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A must see for anyone visiting Florida is the Kennedy Space Center. Lying on the Space Coast it is a 35 minute drive east of Orlando or a three and a half hour drive north of Miami on the I95. Kennedy Space Center is synonymous with man's exploration of space from the early Mercury and Gemini mission, the Apollo Moon landings and the Space shuttle missions now in their final phases.The Kennedy Space Center offers travellers with a disability a fully accessible experience from the visitors centre to the bus tours of the complex.
ParkingAn accessible parking area is right adjacent to the visitors centre entrance and is available to anyone with a valid parking permit. Temporary permits are available from the ticket booths outside the centre entrance.
Entrance and Visitors centreThe ticket booths are located outside the entrance and are accessible. Entry to the building is via large self opening doors and through a security screening area. Once inside the visitors area is flat and gives access to the Space Shop, Imax Theatre, Cafe Rocket Garden, Space Shuttle Mock Up, and launch experience attractions. All of the attractions within the visitors centre are fully accessible and accessible restrooms are available at the IMAX theatre, cafe, and snack bar area near the Shuttle display.
Shuttle Launch ExperienceThe shuttle launch experience is accessible via a ramped entry. The ride itself requires transfer from a chair. Each ride cabin has one specially equipped ADA seat with a swivelling armrest. This seat is also equipped with a five point harness for those with poor trunkcontrol. There is an alternative observation room which provides the full video of the launch experience without the ride sensation for those not wanting the experience or not wishing to transfer out of their chair. The ride itself includes rotation through 90 degrees and considerable vibration. There are no sudden movements or jerkiness. Exit from the building is via another sloping curved ramp.
Full Scale Space Shuttle ExhibitThe full scale space shuttle is accessed via a sloping ramp or elevators. There are two levels giving access into the payload bay lower level and the flight cockpit and upper level of the payload bay. On each level is an elevator stop. The ramps lead right into the shuttle and a level viewing platform on each level.
Space Shuttle Display
Ramped access into the Shuttle
Guided Space Center TourA highlight of a visit to the Kennedy Space Center is the guided tour of the facility including the launch pad observation tower and the Apollo Museum.The tours leave from the bus bay located on the right as you leave the entrance building. The tour operates on a hop-on hop-off basis at the stops along the tour. Each bus in the fleet is equipped with a wheelchair lift. Inside the bus there is an area for two wheelchairs or if you prefer the two seats adjacent to the lift are equipped with grab rails to allow a transfer into the bus seats.
Every bus in the tour fleet is wheelchair lift equipped
The first stop on the tour is the launch pad observation tower. This stop is equipped with a theatre, kiosk, picnic tables, an interactive display area and of course the tower.The tower gives a commanding view over the launch pads, the transportation tracks and back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The tower is equipped with an elevator to all levels. At the top of the tower there is an outside observation deck that is fully ramped.
Observation Tower Elevators
Ramp to the Observation Deck
The theatre has wheelchair access and wheelchair positions at the front on either side. Adjacent to the theatre is an interactive display centre. The displays are all at a height readable from a wheelchair and the consoles are roll-under.
Interactive display console
The picnic tables at the observation tower centre all have a roll-under position and the restrooms are accessible.
Apollo ComplexThe second stop on the tour is the Apollo Museum. On arrival at the Apollo Centre the first activity is the theatre outlining the history of the Apollo missions. This area is a level floor with good wheelchair access. After the short presentation which is captioned, you are directed into the firing room for the launch sequence of Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the moon. Wheelchair access is via the left hand door with a level area at the front of the firing room. The same area has a hearing loop. .This is an enormous building and a complete highlight as it contains a full size Saturn V rocket, the lunar lander and the lunar Rover. The full history of the Apollo program is on display in a fully level easy to get around building. In addition to the displays there is a cafe, and accessible restrooms. As with the observation tower there is no rush or timetable to adhere to. Once you have completed your visit you simply go back outside and catch the next available bus to the next destination. On departing the complex the accessible bus loading is off to the left not at the main loading area
Apollo Command Module
Astronaut MemorialBehind the replica space shuttle display is the Astronaut memorial. It is accessed by a gently sloping ramp, about the only ramp. This display recognises those astronauts whose lives have lost. All displays can be easily read.
Located on the Tamiami Trail (US 41) about 11 miles east of the Florida Turnpike is small family run airboat operation, Coopertown Airboats. I was in Florida for the SATH World Congress and wanted to find an airboat operator that could take a wheelchair passenger out onto the Everglades so that I and Travability's co-founder Deborah Davis could enjoy the experience.After having spend the morning driving up and down the Tamiami Trail I discovered that most operators viewed an accessible airboat as one in which they were prepared to lift a passenger into.
The Coopertown experience was totally different, as they have two specially modified boats that allow a wheelchair passenger to roll right onto the front of the boat and back up against the front seat.
The following day Deb and I returned. There is disabled parking right at the front of the building with the airboat ticket counter off to the right. Through the gate and out the back is a small reptile park and picnic tables which we explored while the boat was prepared.
The roll down to the jetty is a gentle slope and a flat wide board is placed from the jetty onto the deck of the airboat. The boats will take two chairs. In our case with only the one it was backed up against the front seat allowing half the seat for the accompanying person allowing for conversation and a shared experience.
Tie down area and boarding ramp
Secured with ratchet straps
Once on the deck the chair is tied down with two ratchet straps to keep it extremely firm and secure. In addition to the chair tie down Deb was fitted with a waist harness that went around the back of her chair below the push handles and around her waist. The strong webbing belt was secured with Velcro that allowed for a quick release in the case of an emergency. The belt kept her secure in the chair. The big difference here was the attitude of the staff. Instead of just facilitating a person with a disability they had gone out of their way to modify two of their boats and thought about the issue of trunk control and been inventive in their solutions. Throughout they not only gave a reassuring impression that they knew what they were doing, but more importantly made us feel as if we were more than welcome.
After the initial apprehension had been put to rest we set off out into the everglades. Our guide was knowledgeable and entertaining with several stops along the route to spot the local wildlife and to explain the ecology of the everglades system. At one point we stopped at an island to allow me off to take some action photos of Deborah on the airboat making it a fun afternoon.
Deborah closely watching an alligator
Enjoying some high speed fun
On return we stopped at their cafe for some frog legs and gator tails. The cafe does have one step at the front of it, which we managed easily and inside there is ample room with easily accessible tables. A portable ramp is available if required. The restrooms do not meet modern ADA standards, but there is ample room inside the male and female facilities for a wheelchair. There are no grab rails and the toilet height is low, something to keep in mind if you are visiting the facility.
Coopertown is the oldest operator on the Tamiami Trail having been in existence since 1945. An aiboat ride through the Florida Everglades is one of those "must do" experiences and here is an operator that not only accepts passengers with a disability but welcomes them from start to finish and has used their ingenuity to really make your outing and enjoyable and fun experience.
For more details contact Coopertown Airboats on (305) 226-6048 or email email@example.com. They are located at 22700 Southwest 8th Street Miami, FL 33194. Web site is http://www.coopertownairboats.com
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