After moving to the Outer Banks, siblings Noelle Maloney and Gavin Frangipane, who had both worked in nursing homes, realized that they wanted to help people with mobility constraints get to the beach. They started OBX Beach Mobility to rent out wheelchairs specifically designed for the sand, delivering them within their service area between Corolla and Salvo as well as on Roanoke Island. They recently added beach “rollators” — walkers with seats and fat tires — to their offerings. “It’s a joy to be able to bring this service to people,” Maloney says. “[A client] sent me a message with a picture of their father that said, ‘You made a dying man’s wish come true.’ It floored me.”
For those who can’t (or prefer not to) climb the 459 steps to the Sky Lounge at Chimney Rock, an elevator offers quick and easy access. photograph by Tom Moors
Chimney Rock & Grandfather Mountain
Two of western North Carolina’s most iconic landmarks are wheelchair-accessible thanks to the addition of elevators. From the upper parking lot at Chimney Rock, elevation 1,965 feet, visitors can take in views of Hickory Nut Gorge and the Rocky Broad River as it flows into Lake Lure. From there, a 200-foot man-made tunnel leads to an elevator that ascends 26 stories to the Sky Lounge, where visitors can grab a sandwich or ice cream to eat on a patio overlooking the gorge.
Northeast of Chimney Rock, overlooks along the road to the top of Grandfather Mountain provide stunning views that can be enjoyed without leaving your car. An elevator and a short, accessible trail lead to the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
Trained Ocean Cure volunteers ride along with surfers at Carolina Beach. Photography courtesy of OCEAN CURE
Ocean Cure — Carolina Beach
Ocean Cure assists surfers with physical disabilities using emotional support and adaptive equipment like handles, wedges to provide upper mobility support, and floating wheelchairs to help with transitioning onto the board. Trained volunteers can ride along with surfers on extra-large surfboards. The day always starts with a conversation about abilities and comfort levels. “Then we ease them into it with a lot of laughter,” says founder and President Kevin Murphy. For those who aren’t quite ready to ride the waves, the organization has added accessible mats at select beach access points to allow wheelchairs or even hospital beds to roll onto the beach.
Carolinas Rehabilitation, a division of Atrium Health, partners with the Lake Norman YMCA to offer adaptive waterskiing, accommodating almost any physical disability and some cognitive disabilities. Participants sit in the skis, which are longer and wider than traditional skis for increased stability — with additional stabilizing equipment available if necessary. Rope can be attached directly to the skis for those with upper-extremity impairments. Safety is paramount, with four people on two Sea-Doos riding behind the skier for assistance if needed. “[Skiers] refer to it as a freeing experience,” says Jennifer Moore, director of the Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program at Carolinas Rehabilitation. “For once, they leave their disability behind on the dock.”
Discovery Place — Charlotte, Huntersville, Rockingham
At Discovery Place Science, the third level of the parking garage leads directly into the museum, allowing visitors to enter without having to cross any Uptown Charlotte streets. Wheelchair seating is offered in the IMAX theater, which shows larger-than-life documentaries about the natural world, and sensory packs can be picked up from the help desk. At Discovery Place Nature in Charlotte’s Freedom Park, a boardwalk with a ramp takes visitors to the Fort Wild Nature Area. For all of the Discovery Place locations, including Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville and Rockingham, visitors are encouraged to contact the museum for any special accommodations — including guides for the visually impaired or sign language interpreters.
Candace Hayes started Q’s Corner, an indoor play gym for children and adults with and without disabilities, to promote inclusion. The main gym area features equipment for a variety of abilities — including a wheelchair-accessible swing — while the Experience Room plays 360-degree virtual reality videos that allow participants to feel like they’re kayaking, scuba diving, or flying through outer space. The Sensory Room is a soothing space where participants can control the mood of the room by changing fiber-optic light colors or pressing virtual buttons to create different effects — beneficial to people with autism spectrum disorder as well as adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The Soft Play Room, in which every surface is padded, is a safe space for releasing emotions. Q’s Corner is a Certified Autism Center — one of several High Point attractions and accommodations in which staff have completed sensory training, part of an effort to make the entire city a Certified Autism Destination.
The Glory Road exhibit at the NASCAR Hall of Fame features 19 race cars in celebration of the sport’s 75th anniversary. photograph by Tim Robison
NASCAR Hall of Fame — Charlotte
A visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame kicks off with a closed-captioned introductory video in the wheelchair-accessible High Octane Theater. Next, deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors can explore the exhibits with a sign language interpreter, while visitors with sensory disorders can check out sensory bags or take breaks in quiet zones. Guests who use wheelchairs can hear the roar of engines and the squeal of tires while racing against competitors in the iRacing Simulator’s wheelchair-accessible stock car replica, equipped with steering wheel-accommodated pedals.
As the son of a World War II D-Day veteran, founder Allan McCoy started Hook Line & Heroes to serve those who have served. The organization offers fishing trips to veterans with service-related disabilities — including those with little to no upper-extremity mobility as well as those with PTSD. The Pineville-based, faith-driven organization sends veterans on fully sponsored trips around the country, including deep-sea fishing trips off the coast of Nags Head and freshwater trips on Lake Norman. “[Fishing] causes our veterans to relax and unwind, especially our PTSD folks,” McCoy says. “Veterans will tell you at the end of the trip that catching a fish was a plus, but that just being on the boat was exactly what they needed.”
The Acacia Station Giraffe Deck at the North Carolina Zoo is wheelchair-accessible. Photography courtesy of North Carolina Zoo
North Carolina Zoo — Asheboro
Attractions like the Endangered Species Carousel, the Kaleidoscope Butterfly Garden, and the Acacia Station Giraffe Deck — where guests can hand-feed giraffes — aren’t the only parts of the zoo that are wheelchair-accessible: The parking lot shuttle and in-park trams and buses are, too. Visitors with sensory disorders can check out sensory bags and weighted lap pads, and the zoo has designated quiet zones and headphone zones, where noise-canceling devices are recommended. Changing areas for older children and adults are also available.
Visitors to this Certified Autism Center can enjoy exhibits on piracy, shipwrecks, and hurricanes with the help of sensory backpacks, or they can spend time in a quiet sensory room. On monthly Sensory Saturdays, lights in the exhibit hall are dimmed, and interactive audio features are turned off throughout the museum. Participants can also make a themed craft — like a pirate flag — at their own pace.
The Lasher handcycle from Catalyst Sports allows Matthew Kirby (foreground) and others to explore mountain trails. photograph by CALLIE HORWATH/CATALYST SPORTS
Catalyst Sports — Asheville
The Asheville chapter of the nonprofit Catalyst Sports offers group adaptive mountain biking in the Asheville and Hendersonville areas. The organization provides bikes that are outfitted to accommodate a range of disabilities: recumbent bicycles for balance support, handcycles for lower-extremity paralysis, adaptive controls for limited hand functionality, and electric-assist motors. At group events at the Riveter rock-climbing gym, Catalyst volunteers teach participants how to climb with their disabilities and assist climbers as needed.
The Durham Bulls Athletic Park provides a downloadable, illustrated “Social Story” to guide visitors with sensory disorders through the experience of attending a game at the park. A separate downloadable caretaker guide explains the best parking lots, entrances, and seating areas to avoid crowds and loud noises. The park also loans out weighted lap pads and sensory bags with headphones and fidget devices, and provides quiet areas for taking sensory breaks.
During the tour, certified music practioners, like Julie Rehder, play soothing music, and visitors can participate in a simple art activity. Photography courtesy of CAMERON ART MUSEUM
The Connections Program at the Cameron Art Museum allows visitors with early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia to tour the exhibitions at their own pace on one Monday a month, when the museum is closed to other visitors. “We love it when people see a piece and talk about a memory or a feeling that it might bring back for them,” says Georgia Mastroieni, director of outreach and accessibility. “It’s more of a supported conversation through the galleries than a traditional art museum tour.” During the tour, certified music therapists play soothing music, and visitors can participate in a simple art activity. On other Mondays, visitors with disabilities can schedule individual tours, and the museum has recently begun offering quarterly tours in sign language.