Without a doubt, one of Chicago’s best features is its many accessible activities for people who use wheelchairs. Travelers to the Windy City will have an array of things to do and places to go without worrying about accessibility, from the Chicago Botanic Garden to the Magnificent Mile.
If you’re looking to experience the other City That Never Sleeps, there are plenty of ways to see the sights in Chicago. Known for its incredible dining, bountiful public parks, and lakeside views, and iconic art museums, the Windy City can make for a weekender’s dream.
Before you go, make sure you check out local event listings for attractions or seasonal events that you might want to visit. And of course, plan ahead—print out guides, maps, and other materials, or make a Google doc of sights you might want to visit.
If you're visiting with family, be sure to check the weather. Chicago is known to be blustery and blunt throughout the fall season, so don't let the afternoon be de-railed when you have to run into a nearby store to find a jumper for the kids to keep them entertained when it's too chilly to bring them sightseeing.
Create a loose schedule with addresses and general information for each attraction you might explore. Make a list of local wheelchair repair services in the area as well as taxis and transportation. This way, you’ll spend less time on your phone searching for activities, and more time enjoying Chicago!
Accessible Lodging in Chicago
It’s easy to find a Chicago hotel with accessible options, including many well-known hotel chains, such as Comfort Suites and Quality Inn.
For hotels more central to shopping, dining and doing, lodging such as the Fairmont Chicago, a luxurious downtown destination, and the Millennium Knickerbocker, an upscale and recently renovated hotel dating back to the 1920s, provide easy access, with shopping destination the Magnificent Mile only a few minutes away. In general, look for hotels where you’d most like to explore and expand your options from there.
See the Big Chicago Attractions
It’s hard to go wrong with Chicago’s biggest attractions. Millennium Park, home of the ever-famous Cloud Gate and 25 acres of gorgeous scenery, the Park was designed to meet many accessibility needs, with plenty of ramps, bridges, and even accessible seating at picnic tables.
The historic Chicago Theater meanwhile provides entertainment in the way of films, concerts, and musicals, while also providing services for wheelchair users such as chair storage during the production. Previous attractions at the Theatre have included bands such as the Decemberists and Janelle Monae, comedians such as Hannibal Burress, and full-scale shows such as the Game of Thrones Live experience.
Willis Tower’s Sky Deck, a classic must-see, is fully ADA compliant, allowing wheelchair users the opportunity to stare out on the Chicago skyline from “The Ledge,” the glass overhang that allows Willis Tower visitors to look out on the whole of Chicago (with no floor!)
You might also consider catching a Chicago Cubs game at the famous Wrigley Field, if only for the chance to feel like a true Chicagoan. Call in advance for accessible seating options, and plan ahead—accessible parking is often on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Hit the Museums
You’re probably familiar with the Art Institute of Chicago, a mecca of Chicago sophistication and a repository for some of the best art and artists on the planet. Rest assured, too, this must-see Chicago landmark is also fully accessible by wheelchair.
If you’re a museum buff, then you’ll also want to visit the Adler Planetarium, which provides everything from IMAX shows to stunning exhibits. The first planetarium in the country, Adler provides exhibits on astronomy in culture, the solar system, and even a summer film festival. A bonus for couples and individuals is the planetarium “after dark” events, which features special guests and lectures, educational programs, and special events for adults 21 and up.
The Field Museum of Natural History is a must-stop for visitors of all ages, with exhibits featuring Egyptian tombs, China’s terracotta warriors, and Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex that’s ever been excavated (just watch out for her teeth).
Nature, Parks & Outdoors
If you’ve ever wondered about the history behind Chicago’s buildings and landmarks, you’ll love the Architectural River Tour along the three branches of the Chicago River. Starting at Navy Pier, the 75-minute tour provides some of the Windy City’s best sights, and both boats and water taxis provide ample accessible seating.
Chicago’s famous Burnham Park, a manmade peninsula with views of Lake Michigan, provides plenty of accessible routes along its 600 acres. Wheelchair accessible beach walks additionally allow visitors the opportunity to look out onto Lake Michigan right at the water’s edge, making this park a perfect spot to take in the Chicago scenery.
The Chicago Botanic Garden boasts bonsais, courtyards, and more. 27 different gardens make up the whole of the area, and the exhibits are almost always changing. Look on at the majesty of the Waterfall Garden or take a tram tour through all of the different gardens. Each area provides wheelchair accessible ramps and bridges, allowing everyone to stop and smell the roses.
Image credit: Lance Anderson