The Four Freedoms Park Conservatory supported the concept, pledging $100,000 toward its costs. Funding was also provided by Alice Heyman, a New York City benefactor who was moved by the memorial's aspirations, and from the city and state.
Fundraising remains incomplete. Jim advises that people wishing to help build the FDR Hope Memorial and honor someone they know or care for can "do something wonderful and start a granite tribute or contribute to one in progress at fdrhope.org"
Wearing a cap displaying the phrase "enabled not disabled," Jim says he believes the memorial will say to children and adults with disabilities, "Look what you can be."
Nancy emphasizes the message. "We shouldn't be looked at as far as what we can't do; we should be looked at for what we can do."

Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

Jul 6, 2016

Actors With Disabilities Are Ready, Willing and Able to Take More Roles By ALEXIS SOLOSKIJUNE

“Have you ever been hit?” a man named John asks his caregiver in “Cost of Living,” a new play by Martyna Majok. “That’s what it’s like,” he continues. “Like people hitting me from beneath my skin.”
John, a Ph.D. candidate in political science, has cerebral palsy. So does Gregg Mozgala, who portrays him in this Williamstown Theater Festival production running through July 10. Ani, another character, is played by Katy Sullivan, a professional actress who is a Paralympic medalist. Their casting — in a high-profile production that will end up at the Manhattan Theater Club — is a visible sign of change when it comes to performers with disabilities, who rarely appear onstage, even as stories of disability offer rich and, yes, prize-generating material for actors.
Ms. Sullivan, who was born without lower legs, doesn’t believe that able-bodied performers should be prevented from playing the disabled. She sees acting as “putting on someone else’s soul, putting on someone else’s life experiences and trying to be truthful about them, whether you’re disabled or not.” Still, she noted, “Using performers with disabilities brings a layer of authenticity that you don’t have to go searching for.”
The Deaf West Theater production of “Spring Awakening,” which earned enthusiastic reviews when it played on Broadway last season, may have excited new interest in casting actors with disabilities. The recently announced Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie” will co-star Madison Ferris, an actress who uses a wheelchair, as Laura Wingfield. “I Was Most Alive With You,” which just ran at the Huntington Theater Company in Boston, was written by Craig Lucas expressly for the deaf actor Russell Harvard.
This is not exactly business as usual. The past several Broadway seasons have included shows like “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “Richard III,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Elephant Man,” “Side Show” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” In these plays and musicals, able-bodied actors played characters with physical or cognitive disabilities. Other recent “Glass Menagerie” revivals have cast actresses who can leave Laura’s limp at the stage door. (Representatives for the coming production declined to comment on its casting.)
Ali Stroker, second from left, in “Spring Awakening.” CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times 
Recent conversations around this issue, in film and television as well as in theater, have become more contentious, with comparisons often drawn to traditions of blackface. As the journalist Frances Ryan wrote in an opinion piece for The Guardian last year, “Perhaps it is time to think before we next applaud ‘cripping up.’ Disabled people’s lives are more than something for non-disabled actors to play at.”
Or, as Howard Sherman, the interim director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, put it: “Playing someone with a disability should not be considered a talent or a skill for nondisabled actors. It should be considered taking a job away from someone with the unique life experiences to portray that role.”
The language around these issues is also fraught. If “disabled” remains the standard term, some artists and activists resist its connotation of impairment. (Many who are deaf would argue against deafness being construed as a disability, for example.) The term “differently abled” is a common alternative, though some prefer more individual vocabulary.Continue reading the main story
Ali Stroker, the “Spring Awakening” performer who was said to be the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway, occasionally heard discouraging words.
Ms. Stroker, who said she was also the first actor in a wheelchair to graduate from New York University’s rigorous theater training program, recalled a casting director telling her, “This is going to be very hard for you.”
“Perfect,” Ms. Stroker said. “My life has been hard. I don’t like easy things.”
She added: “My experience of having a disability my entire life was perfect training for this industry. I’m used to hearing no. I’m used to being creative when someone has closed a door.”
But how many doors are open even now? With the exception of theaters like Deaf West, Theater Breaking Through Barriers and the Apothetae (founded by Mr. Mozgala) — created in part to provide opportunities for artists with disabilities — and companies like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has committed to integrating disabled actors, most able-bodied roles go to able-bodied actors.
And many disabled roles still go to able-bodied actors, too. Sometimes this is necessary, as in roles that show gradual deterioration or unexpected recovery, or roles that call for a rare physical type, like the conjoined twins of “Side Show.” Sometimes it isn’t.
There has been controversy, for example, regarding the casting of Christopher in “Curious Incident,” a young man whose behavior places him on the autism spectrum. Some have used social media to pressure the producers to make auditions more accessible and welcoming to autistic actors. As the actor Mickey Rowe wrote in an email, “All too often we learn about autism from non-autistic people instead of going straight to the source.”
Russell Harvard in “I Was Most Alive With You.” CreditT Charles Erickson Photography 
Mr. Harvard, a deaf actor often cast in deaf roles, appears the exception. In addition to his theater work, which included a starring part in Nina Raine’s widely produced “Tribes,” he has significant film credits and was prominently featured in the first season of the “Fargo” TV series. But even he has had difficulty finding parts.
“How many roles are there out there that incorporate ASL?” he wrote in an email message. “The opportunities are rare.” The idea that hearing actors might be cast in deaf roles affronts him. “If someone were to make a movie about my life and cast a hearing actor to play me …” He couldn’t complete the sentence.
When the roles are available, producers, directors and casting directors may have to search harder for disabled actors. Mandy Greenfield, the artistic director at Williamstown, agreed that it took extra work to assemble a pool of possible stars for “Cost of Living.”
Ms. Majok’s script stipulates that John and Ani be played by disabled performers; Mr. Mozgala, who helped Ms. Majok develop the play (the description of cerebral palsy as an internal fistfight is his configuration), was a sure thing. But Williamstown had to do a rigorous search to find Ani.
“Our intense process yielded absolutely magical results,” Ms. Greenfield said. (Manhattan Theater Club has yet to confirm casting for the spring production, but producers said they would honor Ms. Majok’s stipulation.)
Unlike her character, Ms. Sullivan is not paralyzed but rather runs record-setting sprints on prosthetic limbs. Conveying paralysis requires acting; maneuvering without prosthetics contributed to her understanding of the character.
“It helps me get to a place of vulnerability, because that’s not how I live my life,” she said. “I tend to wear my prosthetics wherever I go, and they make me feel a certain confidence. Taking those off, in some ways, is like being naked.”
It remains to be seen whether the recent casting of disabled actors marks a temporary uptick or a more lasting trend. Though D. J. Kurs, the artistic director of Deaf West, believes that “Spring Awakening” showed audiences the evocative language and gestures of deaf actors, “My cynical side, however, reminds me that the collective memory is short,” he wrote by email.
Mr. Mozgala hopes that artists themselves will create opportunities. His company, the Apothetae, has commissioned playwrights with this aim. “My community, and the history of disabled people, is fascinating,” he said. “Me just walking across the street — there’s something dramatic going on.”
Correction: July 1, 2016 
An article on Thursday about the use of actors with disabilities to portray disabled characters referred incorrectly to the character played by Katy Sullivan, who was born without lower legs, in “Cost of Living” at the Williamstown Theater Festival. The character, Ani, is paralyzed; it is not the case she is not paralyzed.

Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

Jul 5, 2016

Discovering the (Mostly) Accessible Atlantis Resort

Somewhere under the deep blue sea, the mythic lost city of Atlantis may lie in wait, holding secrets beyond our imagination. But when it came time to plan my family’s trip last summer, my husband, daughter and I were happy to settle for the more real — and much more commercial — Atlantis Resort, a gigantic tourist wonderland just off the coast of Nassau in the Bahamas.
Ellen Stohl
Ellen Stohl

Since its inception in 1998, Atlantis Resort has spread to cover almost every inch of the aptly named Paradise Island’s 1.1 square miles with every conceivable tourist draw, from Broadway-caliber theater to turquoise lagoons where you can swim with dolphins, to nearly 20 water slides and beautiful beaches where you can sop up the sun. The tourist map you receive when booking a trip is so dense with attractions, restaurants and shops as to be almost overwhelming.

Trying to wrap my head around the resort’s accessibility and the best ways to maximize our four nights and five days considering my needs as a manual wheelchair user proved daunting. Luckily the resort has published an extensive access guide with answers to many of the common questions about accessible rooms, attractions and more. It’s important to note that the Bahamas are not part of the United States and are not required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unsure of the implications of this reality, I touched base with John Sage, a T4 incomplete para who has spent considerable time in the region running his accessible travel services, Sage Traveling and Accessible Caribbean Vacations.
“In the Caribbean there is not always ideal accessibility, but there is the right attitude,” he said. “Most people are eager to please and will often come up with creative solutions to help someone with a disability get where they need to go or do what they want to do.” He finds Nassau and Paradise Island to be more accessible than many other Caribbean destinations, but warned that “the main island and Paradise Island have hills. Also, in addition to the steepness of natural features, the bridge from the cruise terminal to Paradise Island is long and high and too difficult for a manual wheelchair user to push over by themselves.”
Ellen Stohl, her husband, David, and her daughter, Zoe, enjoyed their Atlantis stay.
Ellen Stohl, her husband, David, and her daughter, Zoe, enjoyed their Atlantis stay.
Finding Paradise
Choosing the right accommodations is always important, but even more so at Atlantis. Why? Because the island is huge (for a wheeler) and there are no accessible shuttles to help you get from place to place. Routes are paved and there are accessible paths of travel to all exhibits, but some exhibits require a specific route for accessibility, and they are not always clearly marked. Most guests use the resort shuttle to cover the mile-long island’s many routes, but wheelchair users are out of luck. As Sage says, “Getting around in a manual chair can be tiresome and time consuming.” We often found ourselves running late for reservations and questioning our decision not to stay in the centrally located Royal Towers.
Of the resort’s hundreds, if not thousands, of rooms to choose from, only 30 are deemed “accessible,” with safety bars, lowered sinks and roll-in showers — 12 housed in the Royal Towers. We chose to stay at The Reef, one of the two luxury towers at the west end of the island. The suites at The Reef offer full kitchens. After reading many travel reviews about the high cost of food at the resort, I figured getting groceries from town and cooking our own food would save us money and balance out the higher-end accommodations. Staying at the luxury level hotels, The Reef or The Cove, also gets you access to a private beach and pools. My husband is not a big fan of crowds and neither am I. Navigating through hordes of tourists in a wheelchair can get tiresome, so having an option to relax away from the hustle of the bustling Aquaventure Park was on our “must have” list.
Our suite at The Reef was experiencing electrical problems, so we were upgraded to a room at The Cove. I was offered an accessible room, but it was on the first floor and I didn’t want to give up the view. So we stayed on the 19th floor and had a spectacular view. The room was not labeled as accessible, but it was very roomy. With only a shower bench from housekeeping, I was easily able to complete my activities of daily living with minimal assistance from my family. With a few more adaptations and pieces of adaptive equipment, the room could become fully accessible to all guests except those with the highest level of mobility issues.
John Sage
John Sage
So Much to Do, So Little Time
To plan our agenda we revisited our “must have” list. Swimming with dolphins was a must for me and my daughter, while my husband insisted we find time to snorkel and relax — beach or pool side. All of us wanted to experience the wild water slides and amazing marine life and see the iconic Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga on the Atlantis Live stage. There were so many possibilities that my head was spinning each time I tried to execute the perfect vacation plan and maintain a realistic budget.
This resort has something for everyone. A Vegas-esque casino, 11 swimming pools, gorgeous beaches, gourmet restaurants and awe-inspiring water experiences for every age and ability. The resort is also home to the world’s largest open-air marine habitat, which includes 14 lagoons with more than 250 species and 50,000 aquatic animals, including giant rays, sawfish, piranha, barracuda, tropical fish and more.
There is also a marina village filled with shops, 40 different restaurants, bars and lounges, and Aquaventure, a 141-acre lushly landscaped area full of thrilling water experiences and slides.
Aquaventure is home to Dolphin Cay, a state-of-the-art dolphin education center and interaction habitat. Dolphin Cay offers a number of options for guests who want to get up close and personal with the dolphins. We chose the Deep Water Swim based on the Access Guide’s clear indication that it was open to guests with special needs so long as they inform the staff in advance of their booking.
It was as if the dolphin knew Stohl needed extra support to swim across the lagoon.
It was as if the dolphin knew Stohl needed extra support to swim across the lagoon.
When we showed up, the staff was incredibly helpful and open to suggestions. We got to touch, kiss, feed and swim with the dolphins in their habitat. The final thrill was Dolphin Cay’s signature “foot push,” where a powerful dolphin propels you across the lagoon for an amazing rush. The “foot push” requires guests to straighten their legs and hold them stiff, something I cannot do. That didn’t deter me or the trainers. They tried locking my knees with a life vest, and when that did not work, one of the trainers had me ride piggyback so the dolphin had a strong set of limbs to push. It was a magical experience, communing with such intelligent creatures and gliding across the lagoon. The dolphins were so in tune with my needs that as I was being propelled, another dolphin swam beside me. It was as if they knew I needed extra support.
Sage, a veteran of many dolphin attractions, was not surprised. “You can swim with dolphins at a variety of locations throughout the Caribbean, but when I was there, the Atlantis staff was willing to accommodate and work with people who have disabilities,” he said. “Not all places are open or comfortable doing that.”
On top of all the water and beach-related options, Atlantis has a theater, a nightclub, a comedy club and a larger event space, called Atlantis Live. It just so happened that Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga were playing at Atlantis Live during our stay. Tickets were about the same as they were for the Hollywood Bowl, and they were actually still available at the Atlantis venue.
Ellen and her daughter Zoe.
Ellen and her daughter Zoe.
Wanting to ensure accessible seating, I contacted the box office, only to be told that the Silver seating area isn’t wheelchair accessible, so I was limited to two seats in the accessible Gold area at the Silver price. I let them know that I appreciated the price accommodation, but I calmly explained that there were four of us traveling and we’d like to enjoy the show together. In the end it all worked out as we got the needed companion tickets and enjoyed a memorable night.
We almost missed out on another of our favorite attractions, The Dig, because we could not find the accessible entry point. Thankfully, we persevered. The Dig is a maze of underground passageways and tunnels offering underwater vistas into the boulevards and streets of the ruins of the lost city, and it is where the myth of Atlantis truly comes alive. We got to explore the ancient laboratories of the legendary Atlanteans and marvel at their inventions of electricity, flying machines and submarines.
The Dig also features an interactive touch tank aquarium, as well as over 100 venomous lionfish, 500 piranhas, iridescent jellyfish and six-foot moray eels. There are also special environments that hold nine species of enormous groupers.
Beyond these three attractions, my family and I divided our time between hanging out at the beach, snorkeling, swimming and relaxing, and the Aquaventure park.
Water, Water Everywhere
I absolutely loved the beaches and the ease of obtaining a beach wheelchair. The ocean breeze along the shore countered any trace of humidity and the weather consistently hovered in the high 70s and low 80s. The water was a comfortable 80 degrees, so I could spend hours snorkeling along the shallow shoreline. Covered lounge chairs, lined up in rows only a few feet from the water’s edge, made going from the sea to sunbathing an easy jaunt, especially since there was always a staff member around to help out. Unlike many American theme parks and resorts, staff is not restricted from assisting guests.
Inspired by the can-do mentality, we decided to add the Snorkel the Ruins experience to our agenda even though the Access Guide indicated that “Participants must be able to stand up; step down into the exhibit; walk along a sandy, rocky floor; and snorkel in 15 feet of water with sharks, rays and schooling fish.” I didn’t think anyone would actually be walking in 15 feet of water, they’d be swimming; so we decided to press our luck. I was right — the tour guides had no problem helping my husband transfer me to the ground and navigate me down the two steps into the Ruins Lagoon. Everyone wore life vests as we were led through the unique underwater vistas swimming alongside sleek sharks, spotted rays and brilliantly colored tropical fish.
Aquaventure park boasts 20 water slides, two river rides, 11 pools, three unique beaches, and a seven-acre snorkeling lagoon. Several pools have zero access entry points, and water wheelchairs are available on request. The chairs are designed to help transport guests into the water where they can transfer into the pool or onto a raft.
The “Snorkel the Ruins” attraction was listed as inaccessible, but Stohl made it work.
The “Snorkel the Ruins” attraction was listed as inaccessible, but Stohl made it work.
Our favorite attraction was The Current, a mile-long rapid river that propelled our inner tubes through churning rapids, lazy stretches and three and four-foot waves. This attraction also allowed easy access to the Power Tower conveyor belts that lead to four of the featured water attractions: The Fall, The Drop, The Abyss and The Surge. Most of the water slides require the ability to climb stairs, but guests can access both The Falls and The Drop tube rides via a conveyer belt. This means that once you’ve had help transferring into the raft, you can be conveyed up four-stories without walking at all. This can NOT be done alone and should only be attempted if you have good upper body strength and the ability to sit upright and hold on tight.
Water levels were low our first few days on the rapids, so the conveyer belts were closed. They finally opened on our last day, giving me a chance to ride. From four stories up, the view was amazing. I could see the entire Atlantic Ocean stretched out before me for miles. The conveyer belt dropped our two-person tube into a small stretch of free flowing water that led to the slide. Many guests disembarked to move their tubes along more quickly. This wasn’t an option for us; I couldn’t walk and if my husband got off, we risked flipping. Once the ride staff knew I couldn’t walk, they provided the assistance we needed by pulling us along. My heart raced, I had not been on a waterslide since before my injury over 30 years ago. The gate opened and SWOOSH, down we went at an exhilarating speed that ended with a gigantic splash.
The wide grin on my face at the end of the ride is a fair representation of my overall experience at Atlantis. Other than the lack of accessible shuttles, I was extremely surprised by the level of access. Public restrooms, restaurants and room amenities (if not numbers of accessible rooms) at Atlantis were on par with ADA designs in the United States, and other resort venues were quick to provide access and additional support if need be. Based on my experience, while the resort may not comply with the letter of the ADA, I would say it does a good job of following the spirit of the law.
• Atlantis Resort, 800/Atlantis;  www.atlantisbahamas.com (call 242/363-3000 for disability-related needs)
• Accessible Caribbean Vacations, 888/490-1280; www.accessiblecaribbeanvacations.com
• Sage Traveling, 888/645-7920; www.sagetraveling.com

The Curious Case of Accessible Caribbean Transportation

Between cruises and flights, getting to Atlantis and other Caribbean resorts is relatively easy and cheap. Getting around on the islands once you’re there? Well, that’s a whole other matter.
What trip to the Caribbean would be complete without swimming with dolphins?
What trip to the Caribbean would be complete without swimming with dolphins?
Like many resorts, The Atlantis offers a variety of shuttle services to the main island, including an accessible van. However, it costs $288 roundtrip for the accessible van shuttle. It does include transport for up to eight adults. Compare that with the $33 cost of an individual roundtrip on a bus. If you have a large party, maybe you can justify the $288 — maybe — but if there are less than eight passengers, the cost of the short ride feels a bit unfair. Limos, town cars, and SUVs are also a choice, but they are as spendy as the accessible van and require the ability to transfer.
After speaking with John Sage, the founder of Accessible Caribbean Vacations, about his experience, I learned that accessible vehicles anywhere in the Caribbean are hard to come by due to the high import tax on vehicles. “There are only three wheelchair accessible vans between Nassau and Paradise Island, and rarely are all of them operational at the same time. Additionally, the demand for accessible vans can be huge when cruise ships arrive. If you need a wheelchair accessible van in Nassau, be sure to book it weeks or months in advance.” Accessible Caribbean Vacations offers several shore excursions to Atlantis if you’re visiting Nassau as part of a cruise destination, and all of them include fully accessible van transportation.

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