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’ 

 

Whatever happened to innovation?

Earlier this month I made my annual pilgrimage to the Mobility Roadshow, this year held at the home of British motorsport, Silverstone. On arrival, I bumped into a couple of old friends, one of the reasons I go. They recounted horror stories about parking a long way from the exhibition halls and having to wait for over an hour for wheelchair accessible courtesy buses.

Picture of part of the circuit at Silverstone and one of the Exhibition halss
Silverstone racing circuit

Note to organisers; if you organise a major event where vast numbers of wheelchair users are likely to attend then locate parking close to the venue, preferably not on grass, if this isn’t possible then find another site!

After spending an hour familiarising myself with the layout of the Show, I began the search for the new kit. You know the sort of thing, wheelchairs that will climb bridlepath styles, powered wheelchair batteries that last a year and weigh less than a kilo, solar powered accessible vans, scooters that elevate so you can reach the top shelves in the supermarket. Sadly none of this was in evidence. More of the same old stuff, being demonstrated by less than enthusiastic sales teams who had an air of “I wish I were somewhere else” about them.

There was one headline grabbing piece of kit, called the Genny. As manual wheelchair users, we know how easy it is to get our small wheels stuck in pavement cracks or tramlines, the joy of dog poo on our hands, getting soaked because we can’t wheel around and carry a brolly.

The Genny is designed to eliminate these problems. It is a two wheeled powered device, based on the Segway, it’s full of gyroscopes and smart tech which enables the user to turn on a sixpence (remember those!). It climbs kerbs, goes across fields, you can carry an umbrella while holding hands with a loved one,  and, most importantly, you look cool while you’re doing it. There is only one tiny little drawback the Genny cost around £13,000!

All in all, I found the Show somewhat disappointing, it felt jaded and lacked pizzazz and excitement. If the organisers want to ensure we’ll all come back next year, they must find ways of encouraging inventiveness and innovation. They could make a start by reducing the costs for smaller companies so that they can afford to rent stands to showcase their products.

Now where can I lay my hands on £13,000?

Almost forgot, here are the links to some interesting disability stories.

Baroness Campbell urges disabled people to stay in the EU

Disability confident attracts just 40 mainstream private sector partners in 3 years