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UN tour features superb access Next time you’re in New York City and looking for a great accessible tour, check […]

UN tour features superb access

Next time you’re in New York City and looking for a great accessible tour, check out the UN (and NOT the Empire State Building).

My wife and I got a one-on-one tour of the United Nations last month. I expected a quick half hour tour, but it lasted an hour. Our tour guide, Jacky Tang from Malaysia, led us through all but one building of the UN complex.

Tang was an expert at the accessible tour. He encouraged me to touch the sculptures and mosaics that dotted the floors of the United Nation buildings. He took my hand and showed me where to feel the texture of a statue or set of tiles. One such object was a vertically standing mosaic made of small tiles that represented all the people of the world. Another figure, a statue, stood in a Catholic Church in Nagasaki, Japan. The statue was found face down 600 meters from ground zero. The back of the statue was burned and rough, the undamaged front was smooth. Tang guided my hand to feel the emblem of the United Nations, a globe partially covered with gold. For my wife and I, both of whom have a visual disability, to touch these statues at the UN was a real treat.

Tang also made the rooms and architecture accessible. He showed us the security council chambers where representatives of the 192 countries that form the UN meet. The security council meetings are no longer open to the public during regular sessions. He walked down to the bottom of one extremely large Security Council chamber, and I assume he stood facing us with his back to the stage. It seemed like a long time before I heard him call back, can you hear me now? Clearly, he was a long way away. We were then allowed to walk down to where he stood as he continued to describe the layout of the chamber.

With my dog guide at my side, I listened as Tang carefully, clearly and respectfully talked me through the layout of the United Nations.

Perhaps the tour guide at the Empire State Building (ESB), a tour we took the day before, could have taken a lesson from Tang. I was made to feel unwelcome at the ESB. No sooner had I walked my dog guide into the lobby than I heard the words, “No pets allowed. No dogs allowed.” Surely this wasn’t the first dog guide to walk onto the floor of the Empire State Building, I thought. I informed the guard that she was in violation of federal law, as my dog was not a pet but a dog guide. She asked somebody, who I assumed was her superior, if I’d be allowed in with the dog and he told her to let me pass. The rest of our extremely short ESB tour felt as if we were passed along by kind but firm voices on an assembly line, handed off from one hand to the next.

This year the UN passed the treaty on rights for persons with disabilities. If my tour experience is any indication, they clearly intend to practice what they preach. I wholeheartedly recommend taking the UN tour next time you get a chance. The ESB, on the other hand, has some more work to do.