What are accessible cities?
These are cities that are increasingly working to adapt their infrastructure and services for people with reduced mobility. Issues such as the built environment and public spaces, transport and related infrastructure, information and communications are key when classifying whether a city is accessible, posing a significant challenge to social inclusion.
In the following ranking, we gather together some of the most accessible cities in the world…
The German capital stands out as one of the world’s most accessible cities. Due to its large investment in eliminating architectural barriers, the city won the annual Access City Award in 2013 from the European Union for the town or city which had made the most effort to adapt its infrastructure to people with reduced mobility.
Most public buildings in Berlin are now 100% accessible for wheelchairs, as are private leisure facilities such as cinemas, theatres, cafés and restaurants. Transport is also totally adapted for wheelchairs – in the case of the tramway and buses (including the tourist bus) – and almost totally adapted in the case of the subway.
Denver (United States)
Although tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, Denver is a relatively flat city, which helped it make its infrastructure accessible to people with reduced mobility.
The Colorado capital offers a wide range of leisure and cultural activities for people with disabilities and has a 100% accessible subway. Wheelchair Travel, a portal specialized in adapted cities, gave Denver a score of 20 out of 25, based on the following criteria: public transport (4/5), adapted taxis (3/5), pavements (4/5), tourist attractions (4/5) and hotels (5/5).
Gdynia is particularly worthy of mention, being a city with an old historic quarter that has been very difficult to make accessible for people with disabilities. The Polish city adapted for wheelchairs almost all the public buses (97%), over half the trolleybuses (58%) and most public buildings, restaurants and museums. It is now considered the Polish city with the best public transport, since it is also highly committed to energy efficiency with its hybrid buses and electric trolleybuses.
The whole city also has a unique braille information system for visually impaired people, with the aim of facilitating the routines of all its citizens and visitors.
In an attractive tourist and historic city like Milan, accessible infrastructure is essential. Winner of the 2016 Access City Award, the Lombardy capital has adapted its innumerable historic monuments and buildings for people with reduced mobility. Take La Scala opera house, for example, the city’s flagship venue. It is totally accessible for wheelchairs, has a lift and no architectural barriers, such that anywhere in the auditorium can be reached via ramps.
And the authorities have not only adapted the city to make it more accessible; they have approved a series of measures so that any future workplace in the city must be fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Seattle (United States)
The Emerald City of the US has been an example of inclusive adaptation for decades. Its public transport network has been fit for wheelchairs for 40 years now and gives discounts to people with reduced mobility. It also has a special door-to-door transport system throughout the municipality.
Indeed, Seattle occupies first place in Wheelchair Travel’s ranking of the world’s most accessible destinations for people in wheelchairs, since, public transport apart, the city’s main attractions - such as the Space Needle observatory, Puget Sound cruise port, Boeing airplane factory, aquarium and Music Experience Project museum, among many others - are completely adapted for people with disabilities.
Tel Aviv (Israel)
Israel’s second most populated city has devoted a large effort in recent years to making its streets and infrastructure accessible to everyone. As for transport, all the bus routes are accessible for wheelchairs, while stops transmit a message for people with hearing difficulties to let them know when a bus is approaching.
Elsewhere, all public buildings and banks, and most restaurants and hotels, have services adapted to people with reduced mobility, whether that is special accesses, doors and ramps, or bedrooms and bathrooms.
Situated on the banks of the Loire, the city of Nantes has directed its efforts towards a total adaptation for people with disabilities. The city of Jules Verne formed a special corps of architects and designers to remove architectural barriers from the city.
Thanks to this work, almost all the city, from municipal facilities to private businesses and public transport, is adapted for people with reduced mobility and it has carried out 430 audits of access to public buildings and open public spaces.
The Swedish capital has been transforming itself into a totally accessible city for many years now. From 1999 to 2011, it undertook the Easy Access project, performing a wide range of improvements to the urban environment, buildings and public spaces, based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Pamplona is another case worthy of praise in that it has adapted its urban labyrinth of narrow streets for people with reduced mobility. The city currently has a four-year plan to completely renew infrastructure and access points to make them more inclusive and that includes the old quarter, where the pavement has already been flattened out.
Elsewhere, recreational zones and parks are being adapted and footbridges and elevators are being installed throughout the municipality to facilitate movements through the most difficult areas.
Tallaght is an Irish municipality, part of the metropolitan area of Dublin, with a wide variety of services adapted for people with disabilities.
Its main attraction is a local maintenance service which repairs streets, pavements, footbridges, facilities and equipment within 48 hours, so that people in wheelchairs can always navigate the streets and access buildings without complications. For example, since the programme was introduced in 2012, roads damaged by wheelchair users have been repaired, narrow streets have been broadened and the number of accessible parking spaces has been increased.
Sources: Dealing with different, Goodnet, Blog de Personas con Esclerosis Múltiple, Wheelchair Travel, Flow, Barrera Cero, Barrera Cero II, Wheelchair Travel II, Travel Xperience, A salto de mata, Accessible Tourism, Vision 2030 – City of Stockholm, Barrera Cero III, Central and Eastern Europe, Visit Berlin, European Comission and Fix your street.
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