When I am skimming through the various San Francisco related subreddits, there’s one kind of post guaranteed to get me commenting. It’s when someone asks for tips on where to bring their relatives who are elderly and frail and coming for a visit. The responses are almost uniformly ridiculous. Someone is wrong on the internet! I have to intervene!
The kind answers mean well but have no concept of what disability or frailty actually mean. Someone can even specify, my grandma is 95 and can only walk maybe 100 feet, and has a broken knee.
Inevitably there will be advice to take great-grandma on a day long trip around the entire Bay Area.
Sure, just drive 2 hours and then have a 1/4 mile walk at Henry Cowell park! Go the Palace of the Legion of Honor (not horrible advice, but just getting into the building even from the disabled parking spots (and there are only 2 spots) is way more than 100 feet. Blithe advice to rent a wheelchair or use the museum chairs!
I know people want their relative’s visit to be special and I totally respect that.
I guess there are a lot of assumptions to break down:
– An elderly and frail person who may be in some amount of pain, will enjoy a day long outing where they have to sit up in a car
– They even give a hoot about seeing the sights. They are probably there to see you. They have seen a bridge before! Maybe even they’ve seen a lot of oceans! Take them to tea and let them have a nap! Order take out! Jeez!!!
– They just flew here (difficult enough) to SF. Don’t then expect to drive them to Monterey or Pescadero or whatever. That is a lot of traveling time!
– An 85 year old with a limp and has a bunch of health problems is able to do the same things as a 25 year old who has their ankle in a cast for a month and zooms about with a knee scooter. No! Very unlikely!
– Taking the ferry. Always gets suggested since it sounds nice and sedentary and you see the sights. I adore the ferry, but it means a lot of walking and standing in line. It is not a short or trivial distance. I would not be able to do it at all without a power wheelchair. Kind of a bad idea depending on the location (ie, SF, no – bad idea. Richmond, actually, there is parking super close to the ferry terminal but it is still a hike from the car, then up and down those ramps onto the boat.)
– Wildly underestimating distances, because they are trivial to you and you don’t notice them
– Going somewhere loud, overwhelming, and crowded where you have to walk a lot and there is not anywhere to sit (for example, the ferry building – it’s great but be sure you know the walking capacity of your relative)
– Doing all of the above but also adding in some small children. Sure, do all that with some toddlers, sounds like a blast????? Think of the little kids as people with completely different access needs.
Now obviously there must be super energetic adventurous 90 year olds who are game to hop on the cable cars and hike around Muir Woods and so on. If you have one of those as your visiting relative you probably know it!
Fun outings for visitors with limited mobility
So what would I suggest in the cases where someone is visiting and has limited mobility, but no assistive device other than our friend, the automobile? I suggest the following, because these are things that I like to do, and can do, when I’m not walking well but also not using my wheelchair (usually because I don’t feel like loading a giant power chair in and out of the car trunk).
– Pick up or make nice picnic food. Drive somewhere close by, and scenic, where you can either sit in the car, or there is a park bench like 10 steps from the car. Then, and I cannot stress this enough, go home and chill out.
– Land’s End/Sutro baths overlook. You can get out of the car at the Sutro overlook parking lot and it is like, less than 10 steps to sit there on the wall or on a nice bench. Bring a thermos and some cups and have a little mini picnic. Take photos. Very scenic. Bring a bird identification guide (i like the small laminated ones with the most common birds) or a nice map.
– Drive through San Bruno mountain, end up in McLaren Park and have a picnic anywhere you spot a nice bench walkable from the car.
– Fort Funston if the idea of watching people hangglide is interesting to your visitor. The wooden overlook/boardwalk is actually a bit far of a walk for our 100-foot-limit person. Instead – you can either sit in the car right by where the hang gliders take off, or bring folding chairs and set up where you can see them. No need to really walk down there!
– Pacifica Pier Chit Chat cafe. It is tiny but kind of exciting if you like piers and fishing and all that.
– Pillar Point harbor, a little more of a drive but not too far. Barbara’s fish shack is my favorite, and has picnic tables and indoor seating but if there is a line just go to sam’s chowder house. Lovely harbor views, working fishing harbor.
– Consider cab directly to where you want to go if it is a restaurant and then don’t assume you are doing another thing. Do one thing! Then go home! Rest! Relax!
– If you are doing something where you plan to drop off your relative and pick them up think about whether there is anywhere for them to sit while they wait for you. Make sure there is and make the walking distance super minimal. Scout in advance if you don’t know. Also think about where the bathrooms are (like if you walk into a restaurant and it’s minimal distance, that still may be difficult, if they have to walk across the length of a giant building and down some stairs to get to the bathroom – and back!)
– Tea at Lovejoy’s is nice but I also think just going to your own neighborhood cafe or lunch spot if it’s close enough, is great.
– Wheelchairs you rent or borrow in a museum can be great, but make sure your relative is actually willing to sit in one! Will they have fun or will they feel helpless, self conscious, and have to confront all their fears and ableism? Is this the time for processing that?
Other ideas, for not going out:
Ask what shows they like and watch some of that with them.
Do some tech support for them on their phone or device. Like ask what they use it for and what are things that bug them. Fix that shit ! You can do it!
Look at photo albums and talk about the times they show and what you all were doing
Ask for help mending or fixing small stuff
Cook something together that they like to cook
Why does this bug me so much?
I think it bugs me so much because of the entire adult lifetime I have of people assuming I can do things, and them being optimistic, and my own ambitions and pride and enthusiasm on top, getting me into bad situations. “Oh yeah it’s really close” …. only to find that it absolutely isn’t.
As I get older as a wheelchair user and sometimes-short-distance-walker, I’m not even that old, but I certainly have a closer view, I now have more insight about how to slow down and enjoy things in a different way.
So, anyway, I jump into those threads, point out some of the too-ambitious things people have suggested, and mention some easier options.