Image description: A light-grey map of the USA against a white background with state lines marked. 150 major cities are marked for Best for Disabled People on a colour scale from teal (worst) to purple (best).
WalletHub ranks the 150 Best and Worst Cities in the US for Disabled People. They measure ‘Economy,’ ‘Healthcare,’ and ‘Quality of Life.’ They list their methodology, including weightings. The criteria they use to assess Quality of Life, which is what interests me most, include:
- Percentage of disabled residents
- Number of wheelchair-accessible restaurants per 1,000 residents
- Number of wheelchair-accessible trails per capita
- Presence of Lyft wheelchair accessible vehicles
- Percentage of buildings built in 2000 or later (much more likely to be wheelchair accessible)
- The weather
The focus seems to be on mobility impairments. They don’t rank other accessibilities—presence of ASL interpreters, state funding for vocational resources, etc. But in their terms, the top three big cities for crip quality of life are Honolulu, San Francisco, and New York. Seattle ranks 23 of 150.
In terms of economy (which includes affordability and job discrimination) and healthcare, Seattle does much worse, ranking 111 and 42 respectively. But I have excellent healthcare (at least for now; don’t even get me started on next year) and I’m a writer, so employment discrimination doesn’t affect me much.
Seattle is a fine city: a bit pricey, a bit wet in winter, and eye-rollingly indecisive when it comes to decisions on transport infrastructure, but the best city I’ve encountered in this country. This is the place we chose more than 20 years ago when I finally got Resident Alien status because it has the best climate—politically, geophysically and economically—in the US. Also, it’s near the water, there are lots of trees, and people here know how to queue, which for me is a proxy for the kind of rules-based civility that I cherish. That civility sometimes crosses the line into after-you-no-after-you diffidence that can be dangerous (especially on the road) but if you add in the many pubs that sell British beer, the understanding of how to make a good cup of tea (and coffee), and the presence of excellent bakers and chocolatiers, staking our future on Seattle was a good decision. Admittedly it’s awful trying to travel from here—getting to any other major city involves flying for hours, or sitting on a train for days—but we knew that and it seemed a reasonable exchange for the good bits.
When we chose this city, though, I was not using a wheelchair; I was not using crutches; I wasn’t even using a cane. Now I am, and physical access is beginning to assume great significance.
Public transport is pretty good, mostly. Of course, you have to be able to get to the bus stop in order to use the fancy kneel-down or lower-the-lift buses, and then the nifty street-level streetcars or light rail, and without a car this is not possible from our house. We live at the bottom of a very steep hill, and even if I had superhuman arm power, there are no sidewalks, there are blind curves, and the city helpfully built an insurmountable berm across the bottom of our driveway. Perhaps if I lived in a condo in one of the denser city neighbourhoods, maybe everything would be groovy. That is, if I could get into the bars and restaurants—if I could levitate over this two-inch lip on the so-called wheelchair ramp, or open that supposedly ADA-compliant door, or navigate those narrow spaces between tables, then float magically up the flight of stairs to the bathroom and pass through the immovable-slab of a door like a ghost.
But the weather here does suit someone with MS: not too cold, not too hot (except for this week, which is going to be scorching); not too dry (except in summer) and not too wet (except in winter). Other cities that rank high in terms of accessible infrastructure mostly have terrible weather for someone like me—that is, they get way too hot for way too long. (Also: bugs.)
So unless Kelley or I get offered a fabulous job in Canada or New Zealand or Ireland, we’ll probably stay. At least for now.
7 thoughts on “Shut out: measuring disability and segregation in US cities”
I have been encouraging my children to emigrate to New Zealand for years. One of them is getting her teaching chops to be able to be accepted by New Zealand as a new citizen.
Disability makes me ineligible for immigration to many countries. In New Zealand I would have to apply for a medical waiver.
Thank you for sharing this information with us. I hope things improve in Seattle, access-wise. I’m glad you’re raising awareness about the difficulties there.
I’m too old to qualify for citizenship in NZ no matter how much I could go with but my kids can get in and then as their father I could qualify as an ex-patriot.
In terms of getting around a European (continental) city without a car I would recommend Barcelona. I’ve got moderate to painful mobility problems (71-year knee joints) and my mother was a post-polio paraplegic (that’s how she introduced herself), so I notice these things. Almost every intersection had really good curb cuts, with practical ramps and grooves for blind people.
The metro is navigable, although this is not always evident. There were a number of stations where we would have to go up/down a level then transfer to another lift, but I don’t remember any that weren’t wheelchair-accessible with a little fiddling.
OTOH, navigating the Metro in Washington DC was occasionally frustrating. I can manage some stairs; I estimate the difficulty/aka pain level to be roughly n * square root of n, where n is the number of steps. In other words, climbing 9 steps would be about 27 times (3 * 9) as difficult as climbing one. Many of the stairways in DC were difficult for me to navigate.
@Tom: I’ve heard many good things about Barcelona. NYC and London just suck I didn’t even try DC.
Low blood sugar means my response here is suspect.
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