Youngsters using wheelchairs, braces and seeing-eye dogs are not as limited by other people's perceptions and the environment as they once were. Today, encouraged by families, teachers, therapists and legislators, there are signs in Braille and wheelchair ramps at many museums, nature walks, sports arenas, theaters, schools and entertainment complexes.
Outings for special children mean extra time and preparation for the person taking care of them. For the children, it means the exhilaration of exposure to new environments, ideas, situations, people and possibilities; the opportunity to experience what is taken for granted by children without disabilities; the encouragement to push ahead, and the stimulation to find a way "to do the impossible."
The following are among many facilities that offer all of the above and are "wheelchair friendly."
William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom, 1936 Lake Drive, in the Franklin Canyon Ranch National Park, north of Beverly Hills. For information call (213) 858-3834 Monday through Friday; on weekends call (213) 271-5013. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Free. Use of specially designed trails for the blind and the handicapped, which can even accommodate gurneys, is by reservation only and is limited to organized groups. Scheduled walks with docents that encourage feeling and smelling flowers and plants are available for groups. New nature center, now being planned, will be strongly handicapped-oriented. Call ahead for reservations and information.
Aerospace Museum, 700 State Drive, Los Angeles, (213) 744-7400. Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's days; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free. Elevator holds two wheelchairs at a time. Hands-on exhibits and a space shuttle cargo bay let you touch tomorrow; the satellites hanging from the ceiling show a look of tomorrow, and space ice cream, $1.50 at the gift shop, offers a taste of tomorrow.
California Pools for the Handicapped, 6801 Long Beach Blvd. at 68th Street, Long Beach, (213) 537-2224. Open Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed on holidays. Free. Use of pools for disabled or for senior citizens requires filling out a general information form--including name, age and medication--and children also need a doctor's note of approval. Staff and instructors available to all. Two pools with ramps, plus there's a hydraulic lift for the deep pool. Splash, swim, float, play or exercise in water maintained at 92 degrees. Those wishing free lessons must sign up for a minimum of four, also available are group activities.
Open House in the Plaza Circle, Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, (213) 850-2000; TTY: (213) 972-7615. A six-week program sponsored by Los Angeles Philharmonic from July 6 through Aug. 14, Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Performances and workshops are $2.50 per person, group rates available. Emphasizing Los Angeles' cultural diversity, performances include: music, dance, theater, art, storytelling and puppetry for 6- to 16-year-olds. Related workshops will provide young people opportunities to be directly involved with art forms on stage and the cultures they represent. Call for reservations and arrange for special circumstances, such as front row seats and signers for the hearing impaired, wheelchair placement and special parking (ramps are steep).
Sea World, 1720 S. Shores Drive, San Diego, (619) 226-3901. Open daily. Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Labor Day. Admission: 12 and older $16.95; 3 to 11 pay $11.95, and 2 and under are free. A Shamu kiss or a sea lion flipper-shake welcomes many of the visitors to the park. Guests can pet dolphins, watch archer fish shoot "water bullets," pick up bat stars and feed walruses and harbor seals. Many rides, shows and exhibits.
George C. Page Museum, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 936-2230. Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Extended hours during daylight-saving time are Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission: adults 13 and older $3; seniors 62 and older and students 12 and over with ID cards pay $1.50; children 5 through 12 pay 75 cents, and 4 and under free. There is no admission charge on the second Tuesday of each month. Limited free parking includes two handicapped spaces. See volunteers and professional paleontologists clean Ice Age fossils in a glassed-in laboratory. Inspect reconstructed skeletons of a mastodon, saber-tooth cat and giant ground sloth.
View the 15-minute movie, "La Brea Story," which shows how animals were trapped in the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits. Experience the tug trapped animals felt when they became stuck in the tar. The outdoor viewing stand will be open July 1 through Aug. 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Here, one can see workers removing bones from a tar pit (but this area does not afford a good view to visitors in wheelchairs). West of the viewing stand and accessible to all who can navigate one six-inch step is an observation pit, open on Saturdays and Sundays. Visitors view the actual bones in a tar pit, and a tour guide is available.
Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens, 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, (805) 962-5339. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 15 through Labor Day. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Admission: Adults 13 and over $4; children 2 to 12 and seniors over 60 pay $2; 1 and under are free. Visit animals, birds and reptiles housed in some of the most exotic naturalistic habitats in the world. Wonder at elephant and sea lion demonstrations held at 4 p.m. on most summer days. Take a ride on the miniature train, which includes a car for wheelchair passengers, thanks to the Mericos Foundation.
Universal Studios Tour, 100 Universal Plaza, Universal City, (818) 777-3801, open daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Hours vary, so it is advisable to call in advance. A 20% discount to handicapped. Admission prices, until June 22: adults 12 and over $14.95; children 3 to 11 pay $10.95, and 2 and under free. June 23 prices increase to $15.95 for adults, $11.95 for 3 to 11. Parking is $2. Wheelchairs can be rented or bring your own. See Hollywood in action aboard an open-air SuperTram. Journey through the back lot, but be prepared for unexpected "perils" and "near catastrophes" created by special effects experts.
The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 972-7483. Free tours on the summer schedule, which began May 1 and continues to Oct. 31: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Docents gear talks about the actors, plays, history of each theater, artifacts and paintings to age level and interest of the group. Special loan wheelchair gives access to any seat in Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but advance arrangements necessary through the box office. Ticket prices vary for performances at the Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum. All three theaters offer rental equipment for the hearing impaired.
Fast-food restaurants. Many neighborhood fast-food places have play areas where parents can supervise children's recreational games. Among them is Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre, 8425 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, (818) 993-3446, where children can plop, bounce and sprawl in the Ball Crawl Room or play video games as they wait for pizza, hot dogs, soft drinks or sundaes--all served by a staff dressed in character costumes. Puppet shows every 15-20 minutes. Throughout the Los Angeles area, there are 15 other Chuck E. Cheeses and eight in the San Diego area.