Monthly Archives: September 2013

EU regulations, airports in Europe, and Copenhagen Airport specifically.

This might be of interest to you, even though it is 6 years-old.


Bring Your Own Shower Seat

As regards to bathing facilities when traveling, I stated in an earlier post: There are four things that I need in order to be able to shower:

  • A roll-in shower, or a bathtub that is low enough to facilitate a transfer.
  • Something solid to sit on.
  • A detachable shower head (on a hose).
  • Grab bars, properly placed in order for me to steady myself during the transfer and as I shower.

I covered the grab-bar solution in that post, and I would consider it the responsibility of the wheelchair traveler to ascertain (by phone!)that the hotel/lodge/resort/etc has a roll in shower or tub, and hopefully their shower head will be on a hose, but I have found through experience that counting on any lodging to provide the wheelchair traveler with proper seating is an iffy proposition at best. Experience has taught me to bring my own seating. Even if I don’t need it, it’s well worth the little bit of space that it takes up in our luggage to have a guaranteed seat for the shower, and I would advise anyone else who cannot stand unassisted to do the same.

Almost every hotel in the US that we have stayed in has provided proper seating, but “proper” can be a little sketchy, even with the ADA . A wheelchair traveler in Europe can be a little less certain that there will be proper seating provided, although the majority of the hotels we have stayed in have fulfilled this need adequately. It’s the minority that I am talking about here, both in the US and abroad that have caused me to adopt a policy of always bringing my own seat, just in case. And there have been several cases where I was very glad that I had.

On more than one instance the seat has been nothing more than a 10-inch square of plastic that folds down in the shower. Even though they’ve been sturdy and capable of supporting my weight, the small surface area of the seat made getting cleaned up a nerve-wracking, back-firmly-pressed-to-the-wall endeavor.

In other instances, the “seat” will be a sunken bench that hooks over the sides of the bathtub, with a good ten-inch drop from the height of my wheelchair seat to the level of the bench. I can’t do a ten-inch hoist back into my chair unassisted, and having to be assisted out of the tub is not the sort of accessible experience that I am hoping for when we travel.

There can be numerous other obstacles that won’t be apparent until the wheelchair traveler actually sees the seat , such as armrests that block a safe transfer or missing rubber feet which cause the seat to slide around dangerously, so even with reassurances from the hotel staff (“Oh yes, we have a shower bench”), it’s a good idea to have your own, just for back up.

The first personal shower seat I got was a folding shower bench. I have never used it because:

A. It’s too wide to fit in our tub, so it’s probably too wide to fit in many hotel tubs.
B. It didn’t fold down flat enough. Even folded as flat as it goes, it takes up a quarter of the depth of our luggage.

So I looked around and found a nice little shower stool with extendable legs that easily detach and re-attach to the stool so that the whole thing lies flat in the bottom of our bag. It’s a little wobbly fully extended, but it’s sturdy and with grab bars close by it’s safe enough for me to relax and enjoy my shower. Plus, it will fit into any tub or shower, and I can count on it being there since I bring it with me wherever we go.

Suitable shower seat

This is the model that I got. I would give it a good recommendation. Use at your own risk. I have no affiliation nor connection with this company in any way.


Oh, BTW…

If you hover your cursor over any of the photos in this blog and get the little finger icon, you can click on it and get the full sized photo.


What happens when “Access” isn’t clearly defined.

ufas

Wheelchair Ramp

This photo was taken in Cancun Mexico, photographer  unknown.


The ADA and UFAS (Unified Federal Accessibility Standards)

When I broke my back in 1986, people were helpful, and flying was still possible, but it wasn’t until 1990, when the US Government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act that meeting the needs– travel and otherwise– of disabled Americans became law.

All of that was well and good, but it only took about a year for people to realize that while guaranteeing the rights of the disabled was a good idea, nobody really had any idea what “Access” actually meant.

So (and this is one of those rare times when a committee actually produced something useful), the people in charge of figuring out how to implement the ADA got together and created a legal definition of “Disabled Access”. And they got it right.

The EU would do well to adopt this same code instead of spending time in endless conferences, talking about how to make disabled access uniform across the globe, including the idea that they need to get the USA on board. I am not a chest-thumping patriot, but in this case America got it right.

This is handy to have, the PDF for UFAS.


Important information regarding EU and Disabled Access.

Important information regarding EU regulations and Disabled Access


EU Prorities : SNAFU*

Image

Dublin at night

A few years ago I bought a little MP3 player. I bought it for a number of reasons, one of them being the ability to drown out annoying sounds, such as screaming toddlers and other people’s asinine phone conversations while using public transportation.

I was really happy with the product when I first got it; it was affordable, compact and very user friendly as regards loading and playing my music on the device. Unfortunately, it wasn’t any good for drowning out annoying sounds, as even at full volume I could still hear screaming toddlers and asinine phone conversations over the sound of my music. I was really disappointed, and left a negative review online, which prompted another customer to reply with instructions that enabled me to fix the problem.

What I was told was that the European Union has set restrictions on the volume that EU citizens are allowed on their MP3 players and since I had purchased the player within the jurisdiction of the EU, my MP3 player would only play as loudly as the EU permits. What I needed to do in order to get my MP3 player to play as loudly as I chose was to rest it to “Factory Settings” and then when prompted to choose “Region”, choose either North America or Rest of the World from a selection of “North America/Europe/Rest of the World”. I followed the instructions and it worked. My MP3 player now plays loudly enough to drown out all unwanted sounds. Maybe even loud enough to damage my hearing, if I so choose.

Yay, problem solved!

So how does this relate to wheelchair travel? Let me explain…

In 2008, we traveled to Dublin, Ireland for a few days. Ireland is a member of the European Union. We booked a disabled room at the Radisson. We’ve had good experiences at Radisson hotels with their disabled access room, and we’ve found that most chains have comparable facilities between the individual establishments.

The first thing I always do when we get to our room is to check the bathroom to see if I am going to have any problems taking a shower. The bathroom looked good in our room, except that the door opened toward the door of the room instead of swinging open to the room itself, and there wasn’t enough room for me to get into the bathroom unless I opened the door of our room, went outside into the hall, turned around and then approached the bathroom from the front door.

It’s a little difficult to explain, but visualize yourself in your hotel bathroom, facing out. A normal hotel bathroom door will open facing the room, and what you see is your hotel room. In this case, what I saw with the bathroom door open was the door to the room. This meant rolling out into that little space, and then trying to get the door closed in order to get past it into the room.

There wasn’t enough space to do that. Their carpenter had hung the door backwards.

I immediately went down and calmly explained the problem to the front desk, and a very polite member of staff took me upstairs to see if their other accessible room might be suitable. It wasn’t. The bathroom door was just the same as it was in our room, and in fact, the staff member even showed me several standard rooms and they all had the same problem. I asked the manager if they might be able to get a carpenter out to fix the problem while we were staying there (I used to be a carpenter when I was able-bodied, and I know from experience that hanging a door is only about a half hour job), and she expressed some pessimism that it could be done at all, since it was a “structural issue”.

When we checked out, we requested at least a partial refund. Radisson hotels operate with a policy of issuing a 100% refund if you’re unhappy with any elements of your stay and they are unable to fix the problem. I was definitely not happy with the fact that I had to roll out into the hall with nothing but a towel on my lap (I have to get undressed in bed ) every time I took a shower. The manager again stated that the problem was structural and thus beyond their control to correct, and so we left it at that.

Not really. I don’t give up that easy, and so I started digging around in order to find the EU designation of a wheelchair accessible room, as I was certain that one requirement would be sufficient space for someone in a wheelchair to get into and out of the bathroom without having to actually leave the hotel room itself

Guess what. There is no actual definition of “wheelchair/disabled access” according to the European Union. I know this because I chased it on the phone all the way up to EU Headquarters in Brussels, and was told (with sincere apologies) that “No, we are very sorry, but there is no legal definition at this time for disabled access according to EU regulations”.

What this means is that the folks that make up regulations for the European Union have managed to decide how loud my MP3 player can be, but they haven’t managed to get around to legally defining Disabled Access.

What THAT means, is that there is no legal obligation for a hotel in any country within the Eurpean Union to make any adjustments whatsoever to a room in order for them to be able to advertise it as “accessible”, nor is there any legal recourse for a disabled guest to pursue if the hotel has not made the necessary alterations to a room that they have designated “accessible”. Luckily for us gimps, and with thanks to the hotels that do offer accessible rooms in Europe, “Disabled Access” rooms are usually reasonably accessible, and with only a few exceptions I’ve been able to take a shower in every hotel we’ve been to.

A post script: Like I said, I don’t give up easily, and so I thought that if the EU didn’t have a legal definition of Accessible, maybe the Republic of Ireland would have it. I did some digging around, and discovered that while there aren’t any Irish laws pertaining to Disabled Access in particular, Irish Fire Code does require that there be 90 centimeters (about 36 inches) of clearance in the sort of door layout that I described. In other words, with the bathroom door open in our room, I should have had 36 inches of space in order to allow the door to open with me in between it and the front door.

I know that there wasn’t anywhere near this amount of clearance, as my chair is only 25 inches wide, from outside of handrail to outside of handrail. So I wrote and sent a snail mail to the manager of the Radisson in Dublin who had refused the refund, and I sent a hard copy to the district manager and even one to the owner of the Radisson chain himself, explaining that as they were, their rooms were in violation of Irish fire code, and that I had not had legal access to the bathroom according to Irish fire code.

A week later, we got a full refund.

I don’t know if they ever got around to rehanging the doors at the Radisson Blu in Dublin (it’s this one) , so I can’t tell you if you’d have any better luck with the doors than I did. I guess it would be worth a call if you’re planning on a trip to Dublin, because other than the problem with the door, we had a lovely stay there.

One more thing. I just did a little checking since starting this post to see if maybe the EU has gotten around to defining “Disabled Access” in the seven years since I spoke with the woman in Brussels, and apparently the answer to that is still “No”.

Lots of talk, but according to this newsletter, they were still just talking about it in 2012.

*Situation Normal, All Fucked Up


Portable Grab Bars that WORK.

(this photo is from the seller’s website)

One of the most important requirements when Helen and I travel is that I be able to shower. I can skip getting clean one day, but if i have to go two days without a shower I start feeling really grubby and it ruins the holiday for me.

There are four things that I need in order to be able to shower:

  • A roll-in shower, or a bathtub that is low enough to facilitate a transfer.
  • Something solid to sit on.
  • A detachable shower head (on a hose).
  • Grab bars, properly placed in order for me to steady myself during the transfer and as I shower.

We have learned to pack our own shower seat (more on this in a subsequent post), and I can usually work around a too-high tub or a fixed shower head, but it is absolutely essential for my safety that there be something solid for me to grab onto during the process of getting clean. Unfortunately, although rare, there have been instances where the grab bars were improperly placed, or worse, completely absent.

We ran into a case of the latter this past July when we booked a stay in the Court Hotel in Utrecht, The Netherlands. We had a window of three months between when I booked and found out that they didn’t have grab bars, and when we were due to arrive, and I had planned on emailing them with the suggestion that they install grab bars (complete with a handy link showing them where to get them), but I got busy and didn’t get around to it until it was too late.

I thought (rightly so) that there must be some portable grab bars available from one of the mobility aids sites on the net, and so I ordered a pair. They seemed quite reasonable at £10.00 for the set, but when I received them I couldn’t have been more disappointed. They were completely useless. They wouldn’t have supported the weight of a kitten. The only thing that kept them from being dangerous is that they wouldn’t fasten to the wall long enough for anyone to actually attempt to use them.

I couldn’t accept that there wasn’t a solution to this problem,  and then I wondered, “What about those suction thingies that construction workers use to carry/install those big sheets of plate glass?” Those would have to work dependably or else people would get hurt, and I don’t mean just some cripple taking a tumble in a bathtub. Once you get OSHA involved (Occupational Safety and Health Administration; the department of the US government that oversees on the job safety), there has to be a factor of reliable safety.

So I did a little looking around on the Internet, and Voile, I found something.

What I found was a “Double Glass Sucker”, which is, according to the website, “Ideal for carrying heavy awkward items such as glass, doors, windows and sheet metal”, with a 70 kilogram capacity for £5.11. So I ordered one.

It WORKS. I tried it out as soon as I got it, and it was easy to use and clung to applied surfaces with such strong force that I was afraid to use it on our oven door for fear that the power of the suction would break the glass.

I have since used it in two hotels (the one in Utrecht, and another one where the grab bars weren’t properly placed), and it held flawlessly.

Before I provide you with the link, I must caution you regarding this product for two reasons.

  • A properly installed, permanent grab bar is bolted into the wall itself. This portable grab bar is fastened to nothing more than the tiles, and so will only be as strong as the mortar/grout/adhesive which holds the tile to the wall. It is entirely possible that one could pull the tiles off the wall and take a spill. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
  • The surface of the suction cup is 4.5 inches/12 cm wide. If the tiles on the bathroom wall are smaller than that, the uneven surface of tile and grout may prevent an adequate seal.
  • This isn’t so much a caution as an advisory. The suction cups smell strongly of rubber, and so it would be a good idea to pack the grab bar in a separate plastic bag in order to keep the rest of your luggage from smelling like you work in a tire factory.

Aside from the above caveats, I highly recommend the purchase of one or a pair of these devices for travel to unknown  hotels. They are light, affordable, strong, and very easy to use.

I am sure that there are other outlets, but this is the one that I purchased. I have no affiliation with or interest in this company; it’s just the one that I tried and so can offer a first person review of their product.


Wheelchair Travel: Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona III

Of all of the European cities to which Helen and I have travelled, Barcelona is one of our favourites. It has much to offer; from delicious food, the Spanish culture and architecture–including some of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces—sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean, shops, restaurants and bars, and best of all, for my purposes, Barcelona has the best wheelchair access of anywhere I have ever been outside of the United States.

In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Paralympics, and the entire city was revamped for those with mobility impairment and other disabilities, and the result is a city so free of obstacles that you can often forget that you are even in a wheelchair while you are there.

Some of the highlights:

  • The “Barri Gotik”. The old section of town dates to medieval times, with “streets” so narrow that there isn’t room for both sidewalk and street, so it’s all on one level. In other words, it’s flat with no curbs, and the paving is made of big flagstones which make for smooth and easy rolling. The Barri Gotik is a fascinating area full of history and dotted with squares and plazas where one can sit and take in the scenery, or enjoy the ambience with a glass of wine or meal at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating. One can easily spend an entire day meandering through the warren of narrow avenues that make up this section of Barcelona.
barcelona1

In the Barri Gotik

 

  • La Rambla. This is a wide avenue that begins just south of the beautiful Placa Catalunya and runs all the way to the harbour at the city’s edge. La Rambla is split down the middle with a smoothly paved, tree-lined passage for pedestrians (no dodging motor traffic), dotted with cafes and market stalls, as well as a wide variety of street-performers. There is a slight incline toward the sea, but it can be easily managed if the wheelchair user has moderate upper body strength.
  • The ramped curbs/kerbs. In four or five visits to Barcelona over the years, Helen and I have covered a lot of ground, and in all but a very few instances out away from the city center, the curbs/kerbs are universally ramped, and done so at such a slight incline as to be almost un-noticeable. I often have to do a “wheelie” (balance on my back wheels) when coming down a ramped kerb in my home town of London in order to keep from pitching forward out of my chair, but in Barcelona there was never any need. The sidewalks/pavements were generally flat without sideward slopes, and the paving stones are smooth and easy to traverse. One truly can forget that one is in a wheelchair in Barcelona.
  • “Menu  del Dia”. This is a lunch deal (initiated by Franco in an attempt to eliminate the time-consuming practice whereby the workers of the cities would go home for their lunch),  which consists of a set menu with two courses ( starter and main), bread, a beverage ( a beer, soft drink or small carafe of wine) and a dessert, all for around 10-15 Euros. The normal time for lunch in Barcelona is between 1:00 and 4:00pm, and during this time there are many restaurants that serve their version of the Menu del Dia, A restaurant serving a Menu del Dia will advertise this fact with a chalkboard set up out on the sidewalk. The menu is set, but there is some room for choice; fish, meat or vegetarian, for example. It’s a great deal, and a wonderful way to fill up with good food inexpensively.
  • The Mediterranean. It’s a bit of a stroll to get there, but the roads to the beachfront are easy and smooth and with such a slight incline that it makes a journey to the waterfront worth the effort. From the bottom of La Rambla, a left turn will take the wheelchair traveller down the sidewalk, well away from the traffic of Paseig de Colom, and once one gets to the Ronda Literal, it’s easy to cross at the pedestrian crossing (watch the lights as well as the traffic) and head down along the harbor front with the yachts to your right and the outdoor cafes ( they’re expensive, but the seafood in these places can be extraordinary) to your left until one reaches the sea front. There is extensive pathways that allow for a long “stroll along the beach for wheelchair and scooter users. There seems to be something about being able to breathe some sea air and let one’s mind relax with the uncluttered view of the ocean horizon that has a strong rejuvenating effect on a person.
  • Tapas and Paella. Barcelona does these two specialties to perfection.
  • Antoni Gaudi’s structures. The inside of the famous Sagrada Familia church was not open to the public when Helen and I tried to visit in 2006, so I cannot say whether or not there is step-free access to the interior, but the exterior of the temple is unique and elaborately decorated with gothic figures and ornaments and worth the effort of getting there. We did visit his “Casa Pedra”, and although there is a very steep incline down into the building where they direct the wheelchair users, the interior of the structure itself was pleasantly accessible, with a very helpful staff. They even allowed me to take the lift to the roof, where I was hoping to be able to photograph the unusual chimneys and roofline, but unfortunately the accessible space on the roof is a scant 6 feet by six feet and it made me feel claustrohobic. To me it wasn’t worth it, but other wheelchair users might want to take a look and maybe a few photos, so be aware that it is possible and staff members are very helpful and willing to accommodate requests. My favourite part of the tour was the living quarters, where they have left the furniture and decorations of an apartment home in place as they would have been in the 1930’s, when the Casa Piedra was used as a residential block.
  • There are several hotels with fully accessible rooms (roll in showers with shower seat, ample space around the bed, sufficient grab bars in the bathroom, etc) in Barcelona. The “H10” not far from Placa Catalunya on Ronda de la Universitat is Helen and my favourite, but we enjoyed staying at the equally well-located although slightly more expensive “Hotel Jazz” on Carrer de Pelai as well. There are too many restaurants for me to list those with delicious food at affordable prices, but be aware that Barcelona is a haven for lovers of good food, and one is never far from a fine meal in an accessible restaurant in Barcelona, especially near the Barri Gotik.  The Placa Real for example is a lovely square, dotted with palm trees full of wild parrots, and a fountain, with four or five indoor/outdoor restaurants around the outer edge of the square.

     

Barcelona IV

In the Placa Real

 

   

A few tips:

  • Plan your trip for the spring when it’s lovely and warm enough to be able to dine outside, without suffering the heat of Southern Spain in midsummer. Helen and i  have only ever been in January, and while the weather was nice enough most days for us to eat outside, it was a little on the border of being too chilly, and we look forward to going some April or May, a time when the locals advised us that Barcelona weather would be at its best.
  • From the airport, take the Metro Bus if you are going toward Placa Catalunya. The bus will take you directly to the square (Or Placa Universitat, along the way) for a mere 3 Euros as opposed to the 30 Euros it will take you to get there by cab. All of the buses from the airport are accessible, with ramps and space for wheelchair users.
  • Bring a phrase book, and learn some of the basics (“I’m sorry” “Please” and “Thank you” can really help you get along). You don’t need to be fluent, but according to my experiences in Barcelona, you will get treated with more warmth by the Barcelonans if you make a little effort to say at least a few words in their language. Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that, with “Catalan” being the semi official language of Catalunya, of which Barcelona is a part, but almost everyone speaks fluent Spanish, while a surprisingly large portion of the population do not speak any English.
  • Any hotel near the Placa Catalunya will put you in close proximity to almost all of the sights and attractions of Barcelona.
  • Take advantage of the Menu del Dia, and set your activities in accordance with the Spanish Siesta timeframe which results in some businesses being closed from noon until 1pm. Be aware that Barcelonanans tend to eat late, and many restaurants will be devoid of fellow diners until after 8pm.
  • Carrer del Bisbe is the steepest street that I encountered in Barcelona, and I definitely needed assistance from Helen to get up the incline. It’s a beautiful street, but be aware that it’s not an easy trek.
  • Neither Helen nor I have ever had any problems with crime in Barcelona, but there are reported to be pickpockets in some areas, especially the crowds that form around the street performers. A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to your surroundings and pay attention to anyone who approaches you or your companions, but this is true of any city, really. There is a rather seedy neighborhood known as El Ravel to the West of La Rambla where drug dealers, prostitutes and their clients mingle that one would be well advised to avoid, unless one were looking for drugs or prostitutes. The residents of this section of Barcelona are openly hostile to the idea of being photographed.
  • If there is an International football competition (World Cup or Euro Cup) and Spain is playing a match, or of the Barcelona team is playing an important match, it would be a good idea to avoid the crowds after the game, especially if there is a Spanish/Barcelona victory. We’ve never been there during such an event, but there is ample video on the net that indicates that the celebrations can get a little excessive, and it would be dangerous to get caught up in such a crowd in a wheelchair.

In closing, I would give Barcelona high marks for having numerous things to do and see within walking distance of each other, great food and drink, and even higher marks for having the easiest wheelchair access of any European city to which we have yet been. If you’ve ever considered going to Barcelona in a wheelchair, I would go. I think you’ll have a blast.


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