Have you ever wondered what it might be like to get around Marietta if you were wheelchair bound? I know that many disabled people can walk a little, so they are able to bypass some of the obstacles. But some people just can’t. Maybe their family has left them at home during the Sternwheeler because they haven’t had lifetime experience with what I’m calling “wheelchair savvy.” Darla has that and I asked her to explain how to get around Marietta for people who might be recently disabled or even temporarily disabled. No need to stay home during festivities or even to shop downtown Marietta. Read on. You or your loved one will be happy you did! ~ Christiane Marshall
For the ones who haven’t read my biography, I am going to start out with a fact that you will need to know before we can go any further. I am in a wheelchair. I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 which is a form of Muscular Dystrophy. I am confined to a power wheelchair. I am in my wheelchair 95% of the day due to not having the easy ability of transferring out of my wheelchair. When I do transfer it is at home with the help of my Hoyer lift into my bed or the restroom.
Go to the Sternwheeler Festival!
Now that we have that out of the way, I am ready to tell you how to access the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival on Wheels or via wheelchair travel. This was recently asked by one of my friends, who said that they have always wondered how I travel during the festival. I never realized that this was anything to wonder about… to me it’s just a part of adjusting the travel plans to fit my needs. So I am going to write a few tips for others who may have a disability that confines them to a wheelchair, or to someone who has a family or friend who is confined to a wheelchair.
Once we get parked and unloaded, we always go out to find a spot to sit. The festival has always had a designated wheelchair-accessible spot to sit if you choose to. This spot is generally near the flagpole on Ohio Street, located across from Blacksmith Barbecue.
Now, to travel down to this spot can be quite tricky. Walking the sidewalk isn’t always best if your chair tends to tip easily. Due to the fact that the sidewalks have a slight slant to let you get down to the road, there is usually a drop of about three to five inches. The access to get to the bathroom stalls would be very easy for me to pass by to get back to Greene Street (food vendors) from the spot we sit if it wasn’t for this three- to five-inch dropoff. My chair doesn’t climb and I’m not sure if I trust it on not tipping. So I have a couple of options. One, go down to the next sidewalk/street curb slant near the Levee House Cafe. It has a nice slant with no dropoff. This is very easy for power wheelchairs, but I wouldn’t recommend for manual chairs due to the cracks on the slant. I could imagine wheels getting caught in these cracks. Sometimes this option is there because it is one of the first areas that get taken by people and their camp chairs and blankets. So the next option is to walk back up to Second Street then turn down Ohio Street.
Once the spot is picked, it’s not easy to unpack my chair and leave my spot, seeing how I need my wheelchair to move. So we always use a blanket to mark our spot. Now if we have decided to sit in places other than the wheelchair-designated spot, we have come to find out it is a lot harder to mark the spot. The blanket sometimes gets missed or the spot gets crowded and shrunk by people not realizing that there needs to be enough room for a wheelchair. So we have always picked the designated wheelchair spot for the last several years. Which usually benefits us better. It is usually taped off so people with wheelchairs and their families only enter, and when a blanket is on the ground people usually think a wheelchair is returning to the spot and it gets left open.
Traveling to view the boats is actually very easy thanks to the bike trail, boat ramp and dock. Sidewalks getting up and onto these are easily accessed and with little to no trouble in a power wheelchair or manual wheelchair. And the whole reason for the festival is to see the boats. It is a sight that I’m happy I can access and see.
Comments From the Crowd as I Pass in my Wheelchair
I do have to admit traveling the crowd is not for the weak hearted. The crowd is extremely hard to get through especially on the evening of the fireworks. I am not sure if I can count to the number of times I had to say excuse me can I squeeze through here please. Then there are people with all kinds of comments. Comments like “I don’t envy you;” “Just run over them;” “You need a horn on that thing;” “She’s going to hit somebody.” Or there are always people who you ask to move over and they only move two inches and act like they moved over enough. Or people who push their way around you. The only advice I have for these moments is to have patience and remember that they don’t understand. I usually just ignore the bad comments, agree with the good comments, laugh at the funny ones.
Getting Around Marietta in a Wheelchair
One of the hardest things for me personally is navigating the brick roads; depending on the mobility of the person this can be very uncomfortable. There is no way getting around the brick roads due to this event being held in downtown Marietta. The best advice is go slow. Use a tilt position if your wheelchair offers that. Never buy a drink that doesn’t have a lid if you’re the one carrying it. I had to learn that lesson the hard way; we bought my daughter a drink without a lid and we put it in the cup holder on the stroller, and the drink went everywhere as soon as we got on a brick street. Thankfully I wasn’t holding it and it didn’t go on my daughter but still it is a lesson that I learned — a drink with no lid and a brick road don’t work if you’re traveling by wheels.
When a Wheelchair Won’t, People Will Help
There are non-accessible moments that just can’t be avoided. In a few of the local shops, wheelchairs aren’t able to enter. This is due to stairs, small doorways, etc. Downtown is historic and some structures can’t be renovated to meet ADA standards. One of my favorite stores is Twisted Sister but unfortunately I haven’t been in there since I was a teenager and my dad could carry me in my manual chair. But these owners are usually friendly and if I send someone in, the associate will come out and ask if I was looking for anything in particular. They are usually very nice and will bring out a couple new pieces for me to see. Another store is Schafer Leather. Their main entrance has stairs but luckily they do have a second entrance. Though this entrance isn’t used, they will move the racks blocking it to allow wheelchairs to come through that entrance when requested. Lafayette Hotel’s main entrance isn’t accessible either, but there is a ramp located on the side of the building that is open to the public.
I hope this helps someone in the future and raises awareness to others when they see a wheelchair wheeling through the crowd. See you all at the 41st Ohio River Sternwheel Festival!
Do you have any tips that you may have noticed for a wheelchair-bound person?