Until you find yourself wheelchair bound, or at least challenged by decreased mobility, you can never fully appreciate what people who are go through. For a very long time, our towns and cities and their adjacent amenities, such as airports, have been constructed with the able-bodied majority of society in mind. The planners and architects have often been forced to ignore the needs of residents who can’t negotiate steps, and other similar mountains to climb when you’re in a wheelchair or on a mobility scooter, often no doubt for pragmatic reasons, such as a lack of space, an absence of the right technology or plain old, ‘there’s not enough money in the budget.’
However, in the 21st century it is evident that the needs and rights of the less mobile must be addressed if we are ever to have a fully inclusive society. More restaurants now make provision for disabled bathroom access, and customers in wheelchairs are less frequently shoved into the worst corner of establishments so that they won’t ‘get in the way.’ Making life easier for the disabled only takes the will to make it happen and sometimes a large helping of imagination. The Access City Award 2015, which is promoted by the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), highlights examples of ‘Best Practice for Making EU Cities more Accessible.’ So, here are some of the stellar initiatives that won recognition for their ‘innovative and sustainable ways of achieving equality and independence for disabled and older citizens.’
To become a winner, cities/towns must demonstrate that they have:
- Improved accessibility in the fundamental aspects of city living
- Improved access to transport and related spaces
- Used Information Technology in an imaginative way to communicate with disabled people
- Made public facilities and services more accessible
- Shown commitment to continued and sustainable improvements in accessibility
- Become a role model for other European cities
First Prize 2015 – Borås in Sweden
Sweden has a disabled population of around 1.5 million and it has been a national goal for some time to make sure that this sector of the population has ‘power and influence over their everyday lives.’ In January 2015, the Swedish parliament made lack of accessibility a ‘new form of discrimination’ within the country’s Discrimination Act. This law will enable the disabled to participate in society on more equal terms.
Boras is the second largest city in Sweden with a population of 107,000. It’s a historic city that has a long connection with the textile industry and is also a hub for e-commerce businesses. It has a lot of parks and green spaces and is surrounded by countryside. Borås won the prize because of its long-term commitment to accessibility for all. Human and financial resources have been put into delivering this and the city works closely with the disability advisery board to make sure action happens. Here are some of the initiatives that made the city a winner:
A rave review of Boras
Clearly, the initiatives have worked as it is the top prize winner, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say. A review by ‘SwedeOnWheels’ of a Borås restaurant called Bara, says: “Bara is one of Borås’s best restaurants. It’s a nice venue with attentive staff. Good accessibility with a wheelchair. No stairs and an accessible restroom.”
A search for hotels in Borås shows that many classify themselves as ‘Accessible Hotels’ on international travel databases, and offer ‘accessible bathroom with easy access shower,’ plus in-room accessibility and an ‘accessible path of travel’ from the entrance through the hotel. Speaking of which, Sweden is something of an expert in ensuring disabled people are afforded a dignified entrance.
Sweden’s ‘Dignified Entrance’ Initiative
Pushing the boundaries on the idea of true accessibility is the ‘Dignified Entrance’ project (Värdig Entré) in Stockholm. People with disabilities are often taken into public venues through service elevators and back doors, especially on visits to important historic buildings or landmarks. A collaborative project run jointly by the Swedish National Property Board, the City of Stockholm and the non-profit organisation EIDD (Design for All Sweden), the Dignified Entrance project focuses on people with disabilities being able to enter these buildings through the main entrance, just like everyone else.
This is just the top award winners, but the runners up and cities that achieved ‘Special Mention’ status, all demonstrate that the barriers to independent living are steadily coming down; all we need to do is follow the lead of these trail blazers.