Chicago is the other City that Never Sleeps. Between its around-the-clock art, scenic and expansive waterfront and the countless skyscrapers reaching toward the heavens, Chicago is a wonderfully diverse destination to explore. Whether you want to chow down on the city’s famous deep dish pizza or try a variety of ethnic cuisines, and whether you’re interested in nature, music, art, or history, Chicago offers world-class, must-see attractions. The best part? Though it’s always bustling and ever-changing, the Windy City is an easy, breezy destination for wheelchair users.
This Ultimate Accessibility Guide to Chicago aims to answer any questions you have about traveling to the Windy City as a wheelchair user. It highlights several exciting points of interest and discusses accessibility features of some of the city’s major attractions. Then, it breaks down Chicago transportation and how it works in a wheelchair, and also provides some useful resources for anyone with accessibility requirements who is thinking about heading to Chi-town.
WILLIS TOWER | 233 South Wacker Drive
The Sky Deck at Willis Tower is a Chicago icon that no tourist visiting this great city should miss. Staring out at the city from “The Ledge” (a glass floored box that hangs out from the side of the building) will make you feel like the king or queen of Chicago. The famous ledge, as well as the entire Sky Deck, are fully ADA compliant — wheelchairs fit easily in elevators, and there are lots of ramps to aid navigation. You can even get a complimentary wheelchair, available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ticket prices are $22 for adults, and you can use their handy guide to plan your visit.
Insider’s tip: Try to go about an hour before sunset, so you can see daytime, sunset, and twilight views.
WRIGLEY FIELD | 1060 West Addison Street
Play ball! If you’re into the Chicago Cubs or even just a fan of baseball in general, this is a must-do item to put on your itinerary. There are a number of accessible seating areas to choose from which can be purchased online, or by calling the box office at 800-843-2827. However, definitely plan ahead, since there’s a limited number of wheelchair accessible seats. You’ll want to get there early too if you’re driving, since accessible parking is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Most restrooms are accessible too, and Wrigley employees are happy to provide assistance getting to your seat.
CHICAGO THEATER | 175 North State Street
That’s right, this legendary theater actually has a whole department dedicated to making the experience accessible to all guests. They recommend that you arrive an hour before the show’s scheduled start, and wheelchair users should use the main entrance at 175 North State Street. Once you enter the regal Grand Lobby, be sure to locate the elevator in the southeast corner. One important thing to note is that there are no wheelchairs available here for rent, and staff members aren’t allowed to push any guests in wheelchairs. However, if you’re able to transfer from your wheelchair to a seat, one cool perk is that a staff member could store your wheelchair during the show while you sit in the audience. If you have any questions about seating or the accessible services offered by the theater, give them a call at 888-609-7599.
THE NAVY PIER | 600 East Grand Avenue
Say hello to what has been hailed as the “top leisure destination in the Midwest.” An iconic Chicago landmark, the pier offers rides, cruises, and more fun attractions. If you’re in the mood to set sail along Chicago’s classic waterfront, it’s good to know that the second deck of the Mystic Blue Cruises, Spirit of Chicago and Odyssey Cruises are wheelchair accessible, complete with bathrooms.
Shoreline Sightseeing and Seadog Chicago also offer accessible cruise ships. The pier features accessible parking spaces in its parking garage, and there are also several drop-off locations with ramps. The pier has multiple levels, but each of them can be accessed by elevator, and wheelchairs are available first-come, first-serve at the Guest Services Desk inside the main entrance. While not all rides are accessible, Navy Pier states that they’ve made an effort to make sure that as many of their attractions as possible are.
360° CHICAGO | 875 North Michigan Avenue
If the incredible views from the top of the Willis Tower weren’t enough for you, 360° Chicago might just satiate your need for expansive horizons. Head to the 94th floor of Chicago’s third-tallest skyscraper for a skywalk, some info and fantastic vistas of downtown, Lake Michigan, and the city’s four neighboring states. Of course there are elevators, and the elevator up to the skywalk is one of the fastest on the continent. All entrances to the attraction are accessible, and you’ll want to make a note that wheelchair-friendly bathrooms are located on the observatory and concourse levels.
trivago HOTEL PICK | MILLENNIUM KNICKERBOCKER
163 East Walton St Chicago IL 60611
The Millenium Knickerbocker hotel is perfect for first time visitors on a budget in Chicago. Fully wheelchair accessible, the stunning lobby, complete with marble floors is very welcoming to visitors rolling in to enjoy this historic hotel. Built in the 1920s, the hotel has been updated and is ADA compliant. An air of historic romanticism from the times of bootleggers, speakeasies and Al Capone comes alongside roll-in showers, spacious guestrooms and helpful staff.
ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO | 111 South Michigan Avenue
Art, sophistication, and one of the best institutions of Chicago are at your fingertips, and you’d be crazy not to check it out. If you’re headed there with a wheelchair, there are ramps at both the Michigan Ave entrance and the Modern Wing entrance, but drop-offs are only permitted at the latter. If you drive yourself, you can find accessible parking at the Millennium Park, East Monroe Street, and Grant Park North garages, but if you have an oversized van, you’re out of luck. Once inside this artistic haven, you can access all the floors by elevator and even rent a wheelchair on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you check out one of the auditoriums, be sure to search for the designated wheelchair seating area. Enjoy the incomparable art collection!
THE FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY | 1400 South Lake Shore Drive
Science, archaeology, anthropology, and more! The Field Museum has been home to some incredibly exciting exhibits on captivating themes from Egyptian tombs, to ancient dinosaurs, to China’s intriguing terracotta warriors. See all of this and more from the comfort of your wheelchair — or the comfort of a complimentary wheelchair available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the East Entrance. The East Entrance is also where you’ll want to head to enter the museum, and accessible parking is available in the East Lot right next to it.
Insider’s hint: While you’re there, be sure you meet Sue, the largest T-Rex ever found.
ADLER PLANETARIUM | 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive
One of the country’s most famous planetariums, Adler, is also hands-down one of the best. From exhibits, to events, to the ever-popular shows, there’s no shortage of things to do here. Make sure to snag one of the reserved parking spots in the lot near the South Box Office entrance, since this is where wheelchair users should enter the planetarium. Be prepared to pay $19 to park your car in the lot, and also know that Adler is accessible via bus and train. Once you’re in the planetarium, you’ll have no issues because everything is ADA compliant!
THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY | 5700 S Lake Shore Drive
A truly unique museum, you won’t find exhibits like this anywhere else. Buy a basic ticket for $18 and inspire your inner scientist with events, tours, an Omnimax theater and exhibits about trains, castles, submarines, and even baby chicks! With your wheelchair, you can park on any level of the museum’s garage, since all levels feature designated parking spots and elevators. You’ll want to enter the museum at its main entrance to take advantage of the curb cuts, and once you’re inside, elevators and ramps can get you wherever you need to go. Take a special elevator to designated wheelchair seating in the Omnimax theater, because it really is worth a visit!
DUSABLE MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY | 740 East 56th Place
Chicago is one of the most important sites in African-American history for a number of reasons, so it’s fitting that such an impressive institution dedicated to the subject is located here. A visit to the DuSable will get you better acquainted with Chicago and America as a whole on another level, so it’s well worth a stop. And it’s only $10 to get in! Plus, DuSable is completely ADA compliant and has a number of wheelchairs available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you’re driving, there are designated spaces for wheelchair users in the parking lot. Don’t come on a Monday between June 1st and January 2nd, because it will be closed. But it’s open every other day, and you shouldn’t miss the chance to visit what was the first museum of its kind in the country!
trivago HOTEL PICK | THE WARWICK ALLERTON
701 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
The Warwick Allerton hotel is a landmark of Chicago’s golden 1920’s, merged seamlessly with modern amenities, including wheelchair friendly rooms. Ideally located within easy access to all the places you’ve carefully marked on your map, their attentive concierge team supplies impeccable service for visitors seeking accessibility.
GIORDANO’S | Various locations
You won’t want to leave Chicago without trying its most famous food — delicious deep dish pizza. While there are plenty of places to snag an excellent pie at a good deal, my favorite place was Giordano’s. Their pizza was superb and the atmosphere was just as fantastic. The best part? It’s a homegrown Chicago chain, so there are up to 40 different Giordano’s in the Chicago area and even one in Orlando, Florida as well. It’ll be easy to find one, and they’re all wheelchair accessible.
ALINEA | 1723 North Halstead Street
Don’t go here if you’re looking for cheap eats, but if you’re eager to spend a pretty dollar on a very expensive and high-class meal, Alinea is the perfect locale. It’s been named the best restaurant in America and has won countless other awards before, so if you have the cash to spend, it’s an unparalleled, one-of-a-kind dining experience. What other restaurant combines food, science, and art? Enjoy the unique eating adventure without worry, because it’s completely wheelchair accessible.
PORTILLO’S | Various Locations
This prime Chicago establishment might serve the best hot dogs in the entire nation. Its cuisine is aptly described as “Chicago-style” and it’s a great place to get a taste of the city. There are a number of locations throughout the city, so take your pick! It’s a great way to satiate yourself while sightseeing and it’s pretty easy on your wallet, too. And it’s not at all hard to navigate in a wheelchair.
GIRL & THE GOAT | 809 West Randolph Street
Odd name, delicious cuisine. Small plates are served up from an open kitchen, and the food is best characterized as “innovative.” Advertised as a haven for foodies, it’s tough to get a table so you’ll definitely want to make a reservation. The establishment is pleasantly wheelchair accessible and also offers a convenient valet parking service.
MAGNIFICENT MILE | 401 North Wabash Avenue
Chicago has many malls, and its streets are lined with excellent stores. But there’s nothing quite like the Magnificent Mile. Located on a lively and cosmopolitan section of Michigan Avenue, the shops and entertainment options here are sophisticated and full of history. It’s an upscale experience studded with classic Chicago landmarks. For a city street, the Magnificent Mile section of Michigan Ave is awesomely accessible, with frequent curb cuts at intersections. You can get here by bus or by taking the Red Line train, or there are plenty of nearby parking garages available.
JEWELER’S ROW | 5 South Wabash Avenue
If you like rocks — the fancy kind — you can’t miss this famous string of jewelry stores. Just a few blocks from Millennium Park, it’s easily reachable by numerous metro stations. Whether you’re just window shopping or happen to be on the hunt for the perfect engagement ring, it’s fun to see all these diamond dealers on the same few blocks. And don’t worry, the majority of shops are completely accessible to wheelchair users.
WATER TOWER PLACE | 835 North Michigan Avenue
At 835 North Michigan Avenue, Water Tower Place is a pretty unique shopping experience. It’s on the Magnificent Mile, but it’s worth a mention of its own since it includes a full shopping mall and a 74-story skyscraper. Besides the awesome selection of stores, Water Tower Place features a convenient taxi service and valet parking, as well as wheelchair service. It’s a good deal if I’ve ever seen one!
THE SHOPS AT NORTH BRIDGE | 520 North Michigan Avenue
A four-level shopping center with over 50 world-class retailers and the home of Nordstrom’s flagship store, this is another stop on the Magnificent Mile that merits its own description. There are plenty of eateries there, and if you have any logistical worries, you can just call up the concierge service at (312) 327-2300 for assistance in planning your visit. Complimentary wheelchairs are available when you get there, and the mall is definitely accessible.
Parks and the Outdoors
MILLENNIUM PARK | 201 East Randolph Street
Originally intended to celebrate the coming of the second millennium, Millennium Park is now firmly a Chicago institution. In its 25 acres, see breathtaking and daring combinations of art, architecture, and premier landscapes. Take a classic Chicago skyline picture in front of Cloud Gate and discover the urban oasis of Lurie Garden. Concentrate on taking in the scenery and don’t stress, because Millennium Park was designed with accessibility in mind. There are ample ramps, bridges, and even accessible seating at picnic tables — so pack a lunch and enjoy the ambiance.
LINCOLN PARK ZOO | 2001 North Clark Street
Over 200 species, exhibits, and constant new arrivals, the Lincoln Park Zoo is always an exciting stop in Chicago. It’s free, 35 acres large, and one of America’s oldest zoos. They have lots of events, too, so be sure to check and see if something cool is happening while you’ll be there. If you need a wheelchair while there, you can find one on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Gateway Pavilion. Accessible parking can be found on Cannon Drive and Stockton Drive, and all of the zoo’s buildings have at least one accessible entrance. The zoo’s Animal Encounter programs and the Lionel Train Adventure are also 100% accessible.
PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM | 2430 North Cannon Drive
Discover one of Chicago’s finest places to connect with nature. Though the museum itself is indoors, many of its components including beautiful gardens are located outside. There’s designated accessible parking in a lot as well as street parking, and even the museum’s butterfly haven poses no trouble for those in wheelchairs. If you need one, the museum has wheelchairs available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
BURNHAM PARK | 425 East McFetridge Drive
Perhaps the most famous natural area in Chicago, Promontory Point is a manmade peninsula that features incredible views of Lake Michigan. In fact, so does Burnham Park as a whole, and it has 600 lakefront acres to explore. There are even beaches along Burnham Park’s water front, and some of them feature accessible beach walks, meaning that you can take your wheelchair all the way to the water’s edge. It’s an incredible experience for sure!
CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN | 1000 Lake Cook Road
Beautiful bonsais, ornate courtyards and plants at their most exuberant — this is the magic of the Chicago Botanic Garden. The best part is that it’s just as accessible as it is lovely! Wheelchairs and electronic scooters are available — the latter for a charge — on a first-come, first-serve basis. Almost all areas of the gardens are accessible by wheelchair, and so are the tram tours (though you can’t take an electronic scooter on the tram tours). Park your car in Lot 1 or 2 to take advantage of the accessible spots.
trivago HOTEL PICK | THEWIT CHICAGO
201 North State Street, Chicago, Illinois,60601
Seeking a luxuriously trendy hotel in the center of the action? TheWit Chicago is centrally located with expansive rooms featuring views of either the river, the park or the architecture that makes the city famous. Fully ADA compliant, this hotel is perfect for those wanting to enjoy Chicago’s foodie culture. Their rooftop lounge club, The Roof, up on the 27th floor, boasts the best views of the city and fantastic food served alongside delicious hand-crafted cocktails.
How to Get Around
Chicago’s bus fleet is 100% accessible, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not your desired route will work for you. Buses can kneel and feature lifts and ramps, so you’ll have no problem boarding. Of course, they also feature priority seating and wheelchair securement areas. To plan your trip on bus or train (discussed more below), check out the System and Routes Guide here.
The Chicago Transit Authority aims to make this system 100% accessible, and they’ve sure made some admirable strides. All trains are accessible to those in wheelchairs, but currently, only 99 out of the 145 rail stations are. The ones that are accessible feature elevators and ramps. The city already has a blueprint drawn up for how to make them all accessible by 2036 — but for now, you can see the list of accessible rail stations here. This means that if you plan on traveling by rail, you’ll need to consult the list to make sure it’s possible before you finalize your plans.
However, once you’re on the train, you’ll find it’s quite comfortable. All trains boast accessible features like ADA compliant doors and the ever-important spaces to secure your wheelchair as you ride. New trains even feature two wheelchair securement areas. One handy program you might want to subscribe to while you’re in Chicago is the CTA’s elevator alert system, which will text you to let you know if any elevators aren’t working. This means that if your station’s elevator is actually not in service, you can make other plans in advance.
Wheelchair Accessible Taxis
If you don’t want to take public transportation or drive yourself — I’ll discuss places to rent accessible vans down below — taking wheelchair accessible taxis is always a good option. If you’re flying into the airport, you won’t have to plan ahead, as you’ll be able to catch an accessible taxi while there. There are numerous accessible cab companies, but catching a taxi in Chicago is super convenient thanks to the Open Door Organization. Instead of calling and researching individual taxi companies, you can just call Open Taxis, a centralized dispatch for all wheelchair accessible vehicles in the city! Call toll-free at 1-855-928-1010; the line is open 24/7 and you can call for an immediate pick-up or to prearrange a trip. If you’re tech savvy, you can also download their app for iPhone or Android device via their website.
WHEELCHAIR REPAIR SHOPS
The Mobility Shop | 626 Academy Dr, Northbrook, IL 60062
The Mobility Shop makes repairing your chair (and renting a new one, if necessary) very convenient. They’ll deliver your chair to you, so call 847-412-9000 or 888-404-5554 for services.
Medserv Equipment Corp.
There’s nothing easier than having someone come to your door to perform wheelchair repair, and that’s what these professionals do. They also have a rehab specialist on staff, if for some reason you need one. Call 847-359-4607 to take advantage of their services.
Accessible Van Rentals
There are a number of reliable and reputable companies where you can rent wheelchair accessible vans in the Chicago area. MobilityWorks has three stores in the Chicago area, and you can call them to arrange a rental at 1-877-275-4915. If you’re in the airport and decide suddenly that you’d like to rent a van, Wheelers has locations in major Chicago airports, so it’s a convenient choice. You can also arrange a rental in advance with them by calling toll-free at 1-866-696-0138. For either store, you’ll definitely want to call in advance to make sure that you can get a van with any specifications you require for the date that you want.
Additional Tips and Tricks
Photos by Andrew Seaman CC BY
Like any vacation, Chicago is a lot easier when you plan ahead. Print out this guide and take it with you so that you have the phone numbers of taxi companies and wheelchair repair services — trust me, it’s a lot easier than frantically googling these things while you should be enjoying your vacation!
Chicago is a lively and utterly fantastic urban paradise to explore. It’s rich in opportunities to indulge in culture, art, and urban nature that are accessible to tourists with wheelchairs.
Be sure to see some theater, visit some of the city’s renowned museums, and head up one of the famous skyscrapers for those must-see views of Illinois’ largest city. Don’t miss the chance to sample its famous cuisine and shop until you drop at the Magnificent Mile.
* For a full list of wheelchair-accessible accommodations in Chicago be sure to visit trivago.