Accessibility in Nashville, Tennessee

Posted by Ally Grizzard in Life After Paralysis on November 18, 2019 # Mobility, Advocacy and Policy, Travel, Relationships

Ally Grizzard in Nashville, TennesseeMy husband and I love to travel and love the adventure of seeing new places and doing new things. It's something that we do often. We just returned home from Nashville, Tennessee last week and there's a great agitation in me to speak up about the accessibility around the city. Lately, I have only been taking to my Instagram to share about the ease of accessibility on all of our trips, but because of the experience, I thought it would be great to share in this blog post of mine here at the Reeve Foundation as well to prevent any future inconvenience in the event that you may travel to Nashville too! When visiting Nashville, I recommend you take four to five full days if you plan to visit all sites in the immediate and surrounding areas of downtown, including Franklin, TN and plan to do any tours of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, etc. Or, I recommend two to three full days if you are only interested in seeing downtown/Broadway, which will be a bit of a struggle from a wheelchair and I'll be explaining why below!

We loved our stay in Nashville and had a blast doing everything the city had to offer! We gave ourselves five days, because we knew we wanted to explore everything. We toured the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. We chose the backstage tour at the Opry for a bigger experience and it didn't disappoint! Each tour took around two or so hours a piece, so I recommend starting early in the day if you want to do more than one in one day! We had a blast learning about the history behind country music and some of country music's biggest stars. Every tour was fully accessible, which made them even better! Every location was equipped with elevators, ramps, handrails and accessible restrooms. Plus, we had front row seating to the introductions of the tours just so I could see and not miss anything, and we had no wait in the entrance lines! They not only offer full accessibility for mobility impairments, but they also offer full accessibility for visual and auditory impairments! Service animals are, of course also allowed in each one! Everything was perfect and if you are a huge country music fan like us, you will love it too!

However, sight-seeing on Broadway specifically and wheeling up and down most of the streets in downtown is where a problem with accessibility lies in Nashville. There is nothing about Broadway that is accessible really. The sidewalks are too narrow to fit the crowds of people walking shoulder to shoulder with each other and someone like me in my manual wheelchair at the same time, maneuvering through everyone and everything, not to mention the very steep hills and pot holes to watch out for, but what infuriates me the most is the restaurants and bars not being wheelchair accessible in any form whatsoever! After maneuvering through the rough sidewalks and crowds, you're going to want to enter into one of restaurants for a bite to eat and maybe a drink, but you can't because there are only stairs, stairs and MORE stairs just to enter each one. I'm a big fan of Luke Bryan, so I hate to say it, but his was the worst out of all. I'm not even sure how most of the buildings are allowed to have their doors open for business with no way for people like us in wheelchairs to even enter. At one point, we were outside of Jason Aldean's restaurant contemplating on where to go and how we were going to enter and one of the bartenders saw us and offered to help bring me inside. He explained that they indeed did have an elevator in the back that was for employees that I could use, so we took him up on his offer thinking it would be great, only to get inside and find that there was not one single low table for me to sit at. They only had high-top tables and barstools at the bar. I asked an employee if they had any low tables and she told me they did not and offered for me to eat at a coffee table in a corner, which would put me leaning all the way over the whole time to eat. I quickly told her “no thanks” and we left. We got so frustrated with Broadway in general that we didn't return there at all the rest of our trip because it was such a hassle.

After talking with my spinal cord injury friends who live in Nashville and taking to social media, I quickly learned I'm not the only person in a wheelchair who has had this experience. It's a very common complaint from those of us within the disabled community who have visited and those who even live in Nashville that no one else has ever really spoken up about. It's time for us to speak up and advocate for ourselves in these situations in order to make a difference and a change in the public places that allow these problems. We, as wheelchair users are supposed to have the right to equal access, per the ADA, but sadly most of the time we still don't! In order for us to function effectively and safely in our everyday life, we need to have physical and social access to the same spaces, entertainment and community as everyone else. When we are accommodated for, our disabilities don't limit our ability to fully participate in life. I, myself, only consider my disability as a “disability” when it gets in the way of me living, and I know that most of us feel the same.

Access for those of us with disabilities is not only the law, but it's also a matter of fairness and respect. It also makes for better business and economic sense for these businesses. Accessibility means that we can become customers, which increases their sales volumes and profits. When a public place is accessible, it also affects their reputation positively! I believe in Nashville and I believe with the proper initiatives and steps in place, it can become accessible for all! Until then, we should all continue to speak up and advocate for ourselves on these problems, because in reality we aren't only advocating for ourselves, but for every single person with a disability. Inclusion will always involve input from those of us who actually live with the disabilities, so it's up to us, the ones impacted by the problems, to create a change in the public places that allow these problems to continue!

Connect with Ally Grizzard on Reeve Connect or on Instagram @allygrizzard.