Hidden Gems: Accessible Travel NYC at NYBG
Helena LaPorte-Burns is the Content Manager for Public Programming at The New York Botanical Garden.
On September 13, Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad, her sister Annie, and their family did something they have done many times before: they spent a day at The New York Botanical Garden. However, on this particular day, the family made their pilgrimage to the Garden not just as guests, but as collaborators with NYBG’s Public Programming and Volunteer Services departments to present a program designed for people with disabilities.
Lakshmee is the founder of Accessible Travel NYC, an online resource for people with disabilities to find accessible information within the travel and tourism ecosystem. With assistance from representatives of the ADAPT Community Network (formerly UCP), Accessible Travel NYC created the Hidden Gems activity (the structure of which is reminiscent of an Easter egg hunt, though without the possibility of forgotten eggs). The Hidden Gems activity featured rocks hand-painted by Annie and Natalie Reichel, Art Specialist with ADAPT, that were then hidden in the Perennial Garden for the 30 participants to find.
When asked about the inspiration for the program, Annie replied:
“The Hidden Gems program was primarily developed by my art teacher Natalie at ADAPT as a way for participants to be active and to enjoy the arts. My favorite parts were working with a lot of my family members to paint each gem, then finding creative ways to hide them around the beautiful Garden and then seeing everyone’s joy when they found them.”
The day was indeed joy-filled, as observed in the below photos taken by NYBG photographer Marlon Co. Once every rock was discovered and lunch enjoyed, we took a moment to speak with Lakshmee and Annie to hear more about their organization.
Helena LaPorte-Burns (HLB): Accessible Travel NYC was founded in 2018 as an online resource. What inspired it?
Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad (LLP): Our family wanted to create an online platform that showcases positive disability representation and highlights accessible information because of the lack of such representation and information within New York City’s vibrant tourism. Without accessible information people with disabilities wouldn’t know what’s accessible to them or not and the lack of representation often means erasure of disability as an identity.
HLB: What makes NYBG important to you? To your family? To your organization?
LLP: It’s one of the Bronx’s major attractions that’s near to our home that we can get to quickly with public transportation. During our Guyanese and Surinamese childhood, our mom—and dad too when he was alive—were gardeners and plant lovers, so Annie and I grew up surrounded by tropical plants, many that made their way into our food. We see so many of these plants at the Gardens, which serves as a powerful connector to our past, stirring up many stories of long-lost memories that bring us immense joy. We also enjoy the world-class exhibits and many opportunities to learn new things about our environment and the plant world. Let’s not forget all of the indoor plants we’ve brought home from the gift shop over the years which were therapeutic for us to watch grow and flower during the pandemic. Last but not least are all of the new memories we get to create together as a family within the tranquil spaces of the Garden, which is priceless.
Annie Lachhman (AL): I feel relaxed and at peace at the Garden.
HLB: What is your favorite part of the Garden?
LPP: That’s a hard question, but the Edible Academy is among the top contenders. The Conservatory, Hudson Garden Grill, and the Gift Shop. I do enjoy Thain Forest too, but not all of it is accessible for Annie to visit.
AL: The Edible Academy because we get to taste, smell, and touch what’s in the garden. On occasions we’ve snuck in a tomato or two… I know we’re not the only ones who’ve done this!
HLB: Annie, tell us about your teacher Natalie.
AL: Natalie is a wonderful art teacher who I met at ADAPT in 2011. She is kind, patient, and understands me, and we’ve developed a great working relationship. She often invites me to co-teach art with her. During the pandemic we started switching up the way we created art—she became my apprentice as a reasonable accommodation where I would give specific instructions for artwork. This is a great partnership and an example of reasonable accommodations for a person with a disability like myself. I’m always very happy to work with Natalie.
HLB: What do you have to consider when traveling throughout NYC?
LLP: We have many things that go into consideration when travelling around New York City. Our biggest barriers are transportation, weather, and it’s a challenge to find updated and accurate accessibility information, accessible places to dine at, and accessible restrooms.
HLB: How can people and organizations get involved in your work?
LLP: For organizations: We’d love to lead more inclusive programs with other cultural organizations around New York City, including NYBG. And as for the people, we’d like to invite more community members and families with and without disabilities to take part in our joyous, inclusive, and accessible programs.
HLB: How can organizations do better to be ADA conscious? What resources would you like people to view, use, and share?
LLP: Organizations should take a proactive approach in Disability Inclusion & Accessibility, instead of it being an afterthought. They need to understand that people with disabilities exist in all communities, as well as acknowledge that disability is a part of our natural human diversity and by providing physical and digital accessibility as well as a welcoming experience allows PwD and families like ours to fully participate in a social life.
We’d love to share our website as a resource for organizations to see all of our family photos across New York City and recognize each of us as full human beings worthy of joy and belonging everywhere—not just a compliant checklist of accessibility.
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