Accessible Florence

I’ve just returned from a short city break to the beautiful Italian city of Florence.

What made this trip so special was the fact that we’d managed to find an accessible apartment, right in the city centre, whose history went back to the 14th century. Most wheelchairs users don’t get much choice when it comes to accessible holiday accommodation, although this is slowly changing. Normally I have to stay in square box modern hotels with as much character as a drawing pin.

The accommodation we rented in Florence began life as an open market in the 14th century and was later converted into housing, and then more recently into seven apartments, our accommodation was on the ground floor and wheelchair accessible. Many of the period features have been

Searching for Utopia
Bronze of a man riding a turtle in Piazza delia Signora

retained, most noticeably the vaulted ceiling and exposed brickwork. To gain access from the street, we had to use the supplied split fold ramp but once up the only step, the accommodation was all on the level. We spent a very enjoyable and comfortable four nights in this historic apartment and would recommend it to anyone. Here’s the link http://www.palazzobelfiore.it/

If you’ve ever been to Florence, you will know that there are some things about the place that make it unique. The first is that it’s stuffed full of the most extraordinary art, sculptures and historic buildings. Second, it has some charming restaurants, and other eateries and third the

Me in my chair with the bike attachment
Me in my chair with the Batec attached. Near the Pitti Palace in Florence

pavements and the roads, particularly in the pedestrianised centre of the city, are an absolute nightmare if you are on wheels. Fortunately, I took a manual wheelchair with a Batec bike attachment fitted to the front. Here’s the link http://www.cyclonemobility.com/batec. With the bike attached
the small front wheel casters are lifted off the ground, and this meant that I was able to negotiate uneven and potholed pavements relatively safely and easily. If you are thinking of going to Florence, I would certainly recommend you use a wheelchair or scooter with big wheels.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every gallery and exhibition we visited in the old city were wheelchair accessible and free, so my wife and I were able to enjoy just about all that Florence has to offer without breaking the bank. Another thing that impressed me was the fact that in a number of galleries there were tactile replicas of some of the paintings, which enabled sight impaired people to get a sense of the works of art on display, it would be good to see more of this in the UK.

Be warned Florence is an overwhelming experience so you will need to pace yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to sit and relax, and the food and wine make relaxing an even more pleasurable pastime.

Have a good week and here’s some news which might be of interest to you. Supplied by John Pring Disability News Service

Government agency ‘blocked attempts to expose abuse of bus access loophole’

Lib Dem conference: Party picks first Westminster candidate from all-disabled shortlist

Premier League clubs ‘will break access pledge’ despite billion pound transfer spree

Grammar school plans ‘ignore impact on disabled pupils’ 

 

Planes and Boats and the search for winter sun

I’ve just returned from a lovely break in the Carribean. Winter in the UK or somewhere nice and warm? Not a difficult decision! Two weeks cruising on a luxury liner being spoilt rotten sounds like a good idea. Well like everything there is another side.

First you have to get to the Carribean. This usually involves a long haul flight of around eight hours on an aircraft that lacks accessible toilets. One of the fundamental rules of flying long distances is to drink plenty of water. Not advisable if you can’t visit the bathroom. Our flight out to Barbados was nine and half hour long, the seats lacked and any form of adjustment and were extremely uncomfortable. Once we landed I had to wait an hour to be off-loaded from the plane. We were then taken straight to the ship, bypassing customs and the airport terminal toilets; the journey lasted another forty-five minutes. Embarkation took around half an hour, so I went eleven and three quarter hours without using the loo! Much self-control and crossing of legs is the name of the game

Cruise liners are brilliant from an access point of view, and P&O’s ship the Azura is no exception. She has spacious wheelchair accessible cabins with roll in showers,  lift access to all decks, swimming pool hoists making swimming possible for the most severely disabled passenger.

Picture of cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic
Cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic

The trouble begins when you go ashore. Our ship was able to berth in all the places we visited, so there was no need to use tender boats. To appreciate the Caribbean islands you need to venture inland, unfortunately, very few tour buses are wheelchair accessible. The result is that mobility impaired people are forced to stay close to the port to while away their time in endless identical shopping malls. P & O do provide a list of available tours but on our cruise, the accessible buses that were available only had one wheelchair space. I saw, at least, a dozen wheelchair users so this provision was wholly inadequate. In one location they had provided a shuttle bus to get passengers from the ship to the town. Unfortunately, those people using wheelchairs, but who could walk a little, were refused access because there was nowhere to store the wheelchair. It seemed a little ironic that the very people the shuttle was designed to help were excluded from using it.

I do understand some of the places we visited do not have the resources to provide the kind of accessibility we have come to expect in the UK but what I find puzzling is why P & O won’t do more to cater for the increasing number of mobility impaired passengers. The last straw was we

Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours
Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours

left the ship in St Maarten to see a kiosk a hundred yards from the port entrance advertising wheelchair accessible tours.

Many disabled people find cruising one of the best ways of taking a holiday, it is possible to see places that you might not otherwise be able to visit. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences so please send me your comments and I will do my best to see they are passed on.

To end on a more positive note the sun shone beautifully, my tan has improved, my waistline has expanded as a result of the food being plentiful and excellent, and we met some fascinating people.

Here are some links to this week’s other news. I hope you find them of interest.

Government agrees four more years of ILF transition cash for councils

Maximus ‘has falsified results of fitness for work tests’, says MP

Anger at Osborne’s working-age benefits freeze

Police duo jailed over failure to protect disabled murder victim

News provided by John Pring at

www.disabilitynewsservice.com