This blog was written by Experience Columbia SC 2024 Ambassador David Laird and his team at Able SC.


As Columbia embraces its role as the “Heart of South Carolina”, there are a few spaces we like to highlight for their accessibility features. Why us? Well, we are all individuals with disabilities and represent the 1 of every 3 individuals in South Carolina with a disability. We are all also employees of Able SC, the state’s oldest and largest federally recognized disability-led organization.  


For Dori Tempio, a power wheelchair user navigating Columbia with her sidekick, Hera, a dark yellow Labrador Retriever mobility service dog, downtown Columbia has much to offer. She loves to start her Saturday morning with an iced mocha from Drip. Venturing over to Main Street, they head down the accessible paved streets and crosswalks to discover the latest world-class exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art. 


With its accessible booths, and friendly vendors selling homemade crafts, Soda City Market is always a welcome option to spend a Saturday morning.  


When not venturing down Main Street, Dori and Hera may savor the stuffed tomato with chicken salad at Gourmet Shop. The staff always provide support or modifications that make disabled customers feel comfortable and included as part of their normal operations. She and Hera may end the day with a movie at The Nickelodeon Theater on Main Street which also provides Open Captions on Tuesday evenings (last screenings) and Saturday early matinees (first screenings) and frequently offers audio (visual) descriptions of some films. 


For many staff, a favorite spot downtown is the Saluda Riverwalk. Having an 8-mile accessible path while embracing our region's nearly never-ending spring helps us relax and remove other stresses. The Riverwalk is also a favorite for Mark Riffle, a 30-year Columbia resident. The wide concrete pathway is a popular area for kayaking, fishing, and swimming. With many shaded areas, and a nearly level ground scope, this is an ideal place for viewing wildlife and getting a little exercise along the way. By the eastern end, visit Boyd Island where the Congaree River begins. However, be careful following a heavy rainfall, as the part of the trail can flood impacting accessibility.  


Though he’s made it several times for the owl prowls at the easily wheelchair-accessible boardwalk at the Congaree National Park, Mark is still waiting to be one of the lucky few to gain a coveted lottery space for the synchronous fireflies every spring.   


When not on the Riverfront, you might find Mark enjoying a fresh, poured straight-from-the-keg, authentic German-style ale from Bierkeller. A highly accessible location and has the best views in town. Be sure to save room for the schnitzel too.  


As a motorized wheelchair user, Angel Lee, is always on the lookout for accessible places and events. A favorite place is Sesquicentennial State Park.  It’s a great place for exploring, having a picnic, fishing, paddle boating, and camping. Their campgrounds have plenty of spots that are flat/even, for tent camping or RV camping.  Many of restrooms throughout the park are accessible and easy to access providing another plus to spend the day.  


Angel is also a frequent visitor of Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens. Most of the exhibits across this world-class zoo are accessible, though some of the railings may be at eye-level for a wheelchair user. The gardens are her favorite place and though not all of the Backstage Animal Encounters are accessible, she hopes that recent expansion will increase availability for everyone.  


Following an afternoon outdoors, Angel likes to meet up with friends at Royal Z Lanes. With accessible lanes and a ball ramp, she is ready to take on any challengers. She is also pumped that she can skip out on renting bowling shoes!  


When the weather is right, Angel may spend Sunday afternoons visiting along Elmwood Cemetery. Always peaceful and quiet, the headstones date to 1854 and reflect the early growth of Columbia. The grounds were part of Col. A. A. Taylor’s original tract of land overlooking the Broad River. With miles of newly paved roadways are also two veterans’ gardens, two additional bronze marker sections, and numerous family monument sections. 


Another place of note is the South Carolina State Museum who hosts Accessibility Mornings each month with ASL Interpreters and free admission as well as Disability Celebration Day each March.  They are currently the only AIRA Access point in Columbia providing another way for individuals who are blind or low vision to experience their exhibits.  


While this is a short list of accessible places, spaces, and activities around Columbia there is always opportunity for the list to grow. We invite our local business partners and friends to help us grow the list of inclusive spaces and programs and offer some tips to making that happen: 

  • Making sure folks can get in (and out) of your building/space. Is there a ramp? Have you considered the slope of the ramp? Is the doorway wide enough? Is there room at the entrance to move about? 

  • Are your restrooms accessible (meaning, are they large enough for a wheelchair to turn around, doors close fully, they aren’t also a storage room) 

  • Once inside are counters and tables maneuverable? Are there chairs that can be moved? Is the menu available in multiple formats? Are your staff culturally aware of how to treat people with disabilities (hint – just like everyone else!) 

  • Do you know how to contact an ASL interpreter if someone asks for one? Do you know how to welcome guests with service animals? 

  • Are the sidewalks clear and passable? Is outdoor seating blocking a path or is there debris/trash/signage outside? 

  • Are you monitoring your accessible parking and making sure they are identified and reserved (and used by) people with placards or tags? If not, do you know what to do? 


If you answered no or not sure to any of these questions and want to learn more, reach out to us at Able South Carolina and we would love to help you!