By Bob Levine
Do you love to travel but find that your mobility concerns are keeping you at home? Do you think accessible travel is only about grab bars in the shower and entrance ramps to the lobby? Well, if that’s the case, you’re back in the 20th century. If you think you are unable to take a accessible-friendly vacation, think again. The 21st century has changed everything. There are endless cities and attractions around the world that are accessible.
Did you know that there are cities getting recognized as particularly handicapped accessible? Berlin happens to be one of those cities. It was awarded the Disabled Access Award in 2013. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been many new developments. The prevailing thought is – if you can get a tank down the street, why not a wheelchair or scooter?
One particularly accessible region of Europe is Scandinavia. They’ve had a higher rate of success with becoming a more accessible city than their older, southern European counterparts. Their modern infrastructure has made this transition easier. The hotel chain, Scandic, has a respectable focus on handicapped accessibility. You can find Scandic hotels throughout Scandinavia, including a few locations in Berlin.
Stockholm in Sweden is referred to as the most accessible city in the world by the European Network for Accessible Tourism.
In Helsinki, Finland there are accessible city driving tours, cathedrals, churches and markets. There are also accessible destinations you would not expect.
Places such as Italy are becoming more wheelchair accessible. After many years of lagging behind, Venice now has accessible vaporetto’s and gondolas, and even a few accessible hotels. The city of Turin hosted the Olympics in 2006, meaning it was essential for the city to quickly become more accessible. Any city or country that hosts major events, such as the Olympics or the World Cup, receives millions of dollars to improve its infrastructure. This makes it possible to make hotels, restaurants and popular attractions accessible
The Tuscan town of Lucca has a flat-topped medieval wall that now serves as an accessible bike path. Its wide ramps and smooth pathway makes it perfect for wheelchairs. While major cities will be easier to navigate, smaller towns won’t be so easy – but there are areas in Tuscany that you can drive to with villas that are adapted for accessibility.
England is almost as accessible as the United States. In London, over half the subway stations are accessible, just like in New York City. England has the most accessible hotel accommodations, the most accessible guides and comprehensive access laws within Europe. However, much like the U.S., it’s better to stick with large, modern hotels rather than smaller ones. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament have accessible entrances, interiors and restrooms.
Paris has more and more accessible hotel and transportation options, yet they are still behind London. Pro tip – always stick with larger, modern hotels. Also, if you are in a wheelchair, you may even get to the head of the lines at museums without buying a museum pass.
Other parts of Europe
Unlike the large accessible hotels in Paris and London, Amsterdam hotels will have at least one accessible room.
Some other attractions in Europe that have wheelchair access is the Acropolis in Athens, Greece and some tuk-tuks in Cambodia.
Poland offers accessible tours for people living with all kinds of disabilities. Since the 90s, it has been mandatory for new construction and all old buildings in Poland to install facilities for persons with disabilities.
In countries like Israel, fully accessible tours are available with hotels and accessibility to all the historic sites.
What else is out there?
There are so many places around the world for accessible travel. If you like escaping the heat or enjoying a nice view in the hotel pool, check for resorts with pool lifts and sloped entries for easy access to swimming pools. Also, keep an eye out for wheelchairs with specially designed wheels that roll in the sand that you can rent for beaches. For example, there is a beach in Mexico that has wheelchairs for rent.
There are winter resorts in the U.S. and Canada that offer adaptive ski programs. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. offers scooter and wheelchair rentals. The beachfront hotel, El Conquistador, in Puerto Rico, has 15 accessible rooms and a wheelchair accessible vernacular to take you down to the hotel.
The travel industry is starting to realize that there are people with limited mobility who want to travel. It’s time for you to reconsider those forgotten vacation plans. Whatever your limitations, there are plenty of reasons to take that special trip.
Bob Levine – Accessible Travel Agent can be reached at (914) 909-6092 firstname.lastname@example.org