Reid has Cerebral Palsy and uses an electric wheelchair. During a 3-week trip to Western Europe, he realized the challenges wheelchair users face in several European countries. He visited Dublin, Brussels, Naples, Florence, and Paris and later chronicled his experiences in a documentary about accessibility in foreign countries in contrast to the ease of access in the U.S.
In Dublin, Reid had trouble finding an accessible bus to drive him to the hotel; bus drivers there require one day’s notice to accommodate an electric wheelchair. His only other option was a high-priced accessible taxi. The taxi lacked a wheelchair ramp, so the driver fashioned a less-than-safe ramp from metal strips. Fortunately, newer taxis are equipped with accessible ramps. Reid met Gavin, a fellow wheelchair user, who pointed out the limited routes and places that wheelchair travelers can access. Dublin’s cobblestone roads don’t help either.
"The city’s cobblestoned sidewalks ... were very narrow and sometimes had no curb cuts."
Gavin also commented that not all bars and restaurants are accessible, and even the accessible places don’t always have accessible bathrooms, especially coffee shops. Finding a cab the second time around proved equally challenging, and Reid learned that while many accessible cabs exist in Dublin, drivers use these cabs to carry more passengers instead of catering to wheelchair users. For this reason, Dublin’s train system is a more accessible means of transport.
After arriving in Paris, Reid headed to the famed Eiffel Tower. After riding an elevator to the halfway point, he realized that to board the second elevator to the top, he’d have to ascend a staircase. Reid learned that the Eiffel Tower isn’t the only inaccessible place in Paris. He spoke with Matthew, who commented that many trains and buses are also inaccessible. Matthew acknowledged Paris’ inaccessibility:
“In D.C., as you know, you can take every bus, you can enter every Metro station without any problem. Everything is accessible. Here in France, it’s not the same.”
He also shared that in his experience, French people are not as willing to accommodate wheelchair users to the extent that people in the U.S. do. Although Paris’ train system is accessible, the workers there must position a portable ramp for wheelchair users to board the train, but these passengers usually have to wait for quite some time before this can be performed.
Reid’s wheelchair broke in transit to Brussels, but fortunately he found a shop to repair it. He met Brussels resident Francois, who uses a wheelchair, and who cited the discrimination that disabled residents face, the lack of accessible transport, and the lack of accessible restaurants and bars. Not surprisingly, Reid and Francois struggled to find an accessible restaurant for lunch near Francois’ apartment. Francois also compared his country’s accessibility to the ease of access in U.S., and told Reid he feels more comfortable when he travels in the U.S. with easy access to wheelchair ramps and bathrooms.
“Europe is an old continent, so we have a lot of old structures, old buildings. And we don’t have [things] like the Americans With Disabilities Act.”
Although accessibility in his country needs improvement, Francois realizes that more Europeans are seeing his as a person, rather than defining him by his disability. He’s glad the mentality has changed, and thankful for the resulting improvements.
Reid’s travels through Europe enlightened him on the challenges that travelers with disabilities face, but, he says, this is by no means insurmountable. Despite the hurdles, he still visited four countries in 20 days. He concludes that public transportation is the biggest hurdle travelers face, and advises them to call ahead to confirm whether they need to make any special arrangements or reservations. He also recommends accessible taxis as the safest means of transport, although they can be a bit costly. Above all, proper planning and good common sense will ensure a safe and fulfilling trip.
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