Just Visiting: Old Town Albuquerque

I had my right side Total Hip Replacement surgery on August 30, 2016. It’s amazing, this absence of pain. It, the pain, becomes such an integral part of existance that when you wake up from anesthesia and it’s gone, you’re momentarily confused.

Nevertheless, it’s awesome.

Except for the restrictions.

No bending. No bending while standing, no bending while sitting, so bending past 90 degrees. That means you use a three foot shoe horn to put on your shoes, and get someone else to tie them if there are laces, or you work out something else. You use a special contraption to put on your socks. You do not bend over to wash your feet and legs when you’ve been given permission to shower. No sleeping on your surgery side, and if you sleep on the other side, put a pillow between your legs.

And no driving.

Anyone who knows me, knows “no driving” and “MzSusanB” are mutually exclusive terms but I followed doctor’s orders.

Dr. Surgeon cleared me to drive again three weeks after surgery, on a Tuesday. The next morning I was on the road. First I wanted to see my mother in Atlanta, then I wanted to go to Myrtle Beach. Then, on the road to Myrtle Beach, I turned around and headed for Sedona, and ended up in Albuquerque.

No longer tied to my wheelchair, I was using a two wheeled walker to get around, so accessibility was still needed. Old Town ABQ is not for the faint of heart, as the sidewalks are brick, so the going is bumpy. The old buildings that make up the square often have narrow doorways, and the shops themselves are difficult to negotiate because they’re small and have steps in awkward places.

If you use a manual or motorized wheelchair or scooter, use caution.

But the air is clear and the colors vivid and I fell in love with the area.




Just Visiting: The Art Institute of Chicago (Van Gogh’s Bedroom)

The Art of Accessibility visits Chicago’s famed Art Institute to be immersed in Vincent Van Gogh’s sketches and paintings (as well as other works of art). ChiArtInstitute1312

The Art Institute is breath-taking.  While fairly sprawling, its collections are cohesive and comprehensive, but from a wheelchair accessibility point-of-view, the Institute seems to  lack understanding of the spirit of “accessible”.

IMG_7239Entry into the Van Gogh exhibition was on the second level. As shown above, there were two ques to enter at the pillars, with the introductory verbiage on the left wall and enlargement details on the right. As you went in on the right, you begin to see Van Gogh’s journey to Arles. There was no set path to follow; consequently, there were often bottlenecks as people viewed and backed up to view again, various works.


But works are art are often hung at “eye-level,” and eye level seems to mean the viewer should be roughly the same height as the curator who hung the exhibition.

Even without the wheelchair, I’m 5’2″ tall, but in the chair, any work under glass such as this painting, had to be viewed at a severe angle to avoid glare.


Then there was the opportunity to see works body blocked by those in front of you, which, I guess, is the price to be paid for infirmity.

The worst part of the whole thing occurred in the gallery which housed the three bedroom paintings. There are subtle differences among them, and I had managed to work my way to the front of the crowd, with the intention to just slowly move along with the crowd to view them.

However, a uniformed attendant (guard?) decided that I was actually trying to get out of the gallery and moved me even further in front of the crowd and moved them back so I had a clear path out of the gallery. He then continued to clear paths until I was out of the exhibition completely. I could have, should have, spoken up, but I think I was too dumbfounded to utter a protest.

The exhibition, of course, emptied into a gift shop, but there was hardly room for me to see what was available (sorry, Liz!), and the gift shop exit led you back to entry, on the side of the introduction, where everyone exiting decided they suddenly needed to read the what they missed.

Can you say “log jam”?

IMG_7252The rest of the Institute is fairly easily accessible, with a few tricky places.

As I said, my chief difficulty has to do with the eye level  of art and the accompanying signage. This seems to be a universal problem, which could be easily remedied if the curator(s) borrowed a wheelchair from the concierge desk and travel the exhibition or galleries before deciding final placements.

Look at it from a different point of view and make art truly accessible to all.







Just Visiting: Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL

Life, and the Art of Accessibility

My March 12, 2016, visit to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, was completely accidental.

I had tickets to see the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition “Van Gogh’s Bedroom.” The person I was originally going to go with pooped out on me, and so I asked Melody L. to come along with; both of us forgot that March 12 for this year was St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Consequently, when we tried to go to the Institute, streets were closed, information was nil, and we ended up at the Aquarium.

Yes, the Aquarium was jammed with post-parade families; yes, the admission price for the Aquarium and a couple of shows was enough to make me hyperventilate and wonder if I could skip a car payment; and yes, the Aquarium is pretty impressive overall.

Elevators were easy to find, halls were smooth and clean, with no bumps to surprise a wheelchair roll; I was free to look at the exhibits as closely as I could. I never felt I might lose control of my chair while exploring the venue.


Melody and I bought admission to two shows to view while we were there — one was about monster dinosaurs, the other, the porpoise/beluga whale aquatic show.

Each of these venues had wheelchair accessible seating on a higher floor, which gave a feeling of separation from the rest of the audience.


Even with a camera with a decent lens, it was difficult to really see the interaction between the handlers and the animals.


Oftentimes, it feels like accessibility in venues is an afterthought — someone said, “Doh! We need to include disabled seating!” —  and so some regular seats are torn out and wheelchair access is miraculously born.

Complying with the letter of the law (the Americans with Disabilities Act) is not always understanding the spirit of the law, and the spirit of the law is to make it easier to allow differently-abled persons to enjoy the same experiences and sensations as those without challenges enjoy — such as splash zones and close-up views of porpoises and beluga whales.

Overall, while there are some minor accessibility issues at the Shedd Aquarium, I feel it is a fun and easy-to-maneuver venue, and well worth visiting.





Powell Gardens – Kansas City, Missouri

Powell Gardens’ history began as land bought by a business man, and has grown to be a 915-acre behemoth thirty miles east of Kansas City, Missouri, consisting of eight themed gardens, a nature trail and an esteemed chapel . During “peak season,” tickets may be purchased for a trolley that loops the grounds, providing a quick overview of the campus.

Being a member of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis (my home base), I decided that my road trips would be visiting reciprocal membership gardens. I had heard of Powell Gardens, and decided to make that the starting point.

Misha and I left well before sunrise on an April Saturday morning, treating ourselves to cups of Tim Horton’s coffee before taking I-64 to I-70, westbound. It was a fairly leisurely drive, since we had no fixed time schedule. My wheelchair was stowed in the back of his car, and I had water and fruit. [For why I have a wheelchair, see What Three Years Can Do.]

We arrived around 10 AM. The sky was clear, and the wind a bit brisk. Parking in designated handicap slots was easy to obtain this early in the morning, and the roll to the Visitor’s Education Center was fairly level, if a little bumpy, crossing one internal roadway to the building.

Now, anybody who knows me knows my primary interest is in taking photos, so, in my wheelchair, I had my camera around my neck, a travel pack around my waist, and a plastic handle bag on the chair arms for my water and snack. I had my cane bungeed to the left armrest.

At the Visitors Education Building, the door was opened from the inside by a greeter, who cheerfully gave us maps, and then we went to it. First stop was the Conservatory to see the Blue Morpho Butterflies. I was allowed to stay in my chair, but my travel pack and snack bag had to remain outside lest some butterfly try to escape and violate USDA regulations. The Conservatory was humid as expected, but I did not expect to get actively misted (and neither did my camera). The walkway around the Conservatory viewing area was wide enough for the wheelchair, provided no one wanted to pass me in two different directions.

I felt claustrophobic, and headed out to the main gardens… except that I couldn’t find any clearly marked doors to the gardens, nor power-assisted/handicap accessible doors. I had to ask for directions.

Once out, I found that the garden walkways were mostly switch-backed, and the slopes were unsettling. For the rest of my visit, I was more concerned with not losing control of the chair than I was with trying to compose photographs.

I managed to work my way up the inclines from the Island Gardens (two person-wide walkway ending in sloped vegetation into the lake) to the Chapel, which is truly a breathtaking place. As I approached the beautiful wood doors, I wondered how to enter without scratching or denting them. Luckily, strangers opened both doors so I could roll in without damaging anything.

I texted Misha and said I was heading back to the Visitors’ Center. He suggested that I take the trolley back, but I really felt like getting in the additional workout by wheeling back. Then I realized I would be going downhill, and I didn’t want to, so I said I would take the trolley — and then realized that I would have to fold up my chair and climb into the trolley for the return trip.

The trolley is not handicapped accessible. There is no lift for a wheelchair.

Misha, who is a part-time superhero, came out to the Chapel and carried my chair into trolley for me.

I tried to spend money in the gift shop, but was prevented because the aisles were tightly packed with things leaning out or lying on the floor — I was constantly afraid of breaking things or getting them caught on my chair.

As we left, we noticed parking right by the front of the Visitors’ Center. The area was not marked handicap parking leaving us to conclude that it was reserved for staff or volunteers.

Now, it’s 2016, y’all.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has been law since 1990. Many people live their lives differently-abled  and independently. Not everyone in a wheelchair has an attendant or an aide. I should be able to go and explore a botanical garden without having to rely on or wait for other people to open doors for me. I should be able to concentrate on my avocation of photography without fearing losing control of my wheelchair.

That’s what the ADA is about – independence to experience life.

I would not recommend Powell Gardens to someone with a manual wheelchair like I have, and even if you’re going with someone for company, if you have mobility issues, avoid the trolley. It’s picturesque, but it’s difficult to climb in and out of.





What Three Years Can Do

My last blog post for Just Visiting was October 2013.

Since then I have been employed in a position that I enjoy, but is often as frustrating as it is challenging, and have developed some health and wellness problems which has resulted in re-examining how I treat myself and interact with the world around me.

I have some issues which I consider “minor,” –high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, and depression. By minor, I mean they have the potential for becoming dire and serious, but if I watch myself, they are controllable.

For me, the biggest and most life-impacting diagnosis I received last summer is that I have osteoarthritis in my right hip (and I suspect I’m developing it in my left hip as well). Every person’s hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint cushioned by cartilage. Essentially, I have no more cartilage in my hip where the ball rotates in the socket; I have bone grinding on bone.

It’s no fun, of course, but a cortisone injection makes it bearable. Ultimately, the joint needs repairing, but I neither have $6500 (my medical deductible per year), nor do I have six weeks to spare as recovery time. But life must go on, eh?

Enter “Life and the Art of Accessibility.”

As many people know, I love my road trips (and my photography). I can still drive but exploring new places once at the destination is now challenging. I cannot walk distances like I used to. I use a cane for stability for short distances, but exploration is bigger than that.

For the longest time, I resisted the very idea of using a wheelchair for assistance.

It felt like capitulation.

What changed my mind was going with Misha to VisionCon in Branson, Missouri. VisionCon recently changed its venue to the Branson Convention Center which adjoins a Hilton Hotel. We borrowed a wheelchair from the Hilton concierge, and I had a fabulous time! I discovered wheeling myself around was fun, kept me mobile, kept me busy, and gave me a workout that is helping my upper body and getting my heart rate moving. It makes a mess of my steps numbers in my Fitbit Flex, but life isn’t perfect, is it?

Since then, we purchased a used wheelchair which I keep in my car. I can pull it out and go wheeling for exercise in the morning if my joints hurt too much to walk at the Grand Basin.

I can take it out and go shopping (wicked evil grin).

Best of all, I can go places and shoot photos again.

Now, however, I have to make use of ramps and power doors and pavement. I have become aware of inclines and downhills. Can I negotiate the gift shop? – or am I going to trash half of the displays along the way?

Oh brave new world!

And with it will come reviews of places — some ordinary, some not-so-ordinary — from an accessibility point of view. It will be truthful, and so it might be biting, but the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, and independent access to places should, by now, be less the exception than the rule, especially to places such as museums and botanical gardens.

So while the accessibility aspect of the review may not impact you now, it might at some future time, or it might be important for someone else in your life, as parents and grandparents age.

Who knows. Let’s just go!




Just Visiting: St. Louis Gateway Arch



Yesterday, I spent ninety minutes on the phone catching up with an old high school friend. He’s traveled to every continent on this planet except Antarctica, and will likely do that at some point, I’m sure. He links to travel blogs and challenged me to take a shot of the Arch  that hadn’t been done before.

Since “Just Visiting” is getting back on track as an actual road-trip blog, it’s only fitting and I accepted.

Now, I have pictures that my dad took of me at the Arch in 1968, when it had barely been open a year. I was about five. When I moved to St. Louis in 1988 or 1989, I didn’t drive and didn’t know anyone with a car. I got to know the Arch grounds and the surrounding downtown neighborhood  intimately. I’ve walked it. I’ve explored it. I’ve gotten drunk on the Landing and played slots when the Admiral was a casino.

I am here to tell you that I don’t believe there is a shot of the Arch that hasn’t been taken before. Just Google-image-search “St. Louis Gateway Arch.” Your return will get a gazillion images, including the architect’s drawings and crayon drawings. Do the same search on Flickr, and you’ll find more.

Also, there is a dearth of public observation decks in this town, unless you’re connected or can rent a riverfront hotel room for a couple of hours. In going through older photos I’ve taken of the Arch, I noticed that our urban planners didn’t give us any lovely, unobstructed views of the national monument, thereby ratcheting the need for creative camera angles even higher. (In St. Louis, “planners” is a very loosely defined word.)

But it’s all good.

You learn to work with it.

The thing about the Arch is that, obstructed or unobstructed, morning or night, winter or summer, it’s a gorgeous piece of engineering.

Its stainless steel exterior plays with light – no two mornings are ever alike, nor evenings, because of the changing nature of sunrises and sunsets. I’ve seen foggy mornings where half of the structure is lost in mist, and at 630 feet tall, that’s pretty impressive. If you watch sporting events originating from St. Louis, like baseball or football, you’ve likely seen local “beauty shots” incorporating it. Standing beneath it and staring straight up to its apex can almost as exhilarating as riding up the capsule-like elevator to the top, and feeling the whole structure sway slightly in the wind as you look out of the windows at the top.

It’s perfectly safe, though, and the view is spectacular. Don’t forget to ask the docent how they change the red airplane warning light outside on top!

For more information about the Arch, hours, admission charge to the top, link here.  The Arch, its grounds, and the Jefferson Expansion Memorial (which includes the History Museum in Forest Park), are administered and curated by the National Park Service.

(All photos by me, except the Feb 15 1968 set, which were taken by my dad.)

Just Visiting: Paducah, KY

Incorporated in 1830, Paducah is found at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, and is halfway between St. Louis to the west and Nashville to the east (about a 2 1/2 hour drive from St. Louis via I-64 east to I-57 south to I-24 east). A town with a strong river heritage, Paducah has decorated its flood walls with murals by artist Herb Roe (http://www.chromesun.com/).

 IMG_9972  Flood wall mural, Paducah








Not far from the downtown river area is Lower Town, an artists’ enclave started in 2000, which offered incentives to artists to relocate to Paducah. The idea was to have artists purchase many of the old, Victorian-era homes and turn them into gallery-residences.

One of these galleries is Stornoway House Gallery/The Pottery Place, owned by Carolyn and Wil MacKay. Mr. MacKay will cheerfully greet you as you walk in and introduce himself as “The Curmudgeon of Paducah,” but in actually, he’s a wealth of experience and information and an excellent painter. Mrs. MacKay is the potter, and her work is exquisite.  Addtionally, the Gallery has studio art glass, handcrafted wooden jewelry boxes and many other objets d’art. (Stornoway House Gallery, 513 North 6th Street, Paducah KY 42001)

IMG_0097 IMG_0051 IMG_0052