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A Wheelchair User’s Guide to the Accessible 9/11 Memorial and Museum

I’m a service-disabled Air Force veteran, and I served from 1997-2005, until I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and medically retired shortly thereafter. My job title in the Air Force was Special Agent, meaning that for eight years, I conducted criminal investigations, counterintelligence investigations, counterespionage operations, and counterterrorism analysis. On 9/11, I was in my office at Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, Florida. After the second plane hit the towers, our commander told us to arm up (i.e. get our weapons out of the gun safe and strap them on). He then told us to call our families, tell them we love them, and that we didn’t know when we’d be coming home. One week later, everyone in my office volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan if we were called.

For the next three months, the agents in my office worked 16- to 20-hour days. I slept my fair share of nights on the couch in my work area. I only removed my firearm to sleep, shower, and use the bathroom. It was a horrible time. One decade later to the day, on September 11, 2011, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum opened in New York City on the site where the World Trade Center once stood. For the past eight years, I’ve known it was there, and I’ve been putting off visiting for just as long. This year, I decided it was time to make my pilgrimage as a veteran who served on that day. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s a welcoming space for everyone, and a safe space to mourn. Here’s my guide to visiting the very accessible 9/11 Memorial and Museum as a wheelchair user.

Planning Your Visit

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is located in Lower Manhattan, which is easily the most wheelchair accessible part of this New York City borough. While I saw over a dozen places during my 3-day visit to New York, this was the central reason for my visit, so I chose to stay only two blocks away at the wheelchair accessible Holiday Inn Manhattan – Financial District.

If you are arriving from elsewhere in Manhattan, there are two accessible subway stations close by. The Fulton Street station under The Oculus serves lines A, C, J, Z, 2, 3, 4, and 5. An elevator is on the northeast and southwest corners of Dey Street and Broadway. Bus connections: M5 (southbound) (northbound M5 is one block west on Church St); SIM1, SIM2, SIM4/4x, SIM32, SIM34, SIM1c, SIM3c, SIM4c, SIM15, SIM35. The World Trade Center station serves line E. An elevator is inside the Port Authority building (33 Vesey Street) at the southwest corner of Church and Vesey Streets. Take elevator to mezzanine level for passageway to the E platform. Bus connections: M55 (northbound) (southbound M55 is one block east on Broadway); BM1, BM2, BM3, BM4, BxM18, QM7, QM8, QM11, QM25, SIM1, SIM2, SIM4/4x, SIM15, SIM32, SIM34, SIM35, SIM1c, SIM3c, SIM4c, (PATH).

Hours and Admission (Tickets and Tours)

The 9/11 Memorial (outdoor pools and grounds) is free and open to the public daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The (indoor) museum is open Sunday-Thursday from 9AM to 8PM, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 9AM – 9PM. Museum tickets can be purchased up to six months in advance and include entry to all exhibitions. Last admission is two hours prior to closing. Children under the age of 7 receive free admission, but a ticket is required for entry. (NOTE: I would be very careful about bringing young children into certain parts of the Museum [read below]). Free Admission Tuesday tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at the Museum starting at 4 p.m. The distribution time is subject to change.

Tickets are $26 for adults, and reduced ticket prices are available for teens, seniors, college students, firefighters, police officers, and veterans. 9/11 family members, rescue workers, and active/retired veterans get free admission. Tour packages start at $41 per person, and I would HIGHLY recommend splurging on the Early Admission tour for $65, which starts at 8:15AM – a full 45 minutes before the museum opens. I would allocate at a minimum two hours to see everything, and that’s rushing it.

Accessibility Information

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is committed to ensuring access to the Memorial and Museum for all visitors and seeks to provide an equal opportunity for every individual to honor and remember the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993. 

The Memorial and Museum are fully wheelchair accessible. There is an accessible pick-up/drop-off location near the intersection of Albany and Greenwich streets, on the west side of Greenwich Street just south of Albany Street. This point is available for privately-owned vehicles servicing passengers with disabilities. There is also a passenger pick-up/drop-off location on the west side of Washington Street between Albany and Carlisle Streets. This location is available for expeditious drop-off and pick-up from taxis, black cars and private vehicles.

Service animals are welcome on the Memorial and in the Museum. Manual wheelchairs (standard and wide) and wheeled walkers are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis at the coat check in Concourse Lobby in the Museum. Wheelchairs are provided solely for use in the Museum, and advance reservations are not available.

Mobility devices such as wheelchairs, mechanized scooters, other power-driven mobility devices and walkers are accommodated on the 9/11 Memorial. All entrances and public areas of the Museum, including the exhibitions, auditorium, classrooms, café and the Museum Store are wheelchair accessible. All public restrooms have wheelchair-accessible stalls. Elevators, and in most cases escalators, are offered throughout the Museum wherever stairs are available. Enter the 9/11 Memorial at the intersection of Liberty Street and Greenwich Street, at the intersection of Liberty Street and West Street or at the intersection of West Street and Fulton Street. Ramps are available at the southern edge of the Memorial plaza.

The 9/11 Memorial names parapets framing the pools are specially designed with chamfered corners so that a seated person or a person of short stature may experience the same view of the inner Memorial voids as a person experiencing the view from a higher vantage point. The Memorial design is based on the concept that the bottom of the central void of each pool cannot be seen by the visitor, which creates a sense of water flowing eternally without ever filling up the pools. Visitors are not intended to see all the way into the interior of the central void, as the voids of the pools are meant to symbolize the enormity of loss suffered on 9/11 – a loss that can never be filled.

My Personal Experience

Wanting to avoid big crowds and to learn as much as possible about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, I took the Early Access tour at 8:15AM. The museum was still closed and there were only seven people in my tour group. After entering the museum building, you will immediately go through security screening. Wheelchair users have to run all their belongings through the x-ray machine, but will just be visually examined after going around the metal detector.

After security, you will take an elevator from the Entrance Hall down to the Concourse Lobby. Here, you will either meet your tour guide, or you can pick up a headset for a self-guided tour. From here, you will enter the museum via a very wide ramp that winds its way down to elevators for the Exhibition Level below. Once you reach this level, you will be six stories underground and below the Memorial Pools, where the World Trade Center foundations once stood. It is extremely easy to roll through this area to see the twisted remains of fire engines, pieces of the WTC exterior, pieces of the radio tower, and an elevator motor. There are also several art installations on this level. There are ramps to reach the North and South Tower excavations, where you can see the iron squares of the original building supports. These ramps are somewhat narrow, and will get crowded during peak hours.

There is a small theater that shows an 11-minute movie called Rebirth, which shows how the site was cleared out after the 9/11 attacks and prepared for the museum and Freedom Tower next door. There is also an exhibit called In Memoriam, with the photos and names of all those who died in the attacks.

The most difficult part of the entire museum is the Historical Exhibition. This is where you will see and hear a visual and audio timeline of everything that happened on 9/11 – news videos, audio of 911 calls, audio of air traffic controllers, photographs from journalists, etc. There are also hundreds of artifacts, including pieces of the planes, police cars, etc. There are tissue boxes everywhere, and with good reason. The museum advises against bringing children under 10 years of age into this part of the museum, and for good reason. No one was speaking, and I spent the whole time in that exhibit either silently weeping or ugly crying. No matter how hard some people try to prepare themselves, it will be hard.

Another reason I recommend visiting the museum early is that this part of the museum isn’t as spacious as the rest. It can get very crowded in the Historical Exhibition, and if you want some measure of space for your chair, or just to view everything more clearly and reflect, go early. There will be signs to remind you, but no photos or video are allowed in the Historical Exhibition. I visited the Memorial Pools outside both early in the morning and at sunset because there was no one around. Make sure you go to the corners for the best views.

Finally, I would suggest planning a lighthearted activity after your visit to help bring your spirits up (I scheduled a tour of the One World Observatory in Freedom Tower). Or, if you need some time to absorb and reflect in a quiet spot, I recommend heading across the street to the north to Liberty Park, which overlooks the memorial and Freedom Tower.

For more wheelchair accessible things to do in Lower Manhattan (New York City), CLICK HERE.

For the perfect 3-day wheelchair accessible itinerary in Lower Manhattan, CLICK HERE.

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3 thoughts on “A Wheelchair User’s Guide to the Accessible 9/11 Memorial and Museum

  1. Thank you for your service.
    Thank you for taking the time to create this post.
    We followed your tips with room and memorial viewing.
    You helped us see and visit this very humbling experience.

    Thanks again
    Craig

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