Accessible for All!
Howard County, Maryland has long been known for its diversity and livability, and numerous family-friendly attractions. This amazing Central Maryland region is also attuned to the accessibility needs of our residents and visitors with disabilities. With the launch of this new accessibility section of the Visit Howard County website, we will strive to provide up-to-date and comprehensive information that will make it easier for people with disabilities to fully enjoy all that our beautiful county has to offer.
Why we’re providing this information:
According to the CDC, 1,055,353 adults in Maryland have a disability. That boils down to 1 in 4 Marylanders with a mobility, sensory, cognitive, hearing, or sight disability. In the U.S., 61 million have a disability that significantly impacts their life. Disabilities are wide-ranging and diverse and aren’t always visible. “Invisible disabilities” are real, and they greatly impact day-to-day functioning for many individuals.
Please read on for our rundown of what’s accessible for all here in Howard County.
July – Disability Pride Month
Every year, since 1990, the month of July has been recognized as Disability Pride Month. It all began with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990. Disability Pride Month acknowledges the history of the Disability Rights Movement in the U.S., and the extraordinary contributions of persons with disabilities to our society, history, and culture.
October – National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Traces its origins back to 1945 when Congress passed a law “To establish the first week in October of each year as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The U.S. Department of Labor has championed National Disability Employment Awareness Month every October to recognize the contributions of millions of workers with disabilities, to advance equity in the workplace, and acknowledge workplace environments that are accommodating and inclusive for all.
Click here for the Digital Accessibility Digest 2023 calendar, a comprehensive list of 2023 events and notable months of special recognition.
Let’s start with parking. You might have noticed the blue wheelchair symbol on parking spaces and signs throughout the county. Those spaces are provided as part of the ADA parking accommodation that provides shorter and safer accessible routes to accessible building entrances. Specific state laws and accommodations regarding handicapped parking spaces can be found here, on the MVA website. For example, in Maryland, persons with disabilities are exempt from paying parking meter fees, for up to four hours, in certain locations. Check with the local jurisdiction first, as this accommodation can vary in different locations and nearby Washington, DC.
Handicap Symbol on Pavement in Howard County, Maryland
Stopping or parking in a handicapped space is reserved for those with vehicles displaying handicapped tags or placards. Vehicles not bearing these tags or placards are subject to fines of up to $500 for parking, or stopping, even for a “few minutes,” in these spaces. Please be respectful of our visitors with disabilities and leave the handicapped spaces open for them.
And please, don’t block access to these spaces, or the curb cuts, even if you’re running an errand inside a store, or delivering something, for only a few moments. Curb cuts and ramps are sections of the sidewalk cut out to accommodate a wheelchair or mobility scooter to cross from the parking pavement to the sidewalk. Curb cuts and ramps are vital access points to those who rely on mobility aids.
To sweeten your stay and help you get some rest, Howard County has lots of options for lodging that include handicapped accessible hotels. When booking online, it’s best to also give the hotel a call to confirm you’re getting the accessibility features you need, and to receive up-to-date information on what’s accessible at the hotel. Use caution with third-party booking sites because they might not accurately confirm what’s accessible at each hotel. It’s best to book online using the hotel website and then call the hotel directly with additional needs or requests. You might have to dig through the results a little bit to be sure you’re on the actual hotel website. Google results often list the third-party booking sites first.
Here’s a snapshot of hotels in Howard County that provide a variety of disability accommodations:
Accommodations can vary from place to place, but many hotels will include at minimum an ADA pool lift for the pool and a few mobility-accessible rooms with handicapped parking available. Some, like the Comfort Suites Columbia Gateway in Elkridge, provide a little extra, including an ADA pool lift, height-adjusted handrails, bathrooms, toilets, and king and queen-size beds in the accessible rooms, lowered peep holes and visual doorbell alarm alerts, and larger accessible rooms with widened doorways. TVs with closed captioning, assistive listening devices, free accessible parking and visual telephone alerts round out the options and can accommodate a variety of disabilities. Call for specific information.
Comfort Suites Columbia Gateway in Elkridge
Both the Hilton Garden Inn Columbia and the Homewood Suites by Hilton Columbia/Laurel, offer similar accommodations, with mobility-accessible rooms and an ADA pool lift for the pool at each location. Check the website or call for more information.
Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City provides amazing accessibility that is ADA compliant, across all features of the resort. From the guest rooms to the pool, and the spa, restaurant and golf course too. Immerse yourself in the accessible treatment rooms and hot tub at the spa, or venture onto the accessible paths at the driving range. For a full list of the numerous accessibility features visit the Turf Valley accessibility link.
Know of any great hotels in Howard County that provide amazing disability accommodations? Let us know by sending us an email.
Having a disability can get expensive. From mounting costs paying for necessities like mobility aids, and costly medications, people with disabilities are rarely able to enjoy less expensive options for transportation, housing, or assistance in the home. According to studies by the United Way of the National Capital Area, 50 percent of Marylanders with disabilities live below the ALICE threshold. It’s nice to know that there are some options for people with disabilities to save money and get out and explore the great outdoors. The U.S. National Park Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offer disability access passes granting free lifetime entry to national and state parks. Being outside in nature helps boost anyone’s mood, especially the mood and mental health of someone who struggles daily with disabilities.
For information on how to obtain the America the Beautiful The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Access Pass click here. For the Universal Disability Pass for Maryland State Parks click here. Passes are good for a lifetime and do not need to be renewed.
If you’re flying in or out of Howard County, chances are you’ll pass through Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, BWI. Passenger support specialists can provide on-the-spot assistance. All shuttle buses are wheelchair accessible and equipped with lifts. There is ample parking for the disabled, and trained service animals are allowed in the airport.
BWI has teamed up with Aira to connect blind or low-vision travelers with remote human agents to guide and assist them through a smartphone visual interpreting app. TDD services and free video calls for the Deaf are provided throughout the airport. Adult changing tables are provided in six of the 12 family restrooms at the airport. The spacious adult changing rooms have a lay-down bed, toilet, and sink to assist those in wheelchairs. Men's and women's rooms have large, handicapped stalls with a five-foot wheelchair turn-around area. Men’s rooms all have ADA-height urinals. All restroom design is compliant with the American with Disabilities Act Architectural Guidelines.
Going by train out of BWI? Snag a discount! Amtrak offers a 10 percent rail fare discount to adult passengers with a disability. Passengers with a disability traveling on Downeaster trains (Boston, MA to Portland, ME) are eligible for a 50 percent discount. Child passengers with a disability are eligible for the everyday 50 percent child discount plus an additional 10 percent off the discounted child's fare, regardless of the service they’re taking. Amtrak also offers a 10 percent discount for persons traveling as a companion with a passenger with a disability. You'll want to make sure to look through the discount information and a comprehensive description of disability-accessible Amtrak accommodations.
Using the Lyft or Uber apps can tune you into wheelchair-accessible rides in your local area. Uber WAV provides affordable rides in wheelchair-accessible vehicles when available in your area.
If possible, scheduling your ride in advance helps ensure your chance of securing a spot in an accessible vehicle. Lyft works similarly to Uber for passengers needing a wheelchair-accessible ride. Enter your destination in the Lyft app to request one of Lyft’s XL vehicles that can provide ample storage for manual wheelchairs and other mobility aids. To request a wheelchair-accessible vehicle in the Lyft app, go into your app settings and toggle on the “Wheelchair access” button. Input your current location and your destination to see if wheelchair-accessible vehicles are available in your area. Wheelchair-accessible vehicles are not available in every city, but many are available throughout Howard County.
The Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland provides fixed route and paratransit services within Howard County, Anne Arundel County, Northern Prince George’s County, and the City of Laurel. RTA Mobility provides paratransit service in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Vehicles are wheelchair accessible. For more information, contact RTA Mobility at 1-800-270-9553.
Guests with disabilities can rent mobility equipment while visiting Howard County. Check out Mobility City or The Scooter Shop, both in Elkridge. Both stores have a wide variety of mobility scooters and wheelchairs for rent. Services also include sales and repairs. Mobility City serves several Maryland counties and provides shop-to-home deliveries. Call ahead for at least a week or two, if possible, to reserve your rental at either place.
Patapsco Valley State Park – Ellicott City
The Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park have leveled up their game by providing special events for people with disabilities to bike, hike, kayak, fish, and more! Adaptive programs provide opportunities for anyone with a disability to participate using specially designed adaptive equipment to help you get the most out of the great outdoors and all that beautiful Patapsco Valley State Park has to offer.
If a quieter stroll with your family or doing a little fishing or turtle watching on the accessible pier at Lost Lake is more your cup of tea, check out the Avalon section of Patapsco Valley State Park and enjoy the serenity and sunshine of the fully accessible 2.5-mile paved Grist Mill Trail. The trail is smooth with a gentle grade making it wheelchair and mobility scooter-friendly. Towering trees and plush carpets of greenery blanket the earth and envelop you as the intermittent calls of birds echo from above. The paved trail gently slopes and follows a linear path toward an alternate exit from the park.
Accessibility doesn’t stop there. Patapsco Valley State Park is massive, with over 16,043 acres spanning four counties: Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore County. The All-Sensory Trail with braille signage and guide rope with bells is located in the Hilton area of the park, about a 15-to-20-minute drive from the Avalon area. The accessible playground, complete with soft rubber mat surfacing, instead of mulch, and ramps, is located in the Hollofield area of the park. The Hollofield section is located off Route 40 and a quick drive from either the Avalon or Hilton areas. When you enter the park, the accessible playground is on the left near the parking area. Don’t forget to bring your Universal Disability Pass.
Haviland Mill Park – Clarksville
A brand-new boardwalk leads the way to nature in this serene corner of central Howard County green space. A short stroll along 1,250 feet of well-constructed boardwalk awaits. Hard-packed surface paths take you onto the boardwalk on a peaceful meandering adventure amidst tall trees and wildflowers of the forest that runs parallel to the Patuxent River. A quick, easy outing for people with mobility challenges to observe nature. No restrooms, however, so go, before you go.
Haviland Mill Path
Robinson Nature Center – Columbia
A cool environmental education and nature preserve filled with life-size wildlife dioramas and the sights and sounds of animals, big and small. Offers sensory-friendly Sunday events where exhibits, trails, and play areas open early allowing visitors time and space to enjoy self-paced activities, sensory bins, scavenger hunts, and more. Sensory backpacks include noise-reducing headphones and various fidgets.
A quiet room is located downstairs if you or your child need time to just chill out. The planetarium also offers films with closed captions. Look for the “CC” next to the title in the movie listings. Ramps and lifts help people with mobility challenges to gain access to different levels of the center, with some paved paths outside in the lush garden areas.
Howard County Conservancy – Woodstock
The Howard County Conservancy's Gudelsky Environmental Education Center is accessible on both floors. As well, recent improvements in the John L. Clark Honors Garden provide a paver path through the garden to the new and accessible Bob and Janine Grossman Amphitheater.
Warfield Pond Park – Glenwood
For the best views, go before sunset, before this western Howard County park closes. Sunset is an amazing, breathtaking time to be here. If you’re game for fishing, go earlier and take advantage of the accessible fishing pier located near the middle of the lake. Plenty of opportunities for bird watching and duck spotting. A nicely designed boardwalk makes it easy for people in wheelchairs or on mobility scooters to make their way around the lake on a continuous .6-mile loop. There’s a charming gazebo and plenty of opportunity to fully embrace nature with little to no barriers. This glorious little slice of disability-accessible heaven makes for a picture-perfect day, or sunset, all its very own.
Warfield Pond Park
Columbia Association – Columbia
Members with disabilities can enjoy a full body workout at any of the three Columbia Association gyms, and a warm soak or workout in the warm water therapy and lap pools. Equipment specifically designed with pull-out seats makes room for your wheelchair to roll right on in.
Columbia Athletic Club – Columbia
Strength machines at the Columbia Athletic Club include an accessible chest press and shoulder press, and a ski erg, seated elliptical, and an arm cycling ergometer for a solid cardio workout. Head downstairs for warm water therapy and exercise classes tailored to help keep you moving with ease. A pool wheelchair and ADA-compliant pool lift make it easy for swimmers with mobility challenges to enter and exit the water.
The Columbia Gym – Clarksville
Provides similar disability-accessible gym equipment including two arm ergometers and a NuStep elliptical, and a zero-slope entry warm water pool equipped with an ADA-compliant pool lift for easy access to the adjacent lap lanes. A pool wheelchair is also available for those who need one.
Supreme Sports Club – Columbia
Also offers wheelchair-accessible cardio and strength machines with seats that slide out so your wheelchair can slide right in. Life Fitness Total Access strength machines include the chest press, rower, and shoulder press. Get your cardio on with the arm ergs, ski erg, or NuStep elliptical. The main swimming pool also has a pool wheelchair and ADA-compliant pool lift so you can get right on in and enjoy your swim.
Roger Carter Pool – Ellicott City
Grab your goggles and come and enjoy indoor/outdoor year-round swimming in this warm, sun-drenched pool with a retractable roof and zero-slope entry in historic Ellicott City. Handrails, an ADA-compliant pool lift, and a pool wheelchair make it easy for anyone with mobility challenges to enter and exit the water and enjoy more freedom of movement, pain relief, and a vigorous aquatic workout supported by the buoyancy of the water.
Roger Carter Community Center
For swimming and splashing in the sunshine all summer long check out these accessible outdoor Columbia Association Pools:
Fully ADA-compliant swimming pools are located at Dorsey Hall, Kendall Ridge, Longfellow and River Hill; pool lifts are available at: Clary’s Forest, Clemens Crossing, Dickinson Pool, Hawthorn, Hopewell Mini-Water Park, Huntington, Stevens Forest, Swansfield Mini-Water Park
The Mall in Columbia – Columbia
A fully accessible shopping experience boasting over 200 specialty stores. Elevators are located in Center Court by the McDonald's in the Food Court and in anchor stores, Nordstrom, Macy's, and JC Penny's. Manual wheelchairs are available to borrow, with a valid ID, from the security office on the second floor. Plenty of handicapped parking outside each of the main entrances.
Savage Mill Shops - Savage
A vast collection of eclectic shops, services, clubs, organizations, and businesses, housed inside a historic textile mill with buildings dating back to 1822. Shops feature antiques, artwork, custom furniture, candles, bath and body accessories, chocolates, beverages, food, and clothing. Captivating architectural surroundings have been carefully curated and maintained to illustrate the historical time of the 1800s and 1900s. Special events are hosted monthly.
Adequate handicapped parking outside most of the buildings. Park in the Big Lot by the New Weave building in the back for easy access to the building and elevator inside. A bakery and cafe, Roggenart European, is accessible from the first floor of the New Weave building, and, via the Courtyard and Atrium entrances on the outside ground level. Mobility scooters and wheelchairs can make it across the historic Bollman Truss Bridge on the east side of the shopping village, however, the adjacent Savage Mill Trail provides a hard-packed surface that can be navigated most easily by a mobility scooter.
Not recommended for manual wheelchairs. Watch the weather, if it's been raining, the path could get muddy enough to bog down even the sturdiest mobility scooter. Plan for fair weather exploring instead.
Baltimore and Ohio Ellicott City Station Museum – Ellicott City
Small, rustic museum in downtown historic Ellicott City highlighting the significance of the B & O in the region. The wheelchair-accessible ground level houses a gift shop, restrooms, and Freight Agent's Office, with a ramp leading to the second level featuring the Superintendent's Office, Telegraph and Ticket office, Men's Waiting Room, and the Car House. Admission is free, donations are welcome. Private tours are provided with a per-person fee. Rental space is also available. Take a trip back in time to the history of the railways in Ellicott City and the surrounding area. Charming, and mostly accessible.
Baltimore and Ohio Ellicott CIty Station Museum, Ellicott City
Columbia Art Center – Columbia
Accessible ADA-compliant lift ensures that all can enjoy this wondrous art center that is part of the Columbia Association. Conveniently located in downtown Columbia, the Columbia Art Center offers art classes for all ages and interests, gallery exhibitions, a gift shop, art lectures, and a summer art camp for kids. The studio is available for rent for birthday parties and other events. Purchase one-of-a-kind student and instructor-made artwork at the Gallery Shop.
The bright, colorful, and vibrant center is also disability friendly. The GPS might lead you to the bottom parking lot, where there are steps. Instead, make the first right when you see the Stonehouse in the complex, to your right, and park in the handicapped parking there. That will take you directly onto a sidewalk and past the Stonehouse, where you'll make a left to go directly to the art center entrance. If you follow the GPS and park on the lower level, go to the glass double doors on the lower level and ring both doorbells. A staff member will let you in and you can use the elevator lift to the main level. Most of the students and visitors use this entrance to gain access to the art center.
Harriet Tubman Cultural Center - Columbia
Opened in 1949 as the county's only all-black high school and closed in 1965 through desegregation. The building has been carefully preserved and transformed into a historical, cultural, and educational time capsule to keep the historical significance of Harriet Tubman High School alive and to highlight the impact of African Americans in Howard County. The hallways are lined with informational plaques and photographs illuminating important timelines and persons from the era when the hallways echoed with the footsteps of students and teachers, and classrooms were filled with learners. Spaces are available for rent, as well as guided tours and field trips. The building provides ADA lifts to bypass the stairs to each level, and an adult changing table in one of the restrooms.
Merriweather Post Pavilion - Columbia
BREAKING NEWS: Merriweather Post Pavilion was recently given an award from the Howard County Commission on Disabilities for "its efforts to provide accessible and welcoming outdoor concert opportunities." Recognition certificates were given by Congressman John Sarbanes (Rep D-MD, 3rd District), the Maryland General Assembly, and County Executive Calvin Ball.
The name of the game here is advance notice. As soon as you know you're attending a scheduled event, that's the time to reach out and request specific disability accommodations. Early notice leads to a most enjoyable, accommodating experience. Eventgoers with disabilities, or their family members, can start by reaching out to the box office at 410-715-5550 or email@example.com.
Here are a few tips to summarize the most common questions people with disabilities have about the venue. ADA-accessible parking is available in Lots 2 and 4. The website provides a link to the parking map so you can reserve your spot. Accessible seating can be purchased online through Ticketmaster or at the box office. There are wheelchair and scooter-accessible seating throughout the venue, with companion seats provided with plastic folding chairs.
Having trouble finding these seats on Ticketmaster? Click the "filters" button in the upper right-hand corner and toggle the "Accessibility" button "On." For hearing and vision accommodations, and accessible seating questions, call the Merriweather at 410-715-5550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Providing ample advance notice will increase the possibility of having sign language interpreters, whose availability can vary based on patron requests. Requests for interpreter services should be emailed to email@example.com. Contact the venue well in advance with other accessibility questions, including service and support animals, medications, and allergy requests. And then, when you get there, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Toby’s Dinner Theatre - Columbia
Toby's is a small, semi-casual dinner theatre where the actors are also the waiters. It's a super fun evening that pairs great food with great shows and a one-of-a-kind theatre experience. Designated sign-interpreted performances are scheduled for every show. Reserve early for the best availability. Sign language interpretation is also available upon request but depends on the availability of a qualified interpreter and is provided at the discretion of the management. Mobility disability seating for those who use a mobility device is available on the main floor level, but it goes fast, so reserve your tickets well in advance to get the best possible seating to accommodate your needs. Call the theatre box office at 410-730-8311 or 1-800-88-TOBYS (8-6297) to make a reservation or accommodation request and for more information. The staff will be more than happy to help.
Centennial Park North – Columbia
Come enjoy a fully accessible play experience that includes a new playground and path! In November 2021 a new inclusive playground opened at Centennial Park North. The next phase which includes an inclusive path with more play equipment opened in November 2023. All ages and abilities enjoy musical instruments, a non-verbal communication board, expression swings, accessible ramps, and a Zero-G swing chair, all cushioned beneath by special spongy rubber surfacing, making it easier for wheelchairs to navigate. The brand-new sensory trail with a sensory play area caps off this project and includes even more areas for children of all abilities to play and explore. There is a restroom facility by the parking lot. Use the entrance off Old Annapolis Road and head straight to the playground.
Laura’s Playground at Blandair Regional Park – Columbia
Go through the North entrance to the park. Play-for-all events and special programming make this park a wonderful experience for children of all abilities. The park boasts non-verbal communication boards, zero-entry merry-go-round, and other ADA-compliant accommodations such as rubber mat surfacing for wheelchair navigation ease. This bright and colorful play area is expansive and accommodates cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory disabilities. Other paved paths lead to three main areas of the park. Bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, restrooms, and picnic pavilions with accessible seating are nearby.
Schooley Mill Park - Highland
This adorable farm-themed play area recently received a brand-new facelift to better accommodate children of all abilities, focusing on cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory disabilities. Features include a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round, an improved ramp, a non-verbal communication board, new fencing, musical instruments, and a swing with an overhead latch. Rubber mat surfacing allows wheelchairs to roll with ease. There is a restroom facility near the playground.
Schooley Mill Park
Savage Park - Savage
The county is going all out redoing and remodeling playgrounds to make them accessible for children and parents. Savage Park's play area is no exception. The recently revealed improvements include a non-verbal communication board that also has Braille, words, and symbols, 4 "Too Small to Fail" boards to promote communication and interaction between children and caregivers, musical stations with sensory panels, imagination tables to promote creativity, stairs and pod steppers and a complex climbing structure to promote motor planning, critical thinking and upper body strength. New sidewalks flush with the parking lot and rubber mat surfacing promote mobility access and make it easier for wheelchairs and other mobility aids to navigate the area. There is a restroom facility adjacent to the playground.
Warfield Pond Park - Glenwood
The new, inclusive playground at Warfield Pond Park replaces a more than 25-year-old playground that is modern and accessible to residents of all abilities. The 4,800-square-foot playground added swings and two merry-go-rounds, both of which have elements that improve accessibility. Other new amenities include an augmented and alternative communication board, benches, shade structures, interactive musical play, and a fully accessible rubber surface that has a unique branch and leaf pattern. In addition, walkways, boardwalks overlooking the pond, fishing pier, updated benches, and the parking lot are accessible. There is also ADA access to the tennis courts. Come out and play and explore Western Howard County.
*To date - Adult Changing Stations have been added to the following Howard County Recreation and Parks facilities:
(Check back for updates and additions to this area)
Gary J. Arthur Community Center
Harriet Tubman Cultural Center
North Laurel Community Center