Barrier-free Apulia: one region, a lot of itineraries

Contrary to what we usually think, attention to everyone’s needs and, in particular, to accessible tourism is wide spreading in Italy too. We’ve already seen some examples, from North to South, including the islands. Today, our “virtual tour” stops in Apulia, “Italy’s heel”. A region rich in history, art, postcards landscapes, culture and – not a bad thing, indeed- culinary tradition. Hence, everything you could wish for your holiday!

Apulia - Lecce

Lecce

The official web portal or the Apulia Region tourism has a section fully reserved to accessible tourism, where you can find info about how to move, where to sleep, where to eat, events and monuments that are accessible to everyone (including our pets!). Furthermore, there are also some “for all” itineraries, to discover and enjoy the treasures of this region without worrying about accessibility.

Apulia - Torre dell'Orso

Torre dell’Orso

Bari, the Apulia county seat, has made accessible to people with motoric disabilities not just its airport and railway station, but also important monuments such as the St. Nicola’ Basilica, the St. Sabino’ Cathedral, the Swabian Castle and the Province Gallery. Also, the old town centre (“Bari vecchia”) presents a path that’s accessible to people with motoric disabilities. But they thought about visually impaired people needs too, with a “light path” enabling them to safely enjoy the city centre.

Apulia - Salento

Salento, the sea stacks

When you say “Apulia”, you immediately think about Baroque and, first of all, Lecce. This wonderful city is always more accessible as well, thanks to an itinerary including monuments with artistic value such as Porta Napoli, the Cathedral, the Carmine church, St. Oronzo’s square (which is only partially accessible), the Theatines’ monastery (accessible with assistance) and Carlo V Castle. Going outside the city, you can enjoy the beauty of the Rauccio’ park, the Cesine’ oasis and beaches equipped to guarantee accessibility to everyone. You can also find accessible itineraries for Otranto, Gallipoli, Ostuni and many more “pearls” of this magnificent region.

Apulia - Otranto

Otranto

Are you ready to leave, to visit it for the first time or to get back there? Share your experience here: it could be useful for other travellers!

 

 

“Lombardia Facile”, an easier region for all

Since a few weeks, citizens of Lombardy with a disability can enjoy the use of a brand new service: “Lombardia Facile”, the portal that will collect info, as the project’s name itself suggests, that could make the disabled people daily life easier.

"Lombardia Facile"

From welfare to work and education, from tourism to sport and leisure: on “Lombardia Facile”, you’ll be gradually able to find info about laws, facilitations and services available for resident citizens and tourists with a disability in Lombardy.

Arisen from the companionship between Regione Lombardia and associations and organizations representing and defending the rights of various categories of people with motoric and sensory disabilities, the “Lombardia Facile” project wants to remove all the obstacles and barriers (both physical and informational) that, nowadays, complicate the life of people with disability or special needs.

The portal pays particular attention to subjects such as mobility and accessible tourism. On “Lombardia Facile”, you can find a search engine to access info about the accessibility of monuments, museums and other places of artistic and cultural interest in Lombardy.

Moreover, on the website you can find info about another service, active since 2001, dedicated to disabled people: SpazioDisabilità, offering consultancy services about various topics related to disability. SpazioDisabilità is addressed both to disabled people and their families and caregivers. These services has been redesigned as well and the goal is to create a front office system widespread all over the region, opening other info points in all the administrative centres, in addition to the one today available at the HQ or Regione Lombardia. Starting from next year, those who will turn to SpazioDisabilità will have another service too: the video-chat in LIS (the Italian Sign Language), that will give deaf people the opportunity to communicate with the front office operators intermediated by a LIS interpreter connected through videoconference.

In conclusion, important progresses are in place towards accessibility and inclusion of all the citizens. We hope similar initiatives will be activated in other regions too. Are you aware of some? Please, inform me!

Dublin: tips for an accessible journey

Ah, Ireland… Nature, history, music, pubs, beer: there are so many reasons to love this country and think about spending a holiday there. But, let’s be honest, at least until a few years ago, accessibility and attention towards disabled people’ needs weren’t exactly the first thing coming up to your mind, thinking about Dublin and its surroundings. Luckily, things are evolving and, also thanks to the commitment of many local associations and to the adoption of digital technologies, a deeper awareness about these topics is spreading. Then, why not thinking about Dublin for your next holiday? As always, it’s important to plan it well in advance and search for the appropriate info, to avoid unpleasant surprises once there.

Ireland - Dublin

Reaching Dublin from Italy is very easy and convenient: the city airport, according to the experts, is one of the most accessible in Europe. Once you get there, if you prefer renting a car, you’ll have the chance to choose one fitting with your specific needs. On the contrary, if you prefer public transports, you’ll be glad to know that, in Dublin, the most part of buses, trams and trains, and their stops, is accessible to travellers with motoric disability and work to adapt all of them is in progress. Do you prefer cabs? Many of them are accessible also to passengers using a wheelchair: you’ll identify them from the icon visible on the vehicle’s top.

Ireland - Dublin Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

And what about the city monuments, museums, pubs, restaurants and shops? Finding the information about the accessibility of the attractions we’re more interested in is easy, thanks to a very well curated website, created by two Dubliner guys and award-winning for its commitment to accessibility: Mobility Mojo, sort of “accessibility Tripadvisor”, that, based on the info shared by website managers and users (and verified by the website managers), provides detailed info about the accessibility of touristic attractions, hotels, shops, public transports, not only in Dublin. To see them, you only have to sign up (for free) on the site. It isn’t addressed only to disabled people (for instance, the presence of elevators, the absence of stairs, and so on), but also to people with special needs (for instance, who travels with little children and needs to know if the place he wants to visit has bathrooms equipped with areas to change the diaper).

Ireland - Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Enjoy your holiday in Dublin!

Cabs for everyone in the UK by law

Are you considering visiting London, maybe for a short or long weekend, in these months? Important news is coming, about accessibility for all and, particularly, for those using a wheelchair: starting from April 6th 2017, a new law will enter into force. It was announced last month by the Transport Minister Andrew Jones and ensures free access to cabs for everyone, including people using a wheelchair, who, so far, have been forced to request specifically equipped cabs, with additional costs, apart from the standard route fare. Drivers who won’t comply with this law and refuse to accept travellers on wheelchair or apply an extra-fare or won’t provide the passengers with a proper assistance, will be subjected to very grave sanctions: fines ‘til 1,000 £ and the license suspension or, in extreme cases, its revocation.

London cabs

It’s not insignificant news, that will involve all the UK, where cabs aren’t only a real institution, but also convenient means of transport (mainly if we compare their fares to the Italian ones…), thanks to the competition among the companies delivering the service. But it’s another sign of attention to accessibility and equal opportunities, as regards the access to public transport, in a country which is very advanced already, in this field.

The deep meaning of this law clearly shines through what Minister Jones said, during its official announcement:

 “We want to create a country for all, including people with disability. We must ensure them the same access to services and the same opportunities as anyone else, also when it comes to traveling. Those who use wheelchairs very often use cabs and rental cars and this change to the law will result in a more fair and equal treatment for everyone”.

We hope it won’t remain an isolated case and other countries will follow the UK’s example!

 

St. Petersburg: towards accessibility

When we think about accessibility and inclusion of people with disability, Russia isn’t exactly the first country coming up to our mind. And that’s right, according to the data. Nevertheless, to tell the truth, we must admit that, mostly before the Sochi 2014’ Winter Olympic Games, Russia started a path precisely aiming to make the country more accessible and inclusive towards people with any disability or, however, with reduced mobility. Then, why don’t we take the chance to discover closely this big country, rich in history? Let’s start from one of the most fascinating cities in the world: St. Petersburg, the second city in the country, after Moscow, on the Neva’s bank.

St. Petersburg - The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace

Let’s say it right away: there are plenty of reasons to visit this city, but, currently, doing it isn’t that easy, for people dealing with a reduced mobility. However, with a little bit of patience and getting organized in advance, you can visit St. Petersburg without experiencing too many issues. Sure, based on your specific disability, you’d better avoid public transport, which is still far from full accessibility (even though something is improving, thanks to the “Sochi project”): there are still just a few subway stations accessible to people with motoric disabilities and surface transit with lowered platform are very rare, not to mention signage for blind people, pretty much lacking. However, there are some tour operators (for instance, this one and this other one) offering touristic itineraries fitting with the disabled travellers’ needs.

St. Petersburg - Hermitage

Hermitage

Accessibility is better if we look at the main touristic attractions in St. Petersburg, starting from the suggestive Hermitage museum, one of the biggest and most famous in the world, that’s been made accessible to visitors with motoric disability installing a service elevator. The same is valid for the majestic Winter Palace, the former imperial residence, which now is part of the Hermitage main complex, and for the Mariinsky theatre. Not forgetting St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the biggest orthodox basilica in the world, and the Nevsky Boulevard, which represents the (touristic, artistic and historic) heart of the city, where overlook many monuments, malls, museums and artistic attractions. There are also restaurants and hotels accessible to people with disability: you can find some examples here.

St. Petersburg - Nevsky Boulevard

Nevsky Boulevard

Then, when are we leaving?

Is Venice accessible? Yes, more and more!

We’re approaching the Carnival climax and, in Italy, “Carnival” means, first, Venice, with its masks wearing very elegant and refined costumes. Who wouldn’t like enjoying that show live, at least for once in his life? Not to mention the other thousands of reasons to visit one of the most fascinating cities in Italy and in the whole world, that yearly attracts tourists from all the continents.

Venice - Carnival

Yes, indeed: but Venice, with its streets, bridges, all that water, doesn’t exactly seem to be a synonym of accessibility, for people living with motoric or visual disabilities. This, at least, apparently. Actually, doing some search, I discovered that, in the last years, even the city immersed into the water is very committed to accessibility. Sure, we’re  still talking about a city with an ancient structure and, by its nature, fragile, so it’s impossible to make too drastic interventions to reduce architectonical barriers. But it doesn’t mean that no intervention is possible, as the city administration’ work shows.

Venice - gondalas on the sea

Today, thanks to the commitment towards public transport and minimization of the architectonical barriers that, until a few years ago, made it actually “off limits” for disabled people, about 70% of the old town centre of Venice is accessible to who has a motoric disability. The Città per Tutti Service and the EBA (Architectonical Barriers Removal) Office of the city have designed a map of accessible Venice, downloadable for free in PDF format from the Municipality website. This document summarizes useful info and practical tips enabling people with motoric disabilities to visit the city.

Venice - Rialto Bridge

The map highlights the accessibility of the isles which make up the city, based on the availability (or lack) of public transport lines, using different colours to mark the areas which are accessible by steamboat (in green), those accessible by motorboat or having an “assisted” bridge (in light green) and those that aren’t accessible by public transport vehicles (in white). But it isn’t all! On the map, you can also find info about:

Furthermore, on the Municipality website, you can also find accessible itineraries, with details about the accessibility of monuments, buildings and attractions, so that you can avoid unpleasant surprises once you’re there. Any doubt or question? You can send an e-mail to cittapertutti@comune.venezia.it or submit your request filling the online form.

Venice - gondolas

And there’s even more! If you don’t want to miss the chance to enjoy a romantic tour by gondola, you can benefit from the “Gondolas4All” service, a simple and, at the same time, smart way to remove an architectonical (and not just it) barrier between the disabled tourists and the chance to enjoy the beauty of Venice also from the sea.

 

Norway: nature, history and accessibility

When we talk about accessibility, Northern Europe has nothing to learn. And Norway doesn’t except, luckily! Indeed, this fascinating country, rich in natural beauty and history, has always cared a lot about disabled people needs. Then, if you’re thinking about visiting it, please note that, apart from a little bit of caution linked to the climate (during winter, snow and ice are the standard and temperatures aren’t exactly mild), you can focus on holiday and leave worries at home! But let’s immediately start our “virtual tour”.

As always, my first advice, if you want to spend a holiday in Norway, is to plan it well in advance. The best time to fully enjoy the beauty of Norway goes from late spring to summer, when temperature is mild and, then, going about is more pleasant. Because there’s plenty of things to see in Norway!

Norway - The northern lights seen from the Lofoten islands

The northern lights seen from the Lofoten islands

The most comfortable and fast way to reach Norway from Italy, of course, is airplane: contact well in advance the airline you’ll choose to request the assistance you need and avoid unpleasant glitches during the flight. Once you’ve reached your destination, you’ll realize that, as in all the Northern Europe countries, also in Norway accessibility is very important, not only in Oslo and in the other main cities, but also in national parks and in the fjords region. Public transport and stops are, for the overwhelming majority, fully accessible to people with disability, not just with a motoric one.

Norway - The Royal Palace in Oslo

Oslo, the Royal Palace

Norway - Oslo, Vigeland Park

Oslo, Vigeland Park

And what about museums, monuments and public places? Norway has been very committed, throughout the years, to make its most important monuments and museums as accessible as possible, since they attract tourists from all around the world. In Oslo, for instance, the Royal Palace, built in the first half of the nineteenth century, today is one of the most accessible in the world. The same is valid for the most well-known museums in the city, from the Viking one to that devoted to the Peace Nobel Prize history, plus the magnificent Opera House and the National Theatre or the suggestive Vigeland Park (also known as “sculptures’ park”), devoted the works of the artist Gustav Vigeland. Shops and public places are, generally, accessible also to who uses a wheelchair: there are still some issues left for the oldest ones, that sometimes have stairs or narrow spaces in their interior parts.

Do you prefer the beauty of nature? Take the chance to do a cruise in the fjords region, in the South of Norway, or to enjoy the breath-taking landscapes of the Lofoten islands, very close to the Polar Arctic Circle. Everything will be fully accessible and safe, as you can see in this video about the fjords in the Rogaland area.

End of the year: a time for analysis and hope

There are just a few days left ‘til the end of 2016 and preparations to celebrate 2017 are in full swing almost everywhere. As it always happens at the end of a year, everyone reviews the almost ended year and makes projects, resolutions and wishes for the upcoming one.

Let’s start with the analysis, obviously considering accessibility and disability culture in general. How was this 2016, under this perspective? A light and dark one, with some lights and still too many shadows. Among the first, for instance, the approval of the so-called “after us” law, even with all its limitations, the increased number (also in Italy) of accessible tourism initiatives and, on mass media, a higher level of attention to web accessibility, commercials, movies and TV series giving back a new perspective on disability, that pays a higher attention to individual dignity than to the disease itself, without forgetting the great success of the Rio Paralympic Games. And, last but not least, allow me a personal note: during this 2016, I, at last, launched this project that, even after just a few months, got me to know organizations, people and projects truly aiming to, if not revolutionize, at least improve disabled people’ lives.

new year

But, as we said earlier, as we approach the end of the year, we cannot pretend not to see so many shadows clouding the sky over people with a disability: work, that, despite laws and incentives, is still a sensitive area; architectonical and cultural barriers that still condition too much the daily life of who deals with a disability, even under a relational perspective.

So, let’s open the “Resolutions and wishes for 2017” chapter: what do I wish, for the new year, for me and for everyone who lives with a motoric, sensory or intellectual disability? Here you have my very own “wishlist”:

  1. More accessible cities and towns paying higher attention to everyone’s needs, not just during “special events”, and not just in Italy or abroad
  2. More qualified job opportunities for disabled people, without bias about their ability, skills and productivity
  3. A more inclusive community towards people with a disability, also under the sentimental and social perspective in general, since also we, disabled people, go out, have fun, fall in love (and not necessarily just “among us”)!

But, to make these wishes come true, acting individually isn’t enough: we’d all have to “act as a system”, work together to demand what we’re entitled to, without be happy with accepting to receive it “”by courtesy”. Since, for sure, it’s important to think about ways to help not self-sufficient disabled people who can’t rely on their family’ support, but it’s as much important to put on expedients and measures to improve autonomy and protect the individual dignity of whoever lives with a disability.

And what are your own wishes, for the new year? Would you like to share them in the comments?

B&B Like Your Home: accessibility and inclusion

Big projects often arise from a casual intuition or a fortuitous meeting. This is, exactly, the case for B&B Like Your Home, a wonderful project focusing on accessibility, inclusion and empowerment of people with a disability strongly wanted by Cetty Ummarino, a woman that, in front of issues, doesn’t give up, but looks for a solution and doesn’t stop ‘til she has found it. I had the pleasure to meet Cetty and talk with her about this project thanks to shared professional contacts, so I want you to know her as well.

What’s B&B Like Your Home?

It’s a network of bed & breakfasts   that have been made suitable for all tourists’ needs, including those with a disability or with specific needs (for instance, celiac people), directly managed by disabled people, supported by their families and caregivers. The goal isn’t just to create accomodation facilities suitable for disabled tourists’ specific needs, but also to give value to abilities and skills of people with motoric, sensory or cognitive disabilities working in tourism and food services, promoting their inclusion in the world of work, usually quite tricky for them. As of today, this network, which is unique of this kind in Italy, counts 15 facilities distributed in the areas of Naples and Salerno.

B&B Like Your Home

How did the idea of B&B Like Your Home arise?

At it often occurs, it arose casually. I work in training for the tourism industry, mainly delivering “on the job” training in the internal areas of Campania, which are often less prepared, compared with the coast, to effectively manage food service and tourism in general. During a business trip, I met a girl with a severe motoric disability and I realized that, for people like her, it’s often difficult “to go towards the world”, due to so many architectural and cultural barriers. Then, I realized that I had to do something concrete to help them, going beyond mere welfarism, to give value to their abilities and skills.

Cetty Ummarino presents B&B Like Your Home at Startup Italian Open 2016

Cetty Ummarino presents B&B Like Your Home at Startup Italian Open 2016

Which is the peculiarity of facilities which join the B&B Like Your Home network?

These facilities already host people with a particular disability, therefore are equipped to satisfy the needs of who lives a similar condition (for instance, in the b&b managed by a blind person you’ll easily find alarm clocks for blind people,  in one managed by someone with a motoric disability there will be suitable aids and expedients), without excluding all the other tourists (including the “able-bodied” ones).  This way, we can give dignity to work, to disabled guys and to what they do, since, besides managing the facility and preparing meals (following the home restaurant model), they handcraft and sell objects. So, somewhat, they also become ambassadors of their territory.

B&B Like Your Home

What are B&B Like Your Home plans for 2017?

We want to expand our network to cover also Benevento, Avellino and Caserta areas, opening to over 60 and adapting our business model to tourist flats, in addition to bed & breakfasts. We’ve also planned collateral initiatives, to promote the work inclusion of disabled people and the matching among them and the businesses operating on their territory.

Indeed, it’s an ambitious project, but – I’m sure! – it will go on growing. Also because Cetty’s strength and energy are really contagious!

Amsterdam: eco-friendly, transgressive…and accessible!

Let’s continue our imaginary tour of accessible Europe stopping at Amsterdam, the Netherlands’ capital city. Culturally lively, eco-friendly (just think about the huge number of bicycles you can see on the streets) and transgressive (try asking your friends the first things they link to the city… apart from tulips and Dutch clogs!), as many Northern Europe capitals, Amsterdam is certainly cutting-edge about accessibility, for people with movement issues or “special” needs (don’t be naughty, please!).

Dutch clogs - Amsterdam

Reaching Amsterdam from Italy is easy: by airplane, in a few hours, you can get to Schipol airport, enormous but absolutely suitable for all passengers, for its accessibility. To reach the city, you can use the intercity train connecting the airport to the center of Amsterdam, better booking in advance the assistance you need, since, to get on board, you must overtake three steps: you’d have the chance to request it also directly there, but be prepared to wait… for hours! Instead, if you choose a slower train, Sprinter, you can do without assistance, since the entrance is at the platform level.

Amsterdam

Once you arrive in Amsterdam, you can breathe a sigh of relief: even though the streets are paved with small bricks, the city is suitable for people with reduced mobility, thanks to ramps facilitating going up and down the sidewalks and not so many circulating cars (in compensation, as I said earlier, there’s a lot of bicycles, but also cycle paths). Public transport is generally accessible as well: the subway network has elevators and trains at the same level as the platforms; the new trams have accessible entrances and, for any event, platforms can be pulled out by the drivers. Instead, not all the buses, so far, are accessible, but many of them have platforms that can be pulled out to allow access also to travellers on wheelchairs. But Amsterdam is a “water city”, so it would be a pity not to take a tour on one of its boats, all fully accessible. And there’s even more: if you want to take a bicycle tour, you can do it even if you use a wheelchair, renting one of the special bicycles. To plan your city tour as better as you can, you can check the local city transport company website (it’s available also in English).

Amsterdam

The most comfortable (and convenient) way to visit Amsterdam as a tourist is the Amsterdam Card, that you can request also online and allows you to freely take public transport, but also access the most important attractions and museums in the city (in many cases, tourists with disability and their companions, but also children, can benefit from discounts). Most of the museums and of the most craved touristic destinations are accessible: from the Van Gogh Museum to Anna Frank’s home (at least in the renovated part) to the Heineken Experience, you’ll have the chance to access everywhere without too many issues. And the same is valid for most of the city restaurants and public places (here you can find detailed info about the accessibility of museums, transport and public places of the most important Dutch cities).

You just have to leave: enjoy your holiday!

PS. Have you been there and would like to share info with the other Move@bility users? You’re welcome!