This article is Part 1 of a new series providing first-hand advice for wheelchair users looking to navigate and enjoy Huntsville/Madison County’s attractions, restaurants, shops, outdoor recreation, and other points of interest.
Hey, yall, I'm Taylor Burton. Originally from Augusta, Georgia, I've been in the Huntsville metro since 2013, and love it here. I’m the graphic designer for a large community college here. When I'm not at my day job, I'm off exploring with my lovely wife, Dana, hanging with the young adult crowd from church, meeting with fellow graduates of the Leadership Greater Huntsville program, or songwriting and singing with my band, The Silver Silos. An active part of the Huntsville/Madison County "scene", I wanted to start this blog to provide my take on living in Huntsville and Madison County as a person with a disability.
Navigating Huntsville in a Wheelchair
I was born with spina bifida, and use a wheelchair to get around. Being a wheelchair user is what I know, so I will focus on wheelchair access, but will also touch on other disability topics in my future blog posts. I've tried to lead as independent and normal (what is "normal" anyway?) of a life as possible - I went off to college in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I love to travel, get off the pavement using my Freewheel attachment, and wander around the Rocket City in my beloved Buick station wagon.
As I write this, it has been 29 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was made into law. There have been enormous strides towards providing the kind of access that those of us with disabilities need to lead fulfilling, public lives with dignity and equality. That being said, the ADA, like all other laws, was created by people, followed (and frequently not followed) by people, and also enforced by people. Needless to say, it’s an imperfect fix, and in traveling around this country, I’ve experienced everything from outstanding compliance, to total disregard of the laws that were meant to give us some assurance that we can move about freely and confidently. I’ve been surprised when a rather “rustic” hole-in-the-wall biker bar establishment proves to be wonderfully accessible, an interstate rest stop, operated by the government of a certain state directly to our west featured a handicapped restroom stall featuring a large step! This blog will hopefully provide to you a preview of just some of the hundreds of places around here that I enjoy going and experiencing good accessibility.
Curb Cuts, Tips and Tricks
Huntsville is on track to be the largest city in Alabama by 2024, and anyone who spends a lot of time in Huntsville/Madison County can certainly sense the sprawl that has been happening the past few years. We are famous for being home to Redstone Arsenal, headquarters of the US Army Materiel Command, and of course NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the US Space and Rocket Center, but we're also becoming known for simply being an amazing place to live and visit! I have found that there's a lot for me to see and do around here that I can make work with my wheelchair, and I am going to spend time visiting some of these places and offering some tips and tricks along the way. I can help you know where to park and where to find those often-elusive curb cuts, accessible entrances, and elevators. I’ll offer tips on where I like to go around town, and if you're looking for really easy accessibility, spacious restrooms, and all of that good stuff, stay tuned. I’ll even share a trick or two with you about how to more easily enjoy access at some local businesses, just by asking the right questions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of my experiences, lately!
In the upcoming months, we will visit some of my favorite spots, and also try out some places that are new to me! We'll go down to Lowe Mill, a sprawling textile mill, built in 1901, that has since been converted into the largest privately-owned arts facility in the country. We'll traverse our beautiful downtown area, and hit up both new and long-beloved spots around the courthouse square.
Restaurants, Attractions, Breweries, Nature and More!
We will go to the site of a former middle school, which has been transformed into Campus 805, an enclave of breweries and restaurants that features a wheelchair-accessible speakeasy! We will explore the city of Madison and its charming Main Street, attempt to play mini golf - often an adventure in a chair - at the Insanity Complex, and venture out into the county, grabbing some good food in areas like Hazel Green and New Market.
Let's get back to nature, too! We will explore some of Huntsville/Madison County's 73 miles of greenways and trails. We will go to some of my favorites, like Hays Nature Preserve and Indian Creek Greenway, and I'll finally make it up the mountain to Monte Sano State Park, which is mere minutes from Downtown! (Why haven't I explored Monte Sano yet?!)
We will also take a deep-dive into the municipal and non-profit entities in Huntsville and Madison County that you should know about. There are numerous disability and access-related resources around here that you can utilize during your time in Huntsville, whether you are visiting, or planning a permanent move to the Rocket City!
By the time I’ve said my piece, we will have covered a lot of ground around Madison County, down south in Owens Cross Roads and New Market, to up near the Tennessee line in Hazel Green and Meridianville. We’ll explore the small business incubator spaces of Clinton Row downtown, and hit up new establishments like the rooftop bar at the AC Hotel at Big Spring Park and the restaurants at the new Times Plaza on the Parkway. We will take a stroll back in time along the historic streets of the Twickenham, Old Town, and Five Points districts, and we will check out some of the new things popping up around Madison.
Look for some input from me every month - and please post in the comments any specific topic requests!