Article written by Tina Staniscia: a family woman, writer, journalist, experienced Dutchess County resident, and now a restless, intrepid WTW mapper.
As I submit my 50th site visit, after only six months, I have officially completed my first assignment for Wheel The World: Mapping the accessibility of 50 places, hotels, and restaurants in Dutchess County.
Discovering new places can bring a lot of joy and growth into one's life, but it's increasingly common knowledge that for people with disabilities, it can be more difficult to navigate the world. This is where Wheel the World comes in: a travel company that aims to provide accessible travel opportunities for all through a unique online marketplace that maps and details accessibility data on their bookable listings.
As a first-time mapper for their team, I had the chance to explore my hometown, my own backyard of Dutchess County, NY, with fresh eyes. I hope to share some of my personal insights and recommendations on how to make the most of an accessible trip to this beautiful area.
It takes a mini-village to stay focused and motivated… This project wasn’t easy, but it was incredibly worthwhile and satisfying.
"Mapping" in Dutchess County
I have lived in Dutchess County for most of my life. I’ve worked dozens of jobs, most of them focused on customer relations. But ‘mapping’ was something new (but in many ways, not really). I was still gathering information from others, something I’ve always done. It was just being formatted in a different way.
So… What Does a Wheel the World Mapper Do?
When mapping, someone will ask me what I do upon arrival at a new site if the conversation hasn't been had in advance.
In a nutshell, I describe the job as follows: I evaluate a space for accessibility. With my phone, wi-fi access, a construction measuring tape, and an app designed by Wheel the World for the task at hand, I input different accessibility data points to provide essential information for travelers with disabilities and anyone who may travel with them.
Once a site visit is complete, all information goes to the Wheel the World content team. There, the magic happens! Whether it’s a hotel, museum, restaurant, or indoor or outdoor activity, listings are created, providing detailed accessibility information as a resource for travelers with accessibility needs.
Becoming a mapper enabled me to see so much of what is around me in a completely new light. Many of the sites I visited were my first visits ever, and the chance to partake in guided, informative site visits was an amazing lifetime opportunity.
Rediscovering Dutchess County as a Resident for 50+ Years
Dutchess County is part of the Hudson Valley region, an area north of New York City and south of the state capital Albany. Created in 1683, the county covers almost 800 square miles. As much as there are things that are constantly changing and new places frequently arise, much of the county is steeped in history.
It’s the home to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidential Library and Museum, the Culinary Institute of America, Vassar College, and the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world: The Walkway Over the Hudson.
I’m lucky that my backyard is full of interesting places to explore!
Accessible Dutchess County: A WTW Mapper Perspective
Because so much in Dutchess County is historical construction, accessibility varies greatly. So, when approaching a site visit, I take into account as much as I can see, measure, and photograph. Especially considering visitors who are wheelchair, walker, scooter, and cane users. The same goes for companions since so many people with disabilities travel with their families or a companion.
While traversing Dutchess County, I’ve come across numerous easily-accessible sites that cater to a wide variety of travelers. Whether one is looking for a history lesson, a great meal, an afternoon of bowling, or a locally made beer and snacks, there’s something for just about everyone. At the end of this blog post, I list some of my personal favorites.
Dutchess County is also an area for the budget-minded traveler as well as for someone who wants a more luxurious experience. Many affordable chain hotels are along the Route 9 corridor through Poughkeepsie, Wappinger Falls, and Fishkill. In Beacon, Millbrook, or Amenia, more splurge-worthy options are available.
My key takeaways:
I’ve learned so much with this job that I now automatically evaluate any space for accessibility. People without disabilities take a lot for granted. Rarely is there an issue with navigating any area. We just do it without thought. In mapping, noticing even the smallest detail might help a traveler move through certain spaces just as readily.
With my background in journalism, I also ask a lot of questions. So much that I learn comes from those familiar with a site. Oftentimes, if my guide doesn’t have an answer, they know someone who does. Most folks are very enthusiastic about what they do and where they do it.
Another thing that has become clear over the many site visits is that it never hurts to ask for help. Good business owners want their patrons to be happy. Making inquiries in advance regarding specific needs can pave the way for a better experience. So, if you need an extra pillow, a portable shower chair in your bathroom before you arrive, or someone to hold a manual door open for you, just ask. Folks want to help; they really do.
Some Personal Recommendations of Accessible Dutchess County: Hotels and Things to Do (in no particular order)
Accessible Hotels in Dutchess County
- Residence Inn by Marriott Poughkeepsie: Well-appointed, affordable, with helpful, courteous staff.
- The Millbrook Inn: Luxurious stay with rustic chic appointments. Amazing, on-site, farm-to-table restaurant: The Vintage.
- Hyatt House Fishkill-Poughkeepsie: Convenient location, a wide variety of accessible rooms, lovely pool and terrace area.
Accessible Things to Do in Dutchess County
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum: Great day trip location. Museum, special exhibits, cafe’, ‘secret’ garden, and tour of Roosevelt family home.
- Mid-Hudson Discovery Museum: This is a wonderful family activity for those with younger traveling companions. Very accessible, with an amazing view of the mighty Hudson River.
- Walkway Over the Hudson State Park: It offers a walk or wheel with spectacular views and accessible features throughout. Not to be missed, especially during an autumn in New York.
Accessible Restaurants in Dutchess County
- Dassai Blue Sake Brewery: New, state-of-the-art facility for sake production. Tours, tasting room, and retail space. My personal gold standard for accessibility.
- Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park: Three world-class restaurants, seasonal pop-ups, cafes, and a brewery. Gorgeous campus for visiting and photo-ops.
- The Roundhouse Restaurant: Part of The Roundhouse Hotel in renovated, historic factory buildings. Emphasis on local ingredients and purveyors. Stunning view of active waterfall and creek. Perfect date night location.
Dutchess County is an amazing jewel in the Hudson Valley. With fabulous places to stay and dine, in addition to a wide variety of activities, there’s something for just about everyone here. New restaurants are opening, hotels are being built, and renovation updates to existing spaces are occurring regularly.
As a mapper, I look forward to seeing what the future will bring to accessible Dutchess County, and I enjoy visiting different places to see how they approach accessibility. To date, what are my main takeaways from this journey? As a traveler, if help is needed, we need to ask. Intrinsically, folks truly want to help. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to ask for help, and I happily share this life lesson here.
Special thanks to Lore Casiroli (Sr. Business Developer) and Catalina Pineda (Operations Analyst), who guided me through the process.
Happy, safe travels, no matter where you choose to adventure!