Sunday, December 28, 2008

How Do You Zoo?

Dear Washington National Zoo;

My children and I were so excited about our visit yesterday. I had checked out your website to make sure the park was accessible, and you said that it was. You specifically mentioned that ALL exhibits were wheelchair accessible, and that all the bathrooms were handicapped accessible. Imagine my surprise when we arrived and I discovered that you had lied.

Three of your parking lots had handicapped parking, so you said. It’s true that you had three parking spaces in each of those lots that had the big blue wheelchair guy painted on the ground. But, there were no lanes next to the parking spaces. Fortunately, I didn’t have a van equipped with a wheelchair lift, because if I had, I would not have been able to get my daughter out of our van. Needless to say, I wasn’t real happy to pay the $20 parking fee.

You did warn on your website that the grounds of the zoo were in hilly Rock Creek Park. You weren’t kidding. Fortunately, I had two strong teenaged sons to push Ashley’s wheelchair. I’m not sure I could have done it myself.

One of the first things I noticed was that most of the exhibits were not quite as accessible as you indicated. I understand that we couldn’t get very close to the wild animals, but none of your informational signs had either Braille or raised lettering. Nor was there any sort of audio system available for a person who might be blind or visually impaired, as my daughter is.

Most of the doors leading to the indoor exhibits were not equipped with an automatic opener. Again, I had my sons to help with the doors, but if I was alone and in a wheelchair, I could not have gotten into most of the indoor exhibits.

And let’s talk about the so-called handicapped accessible bathrooms. I visited the two main bathrooms on Olmstead Walk. Both facilities had lots of stalls – probably close to 30 or 40 – but only one of them was marked as handicapped accessible. I guess you didn’t anticipate that more than one person in a wheelchair would need to use the bathroom at any given time. But even worse, the one stall marked as handicapped accessible in both bathrooms was unusable. Both toilets were stopped up, and the floors of both were covered in filthy water. We were in the park for over three hours, and the two handicapped accessible stalls stayed that way the entire time. I can’t begin to find the words to describe how difficult it was for my daughter to use the restroom.

Things were no better in the one indoor restaurant you provided. It was hard to swallow that it cost $45 for 4 hotdogs, 4 orders of fries, and 4 drinks, but even harder to swallow was the fact that I couldn’t get my daughter’s wheelchair down the aisles to a table. There was no room.

Washington National Zoo, I am so very disappointed in you. And I’m angry – angry that you use my tax dollars yet my daughter can’t use your facilities. I read your ten year strategic plan that is posted on your website, and there is no mention whatsoever in that plan of accessibility. How, as a government entity, do you get away with that?

We won’t be back...


MB said...

That sucks!

Only recently did they learn how to stop killing their animals, so it could be awhile before they get their act together.

Anonymous said...

I agree, it is outrageous! I truly don't understand why public venues refuse to make the effort to be accessible when the majority of the changes would be so incredibly simple. And it is completely unacceptable when it's taxpayer funded!

We've only been to National Zoo a few times (and I've lived just down the road from it my entire life!) and I've always been disappointed (difficult parking, unclean/unsanitary restrooms, animals don't appear well cared for, too expensive) and I remember it was difficult to get around with a stroller -I can't imagine with a wheelchair.