As the world is becoming more aware of those that live with disabilities, it isn’t surprising that countries around the globe are working hard to make their cities more accessible for travelers and residents. Accommodations and attractions are being redesigned to be more inclusive in order to attract a wide a variety of travelers. That being said, while some destinations have managed to become pioneers in access-friendly travel, some are still working out how to make things easier for their less able-bodied visitors. Here’s a guide to the world’s best five accessible destinations, and one that is making great efforts to become so.
Berlin is often high on most people’s list of places to visit. It’s a city that combines being incredibly modern with a rich and intriguing history, and it has an excellent array of museums, attractions, eateries and nightlife options to keep travelers entertained for weeks. What many people might not know is that Berlin has made a commitment to becoming ‘barrier free’ and has been working hard to make sure travelers with physical, visual and hearing challenges are accommodated. In fact, in 2013 Berlin won the European Commission’s Access City Award for its public transport system, which is exceptionally easy-to-use for those with disabilities. In addition, the majority of Berlin’s museums and attractions are wheelchair-accessible, and the city’s sidewalks are in excellent condition for those in wheelchairs or who use walking aids. There are also plenty of access-friendly accommodation options to choose from.
The ultimate in beach city destinations, Sydney has a great infrastructure for disabled travelers. Bondi Beach is particularly good for wheelchair users; the beach can provide beach wheelchairs, which can be brought to visitors by one of the lifeguards down an accessible ramp so they can explore the beach with ease. Attractions like the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge have excellent accessibility features. Sydney’s city ferries offer a unique way to get around and all ferries have wheelchair ramps. For visitors who prefer to walk, there are 2,100 tactile and Braille street signs to help people get around safely. It’s worth checking out Sydney’s Accessibility Map (currently in beta), which gives visitors plenty of useful information, such as where to find accessible public restrooms and mobility parking spaces, as well as warning of obstacles like steps.
A city that has long come high on lists of accessibility-friendly destinations, Seattle has made a huge effort to be inclusive of all citizens and visitors for many years. Its public transportation system is exceptionally easy-to-use; specialized maps are provided to guide disabled passengers through the most accessible transport routes of the city. There are discounts on tickets for those who use wheelchairs or they can opt for a paratransit minibus that can transport a wheelchair user around. But it’s not just the transportation that is disabled-friendly. Seattle has a whole host of attractions and museums to enjoy, and pretty much all of them are accessible to disabled visitors. There are also lots of accessible-friendly accommodations and all the crosswalks have multisensory indicators.
Italy might not be the first destination you think of when you are considering a disabled-friendly vacation; after all, it is a country steeped in history, with the uneven roads and sidewalks, narrow alleyways and listed buildings that come with it. The island of Sicily, however, is actually a great place for accessibility. In fact, two disabled athletes made two Guinness World Records here: the first blind woman to dive to 41 meters and the first paraplegic to dive to 59 meters. Other activities that are available to disabled travelers include scuba diving, 4WD off-road driving, traditional Sicilian fishing and olive oil making. There are also a number of attractions that have been created with disabled visitors in mind, such as the Tactile Museum and the Sensorial Botanical Garden.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Primarily known as a destination for those seeking sun, sea and sand, and particularly popular with spring breakers, Playa del Carmen is actually a fantastic place for those who need accessibility. As the accommodations found here are largely resort-based, they immediately cater to all kinds of guests, including those with mobility and other impairments. The beaches are also extremely wheelchair-friendly, with ramps and beach wheelchairs available. If visitors are interested in snorkelling but cannot swim, there is equipment that is specially adapted to allow disabled travelers to enjoy the coral reef and the marine life that lives there. When it comes to public transportation, Playa del Carmen is such a compact town that it actually isn’t needed. Best of all, most of the historical sights which are on many visitors’ list of places to see when in the area, such as Chichen Itza and Tulum, are highly wheelchair-accessible, meaning that disabled travelers do not need to miss out on these magical sites.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The honorary upcoming destination, Phnom Penh may seem like an odd choice as it certainly has a long way to go before it catches up with the rest of the destinations on this list. However, the capital of Cambodia is listed here because of a new accessible=friendly invention – the wheelchair tuk tuk. Named Mobilituk, this specially designed vehicle is the first barrier-free mode of transport in the whole country. It’s probably not hard to see why the idea for the Mobilituk came from Phnom Penh; the city has one of the highest rates of amputees per capita in the world. Not only does the Mobilituk give wheelchair users the ability to get about Phnom Penh fairly easy, it’s also ridiculously cheap – a full day’s rental can cost as little as $30. While the rest of Phnom Penh has a lot of catching up to do, the Mobilituk is a step in the right direction.
More and more disabled people are taking to the roads and the skies to travel to far-flung places and with so many destinations doing their best to make things as simple as possible for those with accessibility issues, it’s easy to understand why.