Travelling overseas for a holiday, sightseeing, or business convention and immersing yourself in different cultures is always an enriching experience, one that broadens and refreshes your perspective of the world. However, as much as overseas travel is a life changing experience, it can present many challenges, from lost luggage to flight delays to bad hotels. For individuals with disabilities, it can present even more challenges.
The reality is that the infrastructure and transit system of most countries are not tailored to cater for people with limited mobility which presents various challenges and can make it much more difficult to travel around these countries. There are a few cities that are ahead of the rest. They offer hospitality services, infrastructure, and transport systems that make travelling with a wheelchair or limited mobility easier.
In this article, we’ve narrowed down the best disability-friendly cities around the world. Accessible public transportation, ease of access to hotels and public attractions are some of the main criteria we used to determine a disability-friendly city.
If you are planning to travel abroad and are unsure of places that would be more accessible then here is a list of 9 cities that are capable of giving you a stress-free vacation.
Best Disability-Friendly Cities in the United States
1. Washington DC, Washington
Washington DC has long been one of the most accessible cities in the U.S.A. The city’s entire metro system is wheelchair accessible with lifts at each station. There are also companies like ScootAround that provide scooters and wheelchairs to those with limited mobility.
Washington DC is a city with a highly visible disability community. The public transport systems, as well as many other places including museums and performing arts venues like the Kennedy Centre are already easily accessible. Another city around Washington State that provides persons with disability with the same level of ease in terms of travel is Seattle.
2. Denver, Colorado
Denver is another city in the US with a mainline metro transportation system that’s fully accessible by wheelchair. Aside from the disabled-friendly transport system, the city offers other mobility solutions like the door-to-door paratransit service which makes it even easier for those persons with disabilities to travel around the city.
When it comes to tourist attractions and recreational amenities, the city has made great strides to ensure that they are accessible. Many attractions around Denver such as the Children’s Museum of Denver and the Downtown Aquarium are fully accessible while some attractions even offer special tours for those with hearing disabilities.
Best Disability-Friendly Cities in Europe
Europe has the highest number of accessible cities. Countries like the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and several northern and eastern European countries are becoming more accessible for people with disabilities. Major as well as minor tourist attractions of these countries from museums to galleries are tailored towards receiving tourists in wheelchairs. Here are three of the more popular tourist destinations that are accessible.
1. Rome, Italy
Rome is one of the most accessible cities in Italy as well as being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy.
All modes of transport in the city are wheelchair friendly. The ancient city has wheelchair ramps on the pavements with plenty of space for wheelchairs in restaurants. There is at least a ramp going into galleries and museums.
The city offers suitable means of transport such as accessible bus tours to people with reduced mobility for visiting some of the major tourist attractions like the Colosseum and The Vatican.
There are also specially equipped mobility scooters that can be hired. In addition, Rome is one of the European cities with the highest number of fully accessible hotels (700+ accessible hotels) which are suitable for people with limited mobility.
2. Berlin, Germany
Germany is one country that has invested heavily in making more and more of its cities more accessible for people with reduced mobility. Berlin, its capital, received the 2013 EU City Access Award from the European Commission for its comprehensive disability policy and investments in accessibility for people with disabilities.
Berlin’s public transport system is almost 100% accessible with sidewalks and guidance system for disabled people at road crossings. Many museums, theatres and a vast majority of restaurants and bars in Berlin are accessible. Accessible attractions include the Jewish Museum of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall Memorial.
3. London, England
All public transport in London is fully accessible, but what is more surprising is that there are many regular city taxis in London that offer wheelchair access. This means that a person in wheelchair can flag down a taxi and get both themselves and their wheelchair into the taxi which is unthinkable in many other cities.
The streets have wheelchair ramps and almost all hotels have at least 5% of their rooms dedicated to guests with a disability.
When it comes to museums and the tourist destinations such as the London Aquarium and London Eye, most of them offer fully accessible routes. Furthermore, the British government is working on implementing new access laws that will require all tourist destinations to provide adequate wheelchair access.
Asia and the Middle East
As a new and very modern city, a majority of buildings, restaurants, and attractions in Dubai offer great wheelchair accessibility. The city recently built a modern metro system that is barrier-free to people with reduced mobility and connected to the airport.
The Dubai International Airport which is one of the best in the world as far as accessibility is concerned. The airport offers special services to wheelchair users including expedited screening at security checkpoints and a dedicated line specifically for wheelchair users at passport control. There are also accessible restrooms spread throughout the terminals.
The city also offers a fleet of accessible taxis managed by the Dubai Taxi Corporation. Also, Dubai is home to a large number of International hotel chains that have disabled-friendly rooms specially designed for guests that may have a physical disability and need specific amenities.
Singapore is perhaps the most disability-friendly city in Asia and indeed among the most accessible cities in the world. The city has implemented a universal barrier-free accessibility standard to cater for the needs of diverse groups like wheelchair travellers and people with hearing or visual impairments.
In terms of transportation, Singapore's train system, the Mass Rapid Transport System (MRT) is designed to be fully wheelchair accessible and includes other accessibility features such as Braille plates in station lifts and tactile ground surface indicators that guide visually impaired travellers from the entrance to ramps and other platforms.
Also, almost half of public buses and taxis in Singapore are wheelchair-friendly and the bus stops provide barrier-free access. A large number of buildings and tourist attraction sites provide barrier-free access to make them more accessible to people with disabilities. These attractions include Singapore Zoo, Sentosa Cove and the Gardens on the Bay.
Our Very Own Backyard, Australia
So let’s find out how our own Australian cities are faring in terms of modes of travel, attractions, and hotels that are accessible for people who have disabilities.
1. Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne has a compact city centre and a highly accessible public transport system which makes it not only one of the most accessible city in Australia but also in the world.
The train network within Melbourne city operates around five stations with elevators leading to platforms at every station for those with reduced mobility. There are a number of low-floor trams as well as accessible super-stops around the city that make it easier for people with disabilities to utilise trams.
Melbourne public transport also consists of wheelchair-accessible bus services like the NightRider, SmartBus and Airport buses which can provide an on demand response bus service for those with a disability who are unable to travel on trains.
Transport system aside, a vast majority of Melbourne attraction sites are designed to be enjoyed by everyone. For instance, Philip Island has a wheelchair viewing area that gives an incredible view of the Penguin Parade while the iconic Wilson’s Promontory National Park offers two fully accessible cabins for disabled visitors with fully accessible bathrooms. Furthermore, you will find many hotels and restaurants around the city that offer barrier-free access to guests with a disability.
2. Sydney, Australia
Sydney is one of the influential cities in the world when it comes to culture, art, cuisine and design. On top of these, it’s one of the major cities in Australia that has great access for visitors as well as citizens with disabilities.
The city’s public transport services are widely accessible. All trains are barrier free with boarding ramps to help travellers using mobility aids move around the train stations. All ferries are accessible and although there some wharves that have stairs, most of them have ramp access to allow easier boarding to all passengers.
There are as well several buses around the city that use kerbside kneeling technology and ramps for easier boarding while you can find wheelchair accessible taxis operating around the city.
Sydney offers plenty of attractions which a large number of are accessible, including; the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Museum of Sydney and the Immigration Museum. In fact, most of the main attractions include hearing loops as well as sign language interpreters to cater for hearing-impaired travellers.
This vibrant, beautiful and dynamic city adheres to Australian legislative arrangements that require transport, tours, and hotels to provide adequate accessibility and services for people with disabilities.
The Bottom Line
Overseas and domestic travel can be an intimidating idea. Some cities including the ones we explored above are more accessible for people with disabilities. Other cities may be slower at improving their accessibility but some are putting into place measures to improve the experience for people with disabilities. Don’t be hesitant to travel, we suggest looking into other peoples experiences in the places you want to go to and do some research about hotels, restaurants and transport systems. The internet is full of information and advice from other travellers. Give one of these destinations a go!
And remember that counting on the proper equipment can make the difference. At Sunrise Medical, we offer a wide range of powered wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs to help you find the best mobility device according to your needs and lifestyle.