For travelers with disabilities, trips are made so much easier when accurate information about accessibility is available.
With that in mind, The Valuable 500 – a collective of CEOs dedicated to disability inclusion – conducted a survey this past fall asking disabled travelers which destinations they found most accessible globally.
"It was super important for us to go from anecdotal evidence and what we're hearing day in and day out from the community to actually launching empirical research on this," Rhiannon Parker, Valuable 500's chief innovation officer, told USA TODAY. "What the disability community is asking for in that report (is) to just be treated with kindness and dignity and understanding."
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Las Vegas, New York and Orlando, Florida, were deemed the most disability-friendly cities in the U.S. by the survey's 3,500 respondents (along with international destinations including Amsterdam, Tokyo and Sydney) and The Valuable 500 plans to release more research on traveling with disabilities.
What the survey looked at
"It's really important to acknowledge that disability isn't a monolith. There's a wide continuum of disability, so those needs being met are specific to each community," Parker said.
The Valuable 500's survey asked respondents to consider a city's transportation links, proximity of accommodation to cultural attractions, shops and restaurants, and the availability of information about accessibility in their answers.
Many disabled travelers told USA TODAY that the last category is especially important.
"It's great to show (photos of) that beautiful vase that sits on the table and the amenities and those things, but that's not what they're interested in. They need to know, is there a lip that prevents me from going from the hallway into the bathroom?" Parker said. "What are the barriers that I'm going to face there?"
Every place has its own challenges when it comes to accessibility. Old cities like New York or London can be difficult to retrofit to modern accessibility standards, while places like Orlando, where the tourism industry is heavily theme park-dependent, have a different (and often more easily controlled) landscape.
Las Vegas: 'They just seem like they've got it down'
Like most Las Vegas locals, Raquel and Ryan O'Neill aren't visiting the Strip every weekend. But they say the times they do go out, they have been met with accommodating service, especially when compared to other tourist destinations.
Both of the O'Neills are blind and work at Blind Connect, a nonprofit that offers life skills and employment training to people affected by vision loss. They said most of the shows they've attended on the Strip offer audio descriptions, and live performances like the Marriage Can Be Murder dinner show aren’t afraid to incorporate them into the act.
"For us, it's been pretty positive," said Ryan, who’s lived in Las Vegas since 2002. "In our experience, it's the best place for at least blindness disabilities because they just seem like they've got it down."
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Compare that to other destinations like Utah and California, where hotels have tried to charge them for bringing in service dogs (which goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act) or a stop in Mexico on a Carnival Cruise trip that wouldn't let them take part in a horseback riding excursion.
"People will try to stop us and think they know what's best for us. That's not necessarily the case," Raquel said. "I think that's the biggest thing about traveling as a blind person. You can't let other people's low expectations stop you from (doing what you want to do)."
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Raquel added that she's had positive experiences with staff and visitors alike in Las Vegas.
While finding a restaurant or show inside a casino can be challenging, the couple said concierge desks and security guards are always willing to lend a hand, and they've never had an issue bringing their service dogs into a Strip venue.
That's not to say that there's no room for improvement. Raquel noted that some design choices can be disorienting, like an abundance of mirrors lining the inside of casinos, or walkways on the Strip that shuffle tourists in and out of shopping centers.
"I get it, the mirrors probably make it look bigger and it brings in more light," Raquel said. "But I've heard from a ton of our people that we train at our center that those mirrors really mess with people with low vision."
New York: 'They haven't put a lot of funding where their mouth is'
Gaelynn Lea, a musician and disability rights advocate from Duluth, Minnesota, has visited New York City numerous times since her first tour in 2016. Lea has Osteogenesis Imperfecta and uses an electric wheelchair for mobility. She said things in New York have improved over the past seven years, but the city could be doing more.
"More businesses have permanent ramps or portable ones they'll bring out," she said, but these one-off solutions at individual businesses don't necessarily make the city accessible as a whole.
"For a place with so much culture and such progressive values, they haven't put a lot of funding where their mouth is."
In particular, Lea said, the city's subway system and Broadway theaters have a lot of room for improvement, especially when it comes to accommodating wheelchair users.
"We use buses a lot when we're there because pretty much all the buses are accessible, and a lot of the subway stations aren't," she said.
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When Lea was invited to previews for Macbeth on Broadway after composing the show's music, she said she wasn't even sure she'd be able to get a seat.
"I had one of the three wheelchair-accessible seats in the entire 900-seat auditorium," she told USA TODAY. "During one of the dress rehearsals, we got four tickets, and I invited three people who had wheelchairs, and they had to do major troubleshooting to make sure I still had room to see the preview."
In the end, Lea said, New York is a relatively accessible city, but a combination of businesses adopting some simple best practices and targeted policy improvements could make it even better.
"Some of the simple solutions are: start having the conversation with disabled people, your disabled customers or whatever, (about) what you can do better, and start implementing them," she said. She added that making accessibility information prominent online can save a lot of strife for tourists.
Orlando: 'They will one-up themselves'
Bethany Hildebrandt's family has found a lot of destinations aren't as accessible as they claim to be, but one place they return to regularly is Walt Disney World in Orlando, which offers numerous accommodations for people with disabilities.
Her eldest, Kaylee, has cerebral palsy, among other conditions, and uses a wheelchair full-time.
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"Usually, they not only are accommodating, but they will one-up themselves. Like, 'We want this for you, but we can't make it happen, so we're going to make it even better for you instead.' " Hildebrand previously told USA TODAY.
Across Facebook affinity pages, there is big praise for Walt Disney World's DAS: Disabilities Accessible Services. DAS, Disney states on the website, "is intended for guests who have difficulty tolerating extended waits in a conventional queue environment due to a disability."
This pass doesn't get guests onto rides immediately, or on all rides, but allows users to return at a time that's comparable to the current standby wait. Guests using DAS can then "enjoy other experiences in the park instead of physically waiting in the standby line."
All major Orlando theme parks – Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND – offer accommodations for disabilities, not just those required by law but ones that make for a more inviting experience.
Contributing: Britt Kennerly, Florida Today
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best US cities for disabled travelers: New York, Las Vegas, Orlando