Today was our first visit to the National Constitution Center. It’s been on my list of things to do and I’m glad an opportunity came up that encouraged me to go. As a special needs parent, I’m sure I experience the same anxieties in these situations that you’ve experienced. You’re worried about parking, how far to walk, food, noise, lights, crowds and so many other things.
My son’s special needs do not require a wheelchair, but at almost five, he uses a stroller. He doesn’t have great endurance for walking all day and the stroller definitely serves as his comfort zone when he gets stressed. It’s also very wide-32″, the minimal width for doorways, per ADA. I know this, because we barely fit through many of them (not today, just in general).
So starting out with parking, this is where I dropped the ball. I knew where the NCC was, I didn’t know where parking would be. And I didn’t look it up online beforehand–my fault. I did find a nice spot, just a block away, and it was for handicapped only, on street parking. Problem was, you still had to pay a kiosk, that’s not a big deal–but it had a 2-hour limit. So midway through our visit, I had to run out and pay again. I later realized that there is ample parking, and presumably ample handicapped parking, in the Independence Mall area.
It’s a newer facility, so everything is wide doorways and button openers, which is nice. The main lobby/vestibule area is wide open, a bit noisy and the sounds echo. In the lobby, they did have kids activities set up, crafts and stuff. We enjoyed this. My son still requires hand-over-hand for most things like this, but I always welcome the opportunity to do so in a setting that isn’t so forced. I’m sure you all know what I mean. They also had some candle-making which the older kids seemed to be enjoying.
The special exhibits are usually on the lower level and it’s in the back. This was a nice change from the lobby. The lights are dimmed and there’s virtually no talking because they offer iPod narrated tours. I chose against that, and just read the signs with the displays. But it had a very calming effect on K after the hustle and bustle of the city and the lobby. He was very content in the stroller and my other son actually enjoyed the exhibits. There are guns and cannons and replicas of horses and all sorts of interesting things.
After that, we went upstairs and walked around a bit. It’s bright, airy, and again the sounds echo. My K really wasn’t bothered by it though. They both liked running around in the open space and looking out the windows. I did not stay for the main part of the NCC, or for any of the shows. I know that I really didn’t use my visit to it’s full potential, but we had to get back for an OT appointment. The cafeteria appeared to have choices that you would expect for a lunch menu. They do allow you to bring food in. At least, they checked my bags (for security) when I went in, and didn’t say anything about me bringing in a lunchbox. There is an outdoor patio upstairs, if you choose to eat out there. We ate out front, in the grassy area in the shade.
We walked around the Independence Mall area after we ate. I found the whole area to be pretty accessible. Every curb/corner had an entry, sidewalks are wide and so on. The restrooms were clean, had wide doorways, wide stalls and an area for baby-changing. There are benches throughout the building if you need to rest. There also are nooks and corners and little places to get away, should you need a few minutes to regroup. There are two sets of elevators, I found that the doors didn’t stay open very long and we missed it the first try.
All in all, it was a very stress free place to visit. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again. I wouldn’t expect any unforeseen disasters. If your child has a lot of trouble processing lots of visuals with competing sounds, I would keep them out of the main exhibit area of the NCC. But there are plenty of benches around and other things to do, so you & a spouse could take turns going in to see it, because it is definitely worth seeing.
I was a bit reluctant to go because I thought that the content might be a bit too mature for my kids, and yeah, overall, it is. I mean, my 2-year-old couldn’t even say Constitution Center (though hubby and I laughed as he tried!) let alone learn what it’s all about. But they enjoyed the mascots, the displays, the dioramas and just the fun of the hustle & bustle of being in the city. And hopefully it will give them a reference point for the future, for when they visit with schools and can comprehend the material.