article by Helen Campbell, travel consultant for Ability Chicago Info | Dec. 21, 2015
Travel is a great thing to do with your time. It’s fun, it broadens the mind, it gives you a new perspective on things, and it can even make you a better person! However, if you use a wheelchair, travel is a lot more complex than it is for most people. Plenty of destinations, sadly, simply aren’t suitable for wheelchair users – indeed, ancient European cities with their narrow, steep cobbled streets often seem purposely designed to impede the progress of those who rely upon wheels. However, if you do want to travel abroad and don’t want to let your wheelchair hold you back, fear not. You’d be amazed at how ingeniously some cities have managed to make even their most ancient and step-ridden architecture accessible and disability-friendly! Here is a quick list of the best cities to travel to if you want to head abroad with your wheelchair.
Like most European countries, the UK has stringent disability access laws, which means that the city has done its level best to ensure that its attractions are available to all, no matter their physical ability. Of course, given the tremendously ancient nature of some of London’s buildings it has not always been possible to, for example, install ramps and lifts onto centuries old stone steps, but all staff at public attractions are trained to do their utmost to ensure that nobody misses out, no matter their level of disability. London is quite spread out, and the London Underground takes a bit of pre-planning for wheelchair users, but all taxis and buses are required by law to be wheelchair friendly so the city is not too tricky to get around. You’ll also find that London attractions are quite sympathetic to the experience of disabled individuals, often offering discounts and allowing carers to get in for free. If you have a chronic health condition which may require treatment during your stay, it’s worth noting that the UK has nationalized healthcare, so you probably won’t be asked for payment. However, if the nurses remember (British healthcare professionals aren’t used to asking for money so it often does not occur to them!), you may be asked for your details so that payment can be followed up at a later date.
Melbourne in Australia has several advantages over its European counterparts. For a start, like the cities in the USA, it’s relatively new, which means that streets have been laid down according to a single plan rather than evolving over millennia into complex, twisty wheelchair-nightmares. Melbourne also provides comprehensive ‘mobility maps’ which can be accessed via apps, and make planning your stay in the city extremely easy. If you’re a sports fan, Melbourne is one of the easiest places in which to take in a game – stadiums are designed with the needs of wheelchair users in mind, and there are always lots of wheelchair spots.
With typical German efficiency, the people of Munich have devoted considerable time and resources to making their city wheelchair friendly. There are hardly any barriers at stations, and the vast majority of U-Bahn and S-Bahn services are easily wheelchair accessible. While cobbles and steep hills may present a problem for many wheelchair users, there is never any shortage of city officials to lend a hand in tricky spots! Plenty of attractions (the BMW Museum, the Englischer Garten, and the famous Frauenkirche to name but a few) are free of cumbersome barriers, and for those which are more difficult to get into, there are (again) well-trained staff on hand to quickly and efficiently solve any access issues.
The Swedish capital is already reasonably wheelchair friendly, but the Swedish authorities are currently implementing measures to make it even more inclusive. All new buses, trains, stations, and other infrastructure implementations are designed to make them as accessible as they possibly could be for wheelchair users. Meanwhile, city attractions are being encouraged to train staff and introduce measures which will make visiting a lot easier for people with disabilities. Taking inspiration from London, Stockholm is also placing discreet disabled-friendly public toilets throughout the city, to save people in wheelchairs from having to manoeuvre their way through crowded public venues if they need the toilet. Accessibility is one of the key features of Stockholm’s ‘Vision 2030’ plan, and it’s already come a long way towards achieving many of its ideals.