Pet peeve about local tourist advice

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.

8 thoughts on “Pet peeve about local tourist advice

  1. Thank you so much for this! It’s a great reminder that an outing doesn’t have to include All The Things. And the specific suggestions for places to visit in San Francisco are very helpful.

  2. What’s blithe about the advice to rent a wheelchair? Is it a question of self-consciousness? I feel like I’ve been seeing people on walks with folks in manual wheelchairs in Golden Gate Park pretty often, and it seems nice.

    Which reminds me of a program I read about a while ago, which might be useful for some people: free adaptive cycle rentals, also in GGP. I’m not sure they’re still active, but their number is 510.848.2930. Not for everyone, no doubt, but it might be a really interesting thing to try for some people.

    1. A bunch of issues with it and I can try to explain! I actually do not mind sharing as it may help you with your own loved ones someday.

      (Also: I love the idea in your mefi comment (I think that is you) that we might have fleets of cargo and recumbent and transit-providing ebike riders all over town. That would be amazing and I would TOTALLY HOP INTO YOUR bike basket or trailer or sidecar. Dope!!!! It should be a whole movement…. Why doordash your dinner when you can Sidecar /tandem bike to the cafe with a helpful thick-thighed bike genius. Maybe with a special clip to hold a manual wheelchair )

      Ok so, for context, I’ve been a wheelchair user for most of my adult life and have kind of been around the block here. I’ve had horrible chairs, great chairs, scooters, trikes, and powerchairs (which are now my jam). During good times I can walk maybe a block and back, maybe two, even if I have to go super slow and go crab-ways up hill as my ankles won’t DO that. Some of the time, I can’t even get around my own house without my nice, rigid frame, super sporty, (now retired to indoor) manual chair from 15 years ago. I mostly get around on foot inside, with lots of rests, and outdoors in the city, with my powerchair and buses, the light rail ie MUNI trains, and BART. I also now have a folding powerchair that is light enough for me (again, on a good day) to wrestle into a car and then get it out again and do something and then fold it back up and shove it back into the car and then get it out AGAIN when I’m home, but that is a pretty draining activity that doesn’t leave me a lot of energy for anything else. (Never mind if I’m trying to do multiple stops). While for much of the last 10 years I was not able to drive a car, I did spend years in the past popping the wheels off my manual chair while sitting in the front seat of my car and then pulling the wheels and frame in after me, over the steering wheel. It is kind of a dream for me to imagine walking with my cane a block away to the bus stop, getting on the bus, going anywhere, getting out (like maybe a cafe to sit in?) and then I would need to cross the street and probably walk another half block to the bus stop home and then walk to my house. It seems almost doable, but I am not able to do it and have to accept I might not get there.

      And one more dream is that I can kind of ride an ebike, finally, after not being able move my ankles like that at all, for the last 10 or so years, also, I can now usually support my weight and the bike weight on one leg when stopping. (However – THEN WHAT. I have to be able to sit somewhere and have the physical ability to lock the bike, walk (!) to a place i can sit, get to a bathroom on the painful meat sticks called LEGS and then also get home. So I have tried it for very small loops. Baby steps… It is hard for me to do without doing too much and utterly fucking up my body.

      You seem like the sort of nice person who would try and persuade me to ride an adaptive bike with hand controls or something. A) I am not sporty in the slightest b) I would just fuck up my hands and shoulders, I already did that with years of manual chair use far past when I should have switched to electric power. Ditto with hand controls for a car – probably not happening.

      Anyway, THESE DAYS my best bet is powerchair + bus. Multiple buses, or for the East Bay bus, BART, another bus, takes at least double, often triple the time for a car. I enjoy transit and so that is often OK even tho I work full time and have a busy life.

      Very often, usually a few times a week, I am approached by older strangers (more context, I’m 53) who ask me all sorts of questions about my chair, other wheelchair options, etc etc. It is either about their own mobility or about someone they are close to who might benefit.

      More context. Consider that Boomers, some of them, are the ones who fought hard for disability rights and a few were able to benefit from access to schools and work and accessible public places. This is pretty damn recent!

      To what seems to me like the majority of older-than-me folks, any sort of assistive device is scary and there is immense stigma attached to being disabled. They associate it with helplessness or vulnerability and are afraid of losing their independence or being treated like they are crippled. Tons of people just accept the slow shrinking of their abilities and therefore of their world – the world they can actually get to.

      I think you could read more about both the amazing struggles and political battles – to form a whole political identity – about disabled people’s rights, empowerment, valueing and celebrating interdependence, and even deeper, to the concepts of disability justice!

      You could also think about why that struggle exists and part of that is because of the very real stigma I mentioned. If you look at who the police shoots – a large number of people murdered by cops are disabled. A huge percentage of homeless and underhoused people, and people in poverty in general, are disabled. I am like in the .0001 % of disabled people with advanced university degrees and a great job and a lot of independence and yet I have also had my years of isolation, poverty, living on welfare, and frankly abject fear.

      Now try to think about that poverty and struggle, for someone who is like 85 years old and been pretty healthy all their life. Unlike me, they have no political framework built up. They have to grow into it in their own way and many people are really not willing to accept it until they can’t avoid it. Then, it’s more about being pushed around in a (very bad, heavy, impossible to manage on their own) hospital style chair, to doctors appointments etc. And it sucks to be in those dehumanizing institutional environments (even if they save your life now and then) Again, no framework, no politics, no armor, only deep internalized ablism and being treated like a child, disrespected, etc.

      I also, myself, don’t like when people “help” me without my consent and that happens a LOT, like, people want to push you, or open doors, or act helpy, but it is about their perception of me as some sort of vulnerable being inexplicably on the loose with out an attendant, about their own fears of disability, illness, and mortality, and about their desire to be perceived as a good, helpy person. (Even against my polite-or-not refusal of their help which I did not ask for or want)

      I could go on but, that is why, when people ask me about wheelchairs on the bus or when i am grocery shopping or whatever, I take the time and talk with them and try to represent, in my own life, that impairment and disablity don’t mean you are trapped in your house, or shouldn’t mean it, and using a wheelchair or powerchair can be amazing, liberating, fun, and even look fucking cool (as it is when I do it…)

      Disabilty as I have experienced it, means that I am emotionally well equipped for old age.

      Is any of this thinking going to save me from old age and death in some sort of terrifying nursing home where I utterly lack agency ? TBH it may not and it is the specter we are all facing as we get older. So, learn about it now, while you are flexible enough mentally and while you have the energy.

      HOWEVER yes , you can rent a mobility scooter for something like $150 a week in most big cities, and manual chairs for a little less. I often suggest that too!! I know where you can do it in this town. Whenever I go to tech or other conferences, I suggest that the conference organizers add that local info on scooter rental for their attendees!

      Everyone has a big butt, and mine is that, if your frail, gonna die in bed in pain if she breaks a hip, 85 year old grandma is coming to town, Please be sure you know what you’re doing and are not going to hit a crack in the sidewalk and tump her out onto her face. And that she can transfer properly into and out of the chair and that you know to put the brakes on when doing that! Also, driving a scooter does not come easy to everyone, it takes some practice, and even more practice to do something like riding the bus. That’s why there are skilled occupational therapists to help people learn and practice it!

      This comment is probalbly longer than my original post!

      More power to your bad ass bike evangelizing self! Thanks for engaging!

  3. Thank you for the response! It wasn’t actually me, though I also enjoyed reading it, and came from there (I can see why you’d think so).

    Last year I had the pleasure of meeting a man who had just set a distance record for hand-cycling, coming from Alaska, so that was fun.

  4. Represent Liz!

    In addition to the internalized stigma/shame, there’s a practical concern.

    The manual wheelchairs provided at museums are massively uncomfortable. They’re one-size-fits-nobody. Imagine going on vacation and you’re required to wear wrong-season shoes which are 2 sizes too big.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I work as a professional tour guide and, when doing public tours with different families, one wheel chair or walking cane changes the pace of the tour. It’s my job to look out for those who may need the most help and, sometimes, even I need reminders. So many thanks for this.

    A brief story: I recently had a family with a 13-year old girl in a wheel chair taking a tour to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This young lady impressed me so much, asking great questions, laughing at my worst jokes, and generally “into it” far more than most people her age. But her big excitement was getting to see Ellis Island where her ancestors had come in. I was thrilled that someone this young knew why Ellis Island was so interesting and wondrous. By the time we left the statue, to get back on the boat and head to Ellis, this young lady’s condition (I don’t know what it was and didn’t want to step on toes by asking) had put her in so much pain, the family decided they needed to skip Ellis and go straight back to the city and rest. I was heartbroken for her because I knew how excited she had been to see it. I only hope she comes back one day.

    1. You know what, I hear that and yet I’m so happy for that girl that her family listened to her and adapted their plan to let her have rest and respite!!!

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