Accessibility Index

The most accessible cities in the USA

Anyone can develop a physical or mental impairment, regardless of age or lifestyle, and with around 61 million adults in the US living with a disability, it is essential that adjustments are in place to help those affected people navigate daily life.

From social security disability insurance to public transit modifications, social programs can drastically improve the ability of disabled people to get around their city easily.

We looked at 50 of the biggest cities in the United States, ranking them based on the number of accessible restaurants and attractions, public transit and disabled parking permits to find the most accessible cities in the nation. Ranking at the top of our list is New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles.

The most accessible cities in the US

1. New York City | Accessibility Score: 7.40/10

The United States’ most accessible city according to the factors we looked at, is New York City, scoring 7.40 out of 10.

With the highest number of accessible restaurants out of all of the cities we looked at, New York is the ideal destination for those with mobility restrictions who love to dine out.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act outlines certain eligibility requirements for disabled parking placards, including the use of a cane or walking aid, and the inability to walk 200 feet without stopping, state-specific eligibility can vary.

New York City is one of only two locations on our list where those with a mental impairment can qualify for a disabled parking permit. With no issuing fee for a permanent placard, it is easier for those with mobility, visual or hearing impairments to obtain access to disabled parking spaces.

New York City also runs the ‘Access-a-Ride’ paratransit service for those with disabilities, unable to use fixed-time public transportation. ‘Access-a-Ride’ provides an origin-to-destination service and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

2. Seattle | Accessibility Score: 6.89/10

One of the best cities for those with accessibility requirements, Seattle scores 6.89 out of 10 across all of the criteria we looked at.

Seattle has more accessible restaurants and attractions than most cities on our list, with 915 restaurants and 12 landmarks listed as ‘wheelchair accessible’ on Tripadvisor and Get Your Guide.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act specifies some eligibility conditions for permanent disabled parking, each state can choose to formally recognize certain medical conditions. In Seattle, those who are legally blind, or are affected by sensitivity to light are eligible for a disabled parking placard or set of license plates.

The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees people with disabilities equal access to public transportation, meaning each public bus system in the US must provide an accessible service for those with disabilities, unable to use fixed-time public transit.

Those eligible for the ADA Paratransit Program can use King County’s ‘Access’ service in Seattle, which takes you anywhere a Metro bus, Seattle streetcar or Sound Transit light rail goes.

3. Los Angeles | Accessibility Score: 5.67/10

Best known for being the home to Hollywood, and its vibrant cultural scene, Los Angeles is also one of the US’ most accessible cities.

Los Angeles has more wheelchair-accessible restaurants and attractions than most cities we looked at, with 1,752 restaurants and 30 attractions listed online as wheelchair accessible.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act outlines eligibility conditions for disabled parking, not every state recognizes blindness as a qualifying condition for a disabled parking placard. In Los Angeles, those who are legally blind or have visual problems qualify for a disabled parking permit.

Los Angeles’ Consolidated Transportation Services Agency runs a paratransit service for those with disabilities unable to use fixed time public transit in the city, during the regular operating hours of the Los Angeles County Bus system and METRO.

The least accessible cities in the US

1. Raleigh | Accessibility Score: 1.64/10

Out of all the cities on our list, Raleigh in North Carolina is the least accessible, according to the factors we looked at.

Raleigh has 403 wheelchair-accessible restaurants, a much smaller number than New York City’s 2,848 accessible restaurants, leaving fewer options for dining out.

Although the state of North Carolina recognizes visual defects as a qualifying condition for a disabled parking permit, a condition not recognized by all 50 states, the cost for obtaining a permanent placard is $5. Compared to most states, which issue permanent disabled parking placards for no cost, this could prevent those with mobility, hearing, sight or mental impairments from accessing disabled parking spaces.

In accordance with the ADA, all public bus systems must provide a paratransit service for those with disabilities, who are unable to use fixed-time bus and rail systems. Raleigh provides GoRaleigh Access which operates Monday – Friday, 8:15 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. and drops customers off within ¾ miles of a GoRaleigh bus stop.

2. Virginia Beach | Accessibility Score: 1.89/10

A popular tourist destination for travelers from all over the world, Virginia Beach is one of the least accessible cities in the US.

The Americans with Disabilities Act specifies certain conditions that make a person eligible for a disabled parking placard or set of license plates, including the use of a walking aid and the inability to walk 200 feet without stopping.

However, there are some medical conditions, such as blindness and mental health which are not explicitly outlined by the ADA. Virginia Beach is one of just two locations on our list where those with mental conditions like autism spectrum disorder and Alzheimer’s disease can qualify for disabled parking.

Despite this, the cost for a permanent disabled parking placard is $5 in Virginia, compared to most states’ policy of issuing placards for no charge.

3. Columbus | Accessibility Score: 2.04/10

Ohio’s capital city is one of the worst in the United States for accessibility, according to all of the factors we looked at.

Columbus has fewer accessible restaurants and attractions than most cities we looked at, leaving limited options for those who like to sightsee and dine out.

While the state of Ohio recognizes legal blindness as a qualifying condition for a disabled parking permit, a condition not recognized in most states, the cost of a permanent placard is $3.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) provides those with disabilities a reduced fare rate on fixed-time public buses and runs door-to-door services for those unable to use fixed-time transit.

Methodology

We wanted to discover which US cities are the most accessible, therefore compiled a list of the 50 biggest cities in the nation. Looking at the following criteria, each location was given a normalized score out of ten for each factor. An average ‘accessibility score out of 10’, across all factors, was calculated for each location.

The number of accessible restaurants in each city was sourced from Tripadvisor, on 28/3/22 by recording the total number of restaurants with ‘wheelchair accessible’ listed as an amenity.

The number of accessible attractions in each city was sourced from Get Your Guide on 29/3/22 by recording the number of attractions in each location with ‘wheelchair accessible’ listed as a service.

The state eligibility conditions for a permanent disabled parking placard was sourced from each state’s relevant government department’s website and where unavailable was sourced from My Parking Permit and Dr Handicap. For each specified additional qualifying condition for a permanent disabled parking placard, not outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, each city was given a score of 1 for this factor. Those cities with no specified additional qualifying conditions were recorded as 0.

The accessible features on each city’s public transportation system were sourced from each city’s official website, and where unavailable Access LA and Wheelchair Travel. Cities with accessible features on public transit, to assist those with mobility, visual or hearing impairments were given a score of 1.