Tropical Accessibility

There are many things I thought I would never see happen for wheelchair users that I turned out to be wrong about…

  • I never thought skiing would be wheelchair accessible, but it is.
  • I never thought African safaris would be wheelchair accessible, but they are.
  • But what I REALLY never thought would happen: wheelchair accessible eco-tourism. I am once again blissfully wrong!

Brazil has put effort into Accessible Tourism programs. These don’t just let you look at the amazing landscapes from afar, but actually engage in nature!

Different communities are making changes to vastly improve accessibility to nature. Now there are a wide variety of locations and activities disabled travelers can participate in. There are accessible hikes, beaches, and even water sports like rafting! Even the coral pools off Pajuçara Beach have become accessible using specially equipped boats.

Wheelchair accessible dirt ramp on ecotourIt is really neat to see how these groups take initiative and ingeniously make nature accessible while still respecting and conserving nature. For example, this ramp… I’m sure it would not stand up to ADA regulations but it preserves the environment, culture, and integrity of the entire experience. It’s these types of efforts that are so amazing to see (for me! at least!!)

This is such a good example of using resources you have available to make creative solutions. It in no way detracts from the natural beauty, but rather incorporates the beauty of a raw incarnation of human ingenuity. It stays true to the spirit of eco-tourism and offers disabled tourists an authentic experience.

What other opportunities have surprised you for being accessible?

The Big Apple: only thing rolling in NYC

Here’s the deal. Places all over the world are making changes to make it easier for disabled travelers to visit. The London transit system’s accessibility has gotten a lot of praise. Europe is coming together in a universal system for disabled drivers–regardless of their citizenship!  Cities are starting accessible programs like making their beaches wheelchair accessible, like in Italy and Brazil! But here in the US, after just celebrating 23 years of the American Disabilities Act, you can still find news articles like this….

NYC TaxisNew York City has 233 accessible taxis, out of a fleet of 13,000.

There was a bill signed by Gov. Cuomo a year an a half ago to add 2,000 new accessible taxis to this fleet. This victory was short lived as this state law was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by New York court. The reason? Because the city should be able to make these sorts of decisions.

Now the fate of accessible taxis lays in the hands of Mayor Bloomberg, who supported the court’s ruling. Bloomberg predictably chose to revert to the previous strategy: a dispatch program that sends the 233 existing accessible to callers familiar with the program.

What makes this particularly upsetting is that when this measure (Intro #433-A) was first passed at the state level, it was supported by a “veto-proof majority of Council members”. THEN Mayor Bloomberg, represented by a Taxi and Limousine Commissioner spokesperson (David Yassky), opposed the bill. Guess who won.

It is simply outrageous! Regardless of the issue. If Measure 433-A said I couldn’t eat Oreos with milk and this same situation happened, I’d still be furious. (Even if the end result meant that I could continue to consume the cookie in it’s greatest glory: dunked in “liquid gold”.) And that is because the will of the majority was overpowered by the personal agendas of powerful folk.

Despite this outcome, the United Spinal Association deserves much recognition for their contribution to this battle. If there is one thing that can beat powerful folk, it’s persistent folk on the right side of the issue.

I think this disappointing news gives a very good picture of why they call it the city that never sleeps. You stay up half the night waiting for a taxi, and by the time you get home, you have to phone the dispatch immediately if you have any hopes of getting to your appointments on time. No time to sleep on a system like that.

What do you think?

oreo controversies

Let’s face it, Oreo likes to keep it’s fingers in many glasses of milk, so to speak. They’ve somehow entered in just about every controversial issue out there! I’m happy to pull them into one more…

BYOR: Bring your own ramp

In Brazil, a paraplegic man was left to his own devices when city officials repeatedly ignored his request to make the town hall wheelchair accessible.

Samuel Nobile de Oliveira (Paraplegic) builds wheelchair ramp in Brazil

Here you can see Samuel Nobile de Oliveira making his OWN ramp on his day off.

While this image is moving in that a man with a disability is literally left on his butt by his city. He is alone and Mr. (or Ms.) Green Shorts is just standing by not helping.

The town mayor said “I apologize to all disabled by the situations and constraints… We will take appropriate action in the city so this does not happen anymore.” Oddly, this does not reassure me.

I do have to give great credit to Samuel for taking initiative while simultaneously putting every able-bodied city official to shame. He did not accept the status quo and challenged those who tried to prove otherwise — what an inspiration!

Accessibility is a right–in public buildings above all–and he did his city a great service by enforcing that right. I’m glad the media caught on to his rather heroic stand and that his actions will help others defend their rights.

Read more here.

Duct Tape Surfing

Making summer plans and concerned that you might have to miss out due disability?  There’s an app… Ther’s an office supply for that!
Note: Technology Tuesday is usually reserved for the most cutting edge, sci-fi-esque technologies that are applied to various disabilities and just blow your mind. But this use of low-tech Duct tape is substantially mind blowing to merit a break from the norm.

Two weeks ago marked the summer solstice. If you are a Beachologist, you probably observed this holiest of days by escaping the heat by hitting the waves!

While Beachology has been a little exclusive in the past, it has been increasingly accessible and welcoming to people of all abilities. Here is yet another example, and let me tell you it’s breathtaking!

Pascale, a mother of two in Australia, was paralyzed (paraplegic) 18 years ago. Her two sons surf and when she expressed to one of their surf buddies that she wished she could go with them…WT DuctTape surf 2

…they went out and bought some duct tape  and made her dream a reality. I present you Duct Tape Surfing.

The video of their journey is a MUST SEE. This summer they are doing a Legless Summer Trip, surfing all over Western Australia to inspire others. They raising money for this trip over the next week and you might even get a chance to surf with Ty–aka Duct Tape Man.
Visit www.DuctTapeSurfing.com to see how you can support their pilgrimage.

I’m so sorry. I’m really on a role with this metaphor! But I promise I’ll stop; I can restrain myself. 
Following the edicts of the Book of Duct Tape: With Duct tape, all things are possible.
Or was it the 11th commandment: Thou shalt surf with Duct tape?
Okay, now I’m done. 

DuctTape scuba divingTo be completely serious, this journey is equal parts unbelievable and awe-inspiring. I love that Ty helped Pascale literally get her feet wet and ultimately realize her dream.

They have have also dived together and it seems that these two can do anything!

Personally, I hope that at least 1 the 5 donors that get a surf lesson with Ty has a disability. It would be so cool if Duct tape surfing took off!

Sicily Wrap

Every good trip must come to an end. And to celebrate the end of this one, here’s a recap of how much fun it’s been to discover how accessible San Vito Lo Capo is!

This was a common site for me throughout the trip. Speedy locals leaving me in the dust! They owned the streets and rode off into the sunset many a time, while I made my way at a snail’s pace. It’s pretty lucky that I was able to snap even this one photo of the elusive scoooter rangers; they are many in numbers around here, but they are fast!

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Though they are hard to spot, there is evidence everywhere of their existence:IMG_3065

Getting down to business, here is the ramp to the City Hall. The ramps around the city aren’t just to make the beach and tourist sites accessible. Even official buildings are stepping it up. I was a little surprised to see this since the building is…well, it’s not new. And accessibility regulations are new, so I was expecting something a little less friendly. But this is probably the most friendly ramp in Sicily. Isn’t that a looker?

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There are also handicap parking spots designated on the street. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to handicap parking abroad before seeing this, but I think that’s going to be a super interesting topic to learn about!

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Finally, this was the last photo I snapped of the No Limits Marathon, and one of my favorites. These two were taking a stroll along the beach, holding hands. For all the effort that went into making the city accessible, seeing this makes it all worth it, don’t you think?
IMG_3061I’m pretty happy with how my research has gone in San Vito. I found so much more than I expected and I think it’s only going to get better.

Arrivaderci for now!

No Limits Marathon!

Yesterday I participated in the No Limits Marathon at San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily to support the accessibility project at the local beach. This was a non-competitive 5k “marathon” where streets were closed along a route that allowed anyone to participate.

The route was along the beach and through the city.

No Limits Marathon along the beachNo Limits Marathon past the churchNo Limits Marathon through town

There were people who participated in their chair and even one who used a hand bike. This is one of the guests of honor (below). Everyone wanted to take a picture with him and his neat bike–even the Mayor! By the end of the photo shoot, he was making jokes that he would have to bat away all the paparazzi to start the race. Participant using handbike

The majority were able-bodied and many were children. One group in particular was participating for their friend Nikki who has cancer. “Nikki non mollare” – Nikki don’t give up!

Nikki don't give up

In true Italian style, when we crossed the finish-line, we were met with a heart-healthy breakfast of Nutella sandwhiches! Nothing like the scent of Nutella to motivate you to sprint to the finish-line!! (Note the size of the bottle on the table: a small child could fit in there!)

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(While eating my Nutella sandwhich) I was fortunate enough to see this participant cross the finish-line. He was another one of the guests of honor and everyone cheered for him as he received his metal. He was so happy! I wish I could have captured it in the photo, but his joy was so infectious and heartwarming, and it became one of the highlights of the event for me.
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No matter how many races I do, this one will always stand out. It was such an amazing experience to see such a wide variety of people come together. We are all so easily separated by age, ability, and all the trivial things that can be so divisive. But to see people come together in such a happy and supportive event was pretty neat.

This will be a race I will always remember.

IMG_3066No Limits Marathon
With heart you can go anywhere
San Vito Lo Capo
May 25-26 2013

No Limits Marathon final stretch

I hope to see you here next year!

Historic day in Italian Hotelery

The coolest thing happened the other day…

We were walking around town and we saw this:

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You can believe you’re eyes. Yes that is a giant ramp that is wide, stable and at a decent incline. Those are three adjectives that don’t go with “ramp” in the same sentence when you are in Italy.

I had to stop.

The nice owner showed me around and told me that that ramp isn’t, in fact, just for looks; the lobby/restaurant is accessible. I wasn’t prepared for what he said next: “And we have two accessible rooms. Would you like to see?”

Why yes! Yes I would!

We walk through this immaculate lobby with shiny marble floors and open the 90cm door (about 35.5 inches) and see this. A nice big bed with plenty of space to move around the room, the mattress is a decent height and large enough that you won’t fall off the bed.

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I was already impressed but I had to ask the dreaded question What about the bathroom? 

Fearing the worst, I see this architectural miracle that us Americans simply refer to as a handicap bathroom. It had a nice large entrance, a shower whose walls pull away so it is actually a roll-in shower.


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In short, this hotel completely blew my mind. I’ve been in Italy and Sicily before, so I was surprised to see that this hotel was so far beyond my expectations. But it really seems like people here are trying to incorporate accessibility in their plans! It’s no longer strange that a hotel has these sort of ammenities (did I mention that the lobby has an accessible bathroom, in case guests need to use one after checkout?). This is becoming the norm.

New hotels are actually required to have 2 accessible rooms if there are 10 rooms total. Each additional 10 rooms requires 1 more accessible room. So it’s moved beyond compassionate owners and business savvy entrepreneurs…its law!

As I’m sure you’ve picked up, I was very shocked to see the strides businesses are making to increase their accessibility. But I have to correct my misconceptions: now these sort of considerations are something I’ll have to start expecting from Italy. If this small town in Sicily can do it–I think we should hold the rest of Italy to at least the same standard.

This is encouraging news people! I hope you’re as excited about this as I am!

The hotel featured in this post is:
Alaba Hotel – http://www.alabahotel.com
San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily

Step up!

Earlier this week, we went to one of the bigger cities in Sicily: Trapani.

We wandered the streets for a while and I began to see the accommodations being made to improve accessibility.

Exhibit A: Ramp to Stairs

This option if great for people who spontaneously regain mobility.

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Streets in Sicily are as crazy and perilous as they appear in movies. Traffic lights, stop signs, and laws in general don’t exist. Streets are so narrow that cars nearly hit on these two-lane streets. And I mean two lanes as 1 lane going one direction and the other lane about a centimeter from a head-on collision  with a car from lane 1. There are a couple crosswalks that are simply painted lines across a busy street and they serve only as decoration. Drivers don’t stop for pedestrians; you’re lucky if they swerve for pedestrians.

So maybe they think that once your power chair slowly chugs across the street that you will decide its not worth the hastle and you will casually leap out of the chair and bound up a few stairs

Exhibit B: Stair to Ramp

This is a great option for people who have jumping chairs.
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This door is also so narrow that while your chair is jumping, it must take a page out of the Transformers book and transform into something a little more aerodynamic.

If this option concerns you, no need. There is caution tape at the top of the ramp: it’s perfectly safe.

In Practice

Piecing together this scenery, I thought You know what? If the stores aren’t accessible, at least sidewalks are accessible. And that’s nothing to laugh at! The important thing is that people are using these ramps, etc. 

I saw one person use the ramp. And he was about 25 and speedily rode his motorcycle up the ramp, jumped off, and just left it there.

The point is, this area is so dangerous for pedestrians that sidewalks are literally VITAL to anyone who wants to get around. I don’t want to downplay the steps that have been made so far, but there is much left to do.

Happy Ending

I don’t want to discourage you from coming to Sicily. There is MUCH to say about navigating the streets of Sicily, but fortunately, not all cities are built the same. As I said, Trapani is a larger city and you need to choose your travel destination wisely. For example, I’m spending the majority of this trip in a smaller city and have seen a good 5 or 10 locals on power chairs roaming the streets. I was so surprised to see them out and about and am impressed that someone must be doing something right! I hope to gather more info about how they do it! Hopefully I’ll gather a few pearls of wisdom along the way.