Some cities are making great strides in improving accessibility for all. Others still have a lot of work to do. When it comes to accessible buildings, wheelchair-friendly transportation, and top-notch medical facilities, some cities (indeed, some countries) are in a different league to others. To determine which European cities and towns are the most disability-friendly, we've considered everything from the height of floors on public buses to how many changing places facilities are publicly available. Without further ado, here are the 20 best places to live for the physically disabled in Europe.
20. Madrid, Spain
Spain's capital city has made great progress over the past few years in improving accessibility for people with disabilities. In an effort to make Madrid more attractive to disabled tourists, the city has adopted the Official Guided Tour Program, a tour program specially adapted to suit the needs of people with physical, visual, and hearing disabilities. And it's not just tourists that are feeling the benefit: over 250 of its museums, restaurants, and shopping centers have now been adapted for the disabled, ensuring improved access for disabled residents. Blessed with a lively, vibrant community, world-class attractions, an affordable cost of living, and glorious weather, it's unquestionably a great place to live.
19. Breda, Netherlands
As The Guardian notes, Breda has a lot to teach its neighbors about accessibility. In a (very successful) attempt to make its streets more wheelchair friendly, the authorities removed the cobblestones from the city center, turned them upside down, and sliced them width-ways to create a flat surface that's easily accessible, yet still as photogenic as ever. The city's main website is fully accessible, even to those with sensory impairment, while its shops, bars, and buildings have made terrific strides in improving physical access. The city forest, Mastbosch, is wheelchair accessible. As proof of its efforts to become ever more inclusive, it's also the home of the bi-annual ParaGames, one of Europe's largest sporting events for disabled people.
18. Gothenburg, Sweden
Gothenburg, like many Swedish cities, is well geared for wheelchair users and people with disabilities. Since adopting the aim of making Gothenburg a city for everyone, the city has worked to improve its accessibility in every organization, building, and facility. The University of Gothenburg, for example, aims to widen educational access by offering assistance through annotation support and specially adapted examination procedures. Since 2012, all new city playgrounds are built with accessibility in mind - there's even an app that can help visitors locate accessible playgrounds, along with disability-friendly toilets. The public transportation system is fully accessible. Any new housing needs to consider accessibility during the development stage. Considering all that, it's hardly surprising Gothenburg was awarded the Access City Award 2014 for its work in improving inclusion and accessibility.
17. Dublin, Ireland
When it comes to overall accessibility, wheelchair-friendly public transport, and attractions, the Irish capital of Dublin has it covered. The compact center is relatively flat and easy to navigate, and even the cobbled streets and slight inclines shouldn't pose too much of a challenge to wheelchair users. Buses and trams have low floors for ease of use, while DART trains are equipped with plenty of room for wheelchairs. Most (although not quite all) train stations are accessible, as are the majority of attractions, shopping centers, and offices. If you're in need of a cooling beverage, the Guinness Academy has a special lowered tap for wheelchair-users who want to pull their own pints.
16. Vienna, Austria
Voted by Skyscanner as one of Europe's top wheelchair-friendly destinations, Vienna has made excellent efforts in improving accessibility in recent years. Buses have low floors and bus stops have raised platforms to make it easier to get on and off in a wheelchair. All the main transport hubs are equipped with ramps and wheelchair-accessible lifts. Pavements are wide, flat, well maintained, and blessed with enough dropped curbs to make getting around a breeze. If that wasn't enough, the city's barrier-free development plan has done wonderful work in ensuring buildings, shopping centers, and historic attractions are easily accessible to people with disabilities.
15. Amsterdam, Netherlands
With its historic buildings, dreamy setting, and unique culture, Amsterdam is the jewel in the Netherlands' crown. Most of its attractions are wheelchair friendly (with the exception of the Anne Frank House), restaurants and buildings have ramps for easy access, and the compact, easy-to-navigate nature of the city makes it easy for wheelchair users to get around. Thanks to its booming economy, great job opportunities, and bountiful amenities, it makes a great place to call home.
14. Gdynia, Poland
A recent runner-up in the Access City Award, Gdynia ranks as one of Poland's most accessible destinations. As goodnet.org notes, despite being a somewhat surprising addition to a list of Europe's most disability-friendly cities, the historic city has made excellent strides in improving accessibility. Nearly all of its buses are wheelchair accessible, and the city's information system includes Braille signposts for the visually impaired. Most shopping centers, restaurants, and museums have ramp access, lifts, and parking spots for disabled drivers.
13. Rome, Italy
Up next is Rome, a city voted by Sunrise Medical as one of the best disability-friendly cities in Europe. Despite being one of the most historic destinations on the continent, the city has a very 21st-century approach to inclusivity and accessibility. All modes of transport in the city are wheelchair friendly, while the pavements are wide, easy to navigate, and enhanced with wheelchair ramps.
12. Bremerhaven, Germany
As a previous recipient of the Access City Award from the Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion department of the EU commission, Bremerhaven's efforts to improve accessibility have clearly paid off. The city has invested considerably in making its buildings, transportation infrastructure, and shopping areas accessible for the disabled. As a result, it now ranks as one of the best places in Europe for people with disabilities.
11. Jönköping, Sweden
As swedesinthestates.com writes, the Swedish city of Jönköping has been named the most accessible city in Europe for people with disabilities by The Access City Awards, an award given by the Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion department of the EU commission. The award celebrates the city's attempt to improve accessibility and inclusivity for people with disabilities. As well as working with various disability organizations to determine areas of improvement in the city, it's also created a special award for businesses or organizations that demonstrate a commitment to improving accessibility.
10. St. Andrews, Scotland
St Andrews is best known as the home of golf (not to mention the place where Prince William first met Kate Middleton). But tees and royalty asides, it's a town with a lot to offer, including world-class beaches, a thriving community, and a great selection of amenities. The pavements are wide and the town is relatively flat, small, and easy to traverse, making it easy to get from A to B in a wheelchair.
9. Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast has made great strides in improving its disability-friendliness in recent years, with the result that its shopping centers, transportation system, and office buildings have excellent accessibility. Its biggest shopping center, Victoria Square, offers accessible toilets and wheelchair-accessible lifts. Pavements throughout the center are wide, with easy slopes, dropped curbs, and tactile paving.
8. Stockholm, Sweden
Sweden has an excellent record when it comes to accessibility. As norden.org notes, support for people with disabilities is regulated in several Swedish laws, including the Swedish Local Government Act (Kommunallagen, KL), the Swedish Social Services Act (Socialtjänstlagen, SoL), and the Act concerning Support and Service for Persons with Certain Functional Impairments (Lagen om stöd och service till vissa funktionshindrade, LSS). As the cost of living is often higher for people with disabilities, the government has tried to offset the additional expense via a disability allowance (handikappersättning). Parents of children with disabilities are also eligible to claim a childcare allowance (vårdbidrag). In the capital city of Stockholm, Sweden's efforts to improve accessibility are well and truly on display, with accessible buildings and a wheelchair-friendly transport system.
7. Llangollen, Wales
Voted by Motability Scheme as one of the most wheelchair and scooter-friendly towns in the UK, the pretty little town of Llangollen in Wales offers broad pavements for ease of travel, excellent accessibility, and plenty of Blue Badge spaces throughout the town. Its most popular attraction, an authentic steam railway, boasts a specially adapted coach for wheelchairs.
6. Chester, England
As disabilityhorizons.com writes, in 2017, Chester became the first British city to win the coveted European Access City Award. Its major shopping center, The Rows, is decked out with ramps, a lift, and an escalator. The £300m Northgate shopping and leisure development (due for completion this year) will feature fully accessible stores, restaurants, and housing along with a 157-room hotel featuring eight accessible rooms with ceiling hoists and a changing places facility for people with multiple disabilities. The Storyhouse cultural center, meanwhile, includes audio description and hearing loops, flexible seating for groups of disabled theatre-goers, seven accessible toilets, and a changing places facility. To round of its award-winning status, the council's 15-year regeneration strategy promises to place a firm priority on ensuring accessibility in all future projects and developments.
5. Paris, France
Ranked by travelguideline.net as one of the most disabled-friendly cities in Europe, Paris offers excellent access for disabled residents, with wheelchair accessible transport and buildings. Even leaving aside its disability-friendly credentials, it's still a great place to live, with excellent job opportunities, world-class attractions, and an unbeatable food culture.
4. London, England
The UK capital is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, with around 20 million people descending on the city each year. Considering a large number of those people have disabilities, you'd have expected the city authorities to ensure its sights, attractions, and transportation system are disability-friendly. And indeed, they have. All the top attractions like the London Eye Ferris Wheel, Westminster Cathedral, and St Paul’s have wheelchair access. Getting around is easy as the transport system (with the exception of some tube stations) is wheelchair accessible. Offices and shopping centers have followed suit, with lifts, disabled parking bays, and ramps coming as standard in many publicly accessible buildings.
3. Berlin, Germany
In 2013, Berlin won the title of best adapted European city. Cited among the reasons for its certification included its accessible transport system, its investment in obstacle removal, and an improved approach to all forms of disability. Since then, things have continued to improve, and the city now ranks as a world leader in accessibility. Combined with a low cost of living, excellent job opportunities, and all the attractions and amenities you'd expect of a capital city, it's a great place to call home.
2. Copenhagen, Denmark
Denmark has made strong inroads in making its towns and cities more disability-friendly in recent years, with its capital city Copenhagen leading the way in accessibility. The House of Disabled People’s Organizations in the Copenhagen suburb of Taastrup stands as a proud example of the city's progress. Widely regarded as one of the most accessible office buildings in the world, the building is used as the headquarters of around 30 disability groups. Just a few of its innovative features include drive-through lifts to remove the need for wheelchair users to turn around, along with tactile knobs on railings to let blind people easily recognize what floor they're on.
1. Korsør, Denmark
Back in 2018, The Guardian asked the - question "What would a disability-accessible city look like?" The answer? Korsør, Denmark. The town's disability-friendly appeal is best highlighted by the Musholm sports, holiday, and conference center, an award-winning site owned by the Danish Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. The vast sports hall features an aerial ropeway and climbing wall for wheelchair users and an integrated pulley system. A 100m ramp that doubles up as a wheelchair racing ramp climbs from the bottom of the hall to a sky lounge. Each room in the complex boasts ceiling hoists, reclinable beds, adjustable height sinks, and accessible toilets. “Lack of accessibility, other people’s assumptions, body ideals and a lack self-confidence among people with disabilities are often the biggest barriers for diversity,” foundation director Henrik Ib Jørgensen says. “We wanted to create a place where there is space for differences.”
Written by Liz Flynn
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