By Dawn Beers Carter

Oahu, Hawaii, the name of the island may not be as familiar as its major city, Honolulu. However, there is no separating Oahu from its popularized images of gorgeous beaches with breathtaking sunsets, Diamond Head crater, or its bustling city on a small island in the Pacific.

Whatever you visualize when you hear Honolulu, let me paint a clearer picture of the island for you.

Honolulu is the capital city of the state of Hawaii. Each of the major islands is actually considered a county of the state of Hawaii. The island of Oahu is the third largest of the island chain and 75% of the state’s population lives here.

Depending from where you fly into Hawaii, you may have a long flight to get there. However, once you do arrive, the island’s sheer beauty helps you immediately put the journey behind you.

There are several wheelchair accessible transfer companies that come equipped with wheelchair lifts in their vans to take you to your hotel or condominium. (One example is Handicabs of the Pacific, Inc. 808-524-3866). Calling the Oahu Tourism Board (877-525-OAHU) will put you in touch with other companies. I recommend not renting a car or van while staying in Honolulu, as parking is scarce and very expensive; in the city everyone walks (or rolls, as the case may be).

If you don’t mind the parking hassle and plan on exploring the whole island while you are there, there are a couple companies you can rent wheelchair vans from, one of which is Wheelchair Getaways (800-642-2042).

The city has a lot to offer anyone who comes to visit. It is worth the visit alone, just to discover the rich history of this land. A few of the most notable spots are: Pearl Harbor – which is home to the USS Missouri as well as the Arizona Memorial (which was attacked and sunk in 1941 during WWII), the Iolani Palace, which is the only royal palace on American soil, and Bishop museum, the island’s state museum of natural and cultural history. These are not-to-be-missed points of interest for any tourist. If you are looking for something more than just a vivid history lesson, Oahu is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, as well as some of the best nightlife on the islands for those young-at-heart.

All of this makes Hawaii an incredible vacation destination, but what is even better is that Oahu has worked very hard at becoming a very accessible tourist spot. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, the islands have all taken measures to come into compliance with the law. That said, the islands are not completely wheelchair friendly, but on the whole there are more accessible areas than not.

In Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is the most well-known destination. It is a 2.5 mile long stretch of land that houses several huge resorts, major shopping and mouth-watering restaurants. From the airport it is about 15 minutes to downtown Waikiki. Once you arrive you will be swept away with all the city has to offer.

I stayed at one of the oldest resorts in Waikiki- the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It is known for its rainbow mosaic up the wall of one of its four towers. The Hilton is on the west end of Waikiki beach and has the best stretch of beach in Honolulu. It is a huge property that has four pools (one of which is exclusive to guests staying in the Alii tower), 6 restaurants (including Benihana) and 100 shops. It is truly a one stop destination resort.

The hotel has spent millions of dollars to maintain its contemporary decor, and they are proud to state that they have 72 ADA rooms (rooms that are in compliance with the laws of the Americans with Disabilities Act -ADA) on property. These rooms are scattered in most every room category the hotel offers, except in the Alii Tower (more later). Their rooms have either roll-in showers with built-in shower seats, or bathtubs with bars and adjustable shower heads. I have stayed in both types of rooms just mentioned, and I was please that in the room with the bathtub, the hotel provided a nice sized waterproof shower bench with a back and adjustable arm (depending on what side of the tub you need to face).

The rooms also feature sinks that you can roll all the way under, bars next to the tub, lowered light switches and thermostat, as well as a balcony that has a flat-lipped doorway. Besides all of the wheelchair accommodations, the rooms also feature safety fire alarms for hearing and visually impaired guests.

The hotel has wheelchair ramps throughout the property and the staff seems to be conscientious about the needs of guests with disabilities.

The hotel does have some areas that need work though. The Alii Tower, which caters to a more upscale client with nicer amenities and white glove doorman service, does not have any wheelchair accessible rooms. They do have a “wheelchair accessible” swimming pool, but it requires a special key to access the lift to get you there. While visiting, the hotel representative and I waited for someone to unlock the lift for 10 minutes before giving up. However, this should not prevent you from staying at this property, as its positive attributes more than make up for its faults.

Since there are many, many hotels and resorts in Waikiki, I will try to focus on the stand-outs.

To be on the safe side, in choosing a hotel it is usually best to pick a brand name hotel such as Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, etc. Not only in Honolulu, but elsewhere, these hotels tend to set the standard for wheelchair accessibility. This is especially true of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.

Although it is not directly on the beach, it is just across the street. The hotel features wheelchair accessible features throughout the resort. For instance, they have electric door openers leading to their lobby bathrooms for guests in wheelchairs.

This resort boasts 22 ADA rooms, which feature the basic accommodations such as roll-in showers or bathtubs with bars and adjustable shower heads, and also include an array of accessible amenities for people with visual and hearing disabilities. Vibrating fire alarms for visually impaired guests to keep under their pillows at night, as well as TDD phones for use by those with hearing impairments are available. The only negative is that the rooms which feature a bathtub and bars, are accompanied by a cheap shower bench version that is about 6 inches wide by 18 inches long with no back- not very safe for those of you paralyzed from the chest down.

Three other well-known hotel chains in Hawaii are Outrigger, Marc and Aston resorts. All three cater to a client looking for a moderate to budget priced property.

The Outrigger hotels feature wheelchair accessible rooms, but they run the gamut as to what they consider “wheelchair accessible.” We stayed at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach (a moderate hotel) and their wheelchair accessible room features the bars and the wide doorways, but they had no rooms with roll-in showers and their waterproof bench was of the small, backless variety found at the Hyatt. Other Outriggers that need mentioning are the Waikiki Hobron, which as a budget rated hotel, surprisingly had a nice a ADA room with roll-in shower; the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, a moderate hotel with a great central Honolulu location, but a small beach, has some ADA rooms, a few with roll-in showers, but no access to the fitness center or their Voyagers’ Club rooms (hotel rooms for the more upscale client); and lastly, the Waikiki Reef Tower should be avoided if traveling by wheelchair, because the front lobby can only be accessed by a very steep, curving ramp, that I refused to enter after almost tipping over on first try!

The Marc and Aston properties as a whole do not offer much in the way of wheelchair accessibility. Most of their resorts are condominiums which do not fall under the ADA, so they don’t offer any accessible rooms in condos. The only way they will ever offer something with access is if one of their condo units is purchased by a disabled person and retrofitted. Currently, no condos have the basic accessibility features. There is one condo though, the Aston Waikiki Beach Tower , which has big enough rooms to get a wheelchair around in, but the door to the bathroom in their units is very narrow.

If looking for a good budget property that is just across the street from Waikiki beach, then the Aston Waikiki Circle may be a good choice. Their prices are good and they have 7 ADA rooms, some with roll-in showers, but there is a steep driveway leading to the building that would require strong-legged assistance.

The dining choices in Honolulu are endless. Because it is a tourist spot, you have a lot of the same restaurants found on the mainland. For instance, the Outback, Ruth Chris’s Steakhouse, Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock CafĂ© can all be found here, but also you’ll find the best in Japanese cuisine throughout the island, as well as Hawaiian food at Hawaiian chef, Sam Choy’s restaurants. Most of the restaurants in downtown Honolulu are accessible, but I was disappointed to see that McDonald’s in central Waikiki had four steps leading inside. This just encouraged me to try more of the local cuisine.

The shopping in Waikiki is to die for. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, just give up. There is everything from designer clothing to ABC (for all blocks covered) convenience stores that sell every Hawaiian souvenir available, including macadamia nuts, and other necessities.

If the city of Honolulu gets too busy and you are wanting a little more of a tranquil Hawaiian experience, try to rent a vehicle and go for a drive around the island of Oahu. It is surprising how beautiful the drive around the coast of this island is. Along the way is the Polynesian Cultural

Center, which is a must see for any one who loves the Hawaiian culture. If time is a constraint, you may want to skip this as it takes all day. Up on the north shore a fun thing to do is watch the many surfing competitions at Sunset Beach, where the waves are highest..

With so many choices available, you might feel guilty just wanting to sit back and enjoy the beautiful people, the fragrant and amazing flowers, and the awe-inspiring sunsets; don’t, it is your vacation to do what you want. The island is very wheelchair friendly, and there is something to fit every disabled person’s budget. You’ll see, it is worth the long plane ride to get there.