What countries are the most wheelchair-friendly for travelers?
August 1, 2012 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Have wheelchair, will travel. My husband and I want to see the world! He uses a (manual) wheelchair. What countries are the most wheelchair-friendly?

My husband and I are both young, healthy, unencumbered and ready to see the world. Yay! However, we have the added complication that he uses a (manual, non-electric) wheelchair to get around. We're both passionate about travelling and seeing the world however, so I'm looking for recommendations of countries that are especially wheelchair-friendly or at least don't lock their disabled in a closet and pretend they don't exist.

Since the ADA doesn't exist outside the U.S., we're always a little hesitant making vacation plans because we're never positive just how easy it will be to get around with a wheelchair. I've made trips by myself through countries that were amazing but would be positively crappy for even the most intrepid wheelchair-user (Malaysia). We don't need much, but I'd love to know what countries encourage cities with curb cuts and don't block anything interesting with a flight of stairs.

My mate is passionate and independent and a kick-ass guy. It's important to me that he feel included and confident where-ever we go. We want to have our adventures together.

Other relevant details:

He's incredibly independent, healthy, and mobile. He can transfer easily in and out of seats, scale small steps/curbs if there's something to hold on to, and attempt uneven surfaces.
He can stand for short periods, but he needs something to hold onto due to absolutely no balance.
Planes are no problem. We're pro flyers and know just to expect longer layovers.
His preferred chair doesn't fold but does come apart and fit in back of most taxi cab trunks in the U.S. He has a chair that folds but prefers not to use it right now because it's so heavy/clunky. He'll use it if a folding chair is the only way to do a tour/bus/whatever. (Planning on getting him a better folding one soon.)
We rarely ask for "accessible" hotel rooms because they're usually the worst in the hotel. We do fine in regular rooms as long as it's not so tiny and cramped that he can't get the chair in.
He's, again, really independent and stubborn so the idea of hiring a helper or sherpa-type assistance makes him cringe. We might do that when we're older but we'd prefer to travel unassisted for now.
We love exploring cities, eating new food, checking out history/art and going on outings/tours. I'm more outdoorsy so if parks/beaches have paved paths, that's a bonus.

Our next trip is planned to Australia, which I imagine will be pretty easy in the cities. But where should we head next? Is most of modern Europe wheelchair friendly? Any particularly modernized parts of Asia? Thanks for your advice!
posted by ninjakins to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Our next trip is planned to Australia, which I imagine will be pretty easy in the cities.

Just to confirm, my parents (my mom is in a manual wheelchair) went to Australia last December and found it very wheelchair-friendly. They stayed in cities, though I forget which ones.
posted by amro at 7:47 AM on August 1, 2012

Much of Europe is not "great" in terms of access, because the cities are older, but it sounds like he'll do okay there anyway. The Netherlands, btw, is fantastic - everyone bikes, so there's curb cuts and smooth paths everywhere.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe not all of Taiwan, but we were really struck at how stroller friendly Taipei was - especially compared to Tokyo. Realize wheelchairs are different, but when our kid was younger we got very used to lugging him and his stroller up and down stairs when we travelled. I don't think we had to do that once in Taipei.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:55 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: There's always Canada. I've done most of Ontario in a cambered chair and had no troubles.
I live in Toronto and it's an amazing place for getting around. My only word of warning is there aren't elevators at every subway stop, but they are installing/repairing several this year.
Most escalators are wide enough for my chair, and if he's got good balance (or you to help) he can tip on and off without trouble.

(I have stripped my beast down to wheels and frame, choosing to hook feet into mesh strapping under the frame- so I can't speak to foot rests.)
posted by whowearsthepants at 8:04 AM on August 1, 2012

London and Berlin are both quite wheelchair accessible (partly due to extensive bombing during WWII). Not a lot of cobblestone streets left, plenty of modern hotels and things, lots of curb cuts. London transport is pretty wheelchair-friendly. Some specific historical things aren't accessible, but most of the museums are.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:09 AM on August 1, 2012

Australia is a pretty wheelchair friendly city. If phoning for a cab/taxi to pick you up at a set time you can very often order wheelchair friendly ones you can roll right into, and I have found Aussie cab drivers friendly and helpful. There is pretty good public transport in the major cities and most train stations with staff on have ramps for getting on and off trains. A lot of the public transport buses have hydraulics to drop down to make access easier and even some of the trams in Melbourne are wheelchair accessible.

If you go on a tour he might need some help getting on and off the large coaches but I have yet to meet a tour bus driver that wasn't super helpful with things like this if you let them know before you book most companies will make sure to have useful equipment, like extra steps with them in case it is needed.

New Zealand is pretty much the same way as are most of the major cities in the UK, while they don't have the same ADA as the US a lot of these countries have their own similar acts in place.
posted by wwax at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2012

Well my wheelchair using partner, our two young kids and myself have twice visited India (Chennai and Madurai.) India is not wheelchair friendly; bring climbing gear for the curbs and scuba gear for the potholes but there is help and good will everywhere. There was no casual walking about but the thing to remember is that auto rickshaws go from door to door. They are in effect large, gas powered wheelchairs. Getting four people and the chair into one if these was sometimes interesting but two and a chair will be relatively easy. We have friends there and this helped with planning and logistics. If you go, you'll need to do some research and decide what you want to do. It'll be an adventure and sometimes difficult but that's a good reason to travel anyway, right?

Memail me if you want more info.
posted by firstdrop at 8:23 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: Since you enjoyed Malaysia, then Singapore might be an excellent introduction to the multicultural ambience of the region and its cuisine and culture but with the addition of working on being very wheelchair friendly. They're starting to get kneeling buses and most recently I noticed they'd replaced entire staircases with ramps for the covered walkway near my parent's house.

I wouldn't recommend India given you wouldn't want a sherpa type assist in this trip.
posted by infini at 8:33 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is a guide to the wheelchair accessible parts of Western Australia, Australia:

posted by Year of meteors at 8:40 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: There's definitely a disability act in the UK and I think all shops and public places have to be wheelchair accessible, though I don't think they have to be accessible unassisted. The Tube is getting better, and all London buses are wheelchair-accessible (though drivers can be unhelpful).

You might find these links useful for the UK:
posted by corvine at 8:41 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what sort of holidays you enjoy, and I can only speak for the UK.

As Corvine mentions, there is a disability act here. I imagine most of the larger cities are pretty wheelchair friendly.

If you'd like more of a country holiday it's worth looking into the UK's trails. Some of them are based along old rail lines and canals. (I was at the Longdendale trail recently, and it's a lovely walk, with loads of water on one side, and the peaks on the other. Although you'd really need to hire a car to get to that one. )
posted by SuckPoppet at 9:17 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: London is fine generally but the Tube is not very good. Our disability legislation here has to take account of the fact that many buildings are hundreds of years old and even the Tube goes back to 1863 - it's not possible to get everyone to rebuilt to accommodate wheelchairs.

There is usually good information for public transport, e.g., the step free tube map

Museums are generally good. Big hotels will normally be fine. Smaller hotels and B&Bs may not be fine at all. Don't assume there will be lifts unless the building is really modern.

In my experience of pushing people around with wheelchairs, staff will fall over themselves to help you, but facilities are not always ideal.
posted by kadia_a at 9:37 AM on August 1, 2012

I met a couple traveling in Africa - the girlfriend was in a manual chair. It wasn't easy, but they were managing to make it work for them - I think what helped was they hired a car and driver rather than go on organised tours. Everyone was happy to help them get around.

Australia is fine for wheelchair users! You can go almost anywhere without any major problems.

I live in London and have wheelchair-bound pals - the Tube can be a bit of a nightmare but is improving. Buses can be a total pain - they are meant to carry chairs but many drivers are just ignoring wheelchair commuters. But there are plenty of taxis!
posted by ozgirlabroad at 9:58 AM on August 1, 2012

Don't go to Indonesia. Even the touristy parts are not wheel chair friendly.
posted by emilynoa at 10:36 AM on August 1, 2012

Do not go to Japan. We were pushing a pram around and it was a nightmare. Couldn't imagine it would be possible to get on a train in Japan without climbing stairs.
posted by wilful at 7:25 PM on August 1, 2012

No other country can compare to the wheelchair accessible paradise that is the US.

Outside the US, Australia is the wheelchair friendliest place I've been. It's only slightly behind the US in terms of accessibility.

As said above, in London there are many curb cutouts, and IIRC many buses are wheelchair accessible. The Tube is certainly a different story. Most museums and such will have either ramps or elevators. London black-cabs may even be big enough to fit your non-folding wheelchair.

Paris, while not being overburdened with curb cutouts, has low-enough curbs and that it never seemed problematic to get the pram around. But the sidewalks are narrow, and sometimes cars will park on them. And the Paris metro is an absolute nightmare. Anything not on line 14 (the newest one) will basically be an endless series of short staircases. Even though most of the attractions will have wheelchair accommodation (ramps or elevators), getting around will be difficult.
posted by indecision at 9:17 PM on August 1, 2012

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