Watch the step - cities without barriers

Steps, stairs, narrow doors to elevators and toilets - no problem for most people, but huge obstacles for those with a disability. Of course you can organize your own home to be totally accessible, but what about when you venture outside? What's it like in your town, in your community? Can you get everywhere, or do you keep coming across signs saying caution: Step?

A facility is said to have "disabled access" (or to be "barrier-free") when "it is accessible to disabled people in the accepted way, without any particular difficulty and in principle without help", - this is what the German Law for Equal Treatment for the Disabled (BGG) which came into effect in 2002 says. According to this law, public buildings, roads and transport facilities must be designed for disabled access. However, this applies only to new buildings, conversions and extensions.

Law and practice

In practice, things are often not so advanced. Public and private buildings and facilities that disabled people can enter without assistance are not the general rule. But at least we now have plenty of information. After the larger cities, which have had special maps for disabled people for a while, the smaller towns and communities are now following suit. Often these are available on the Internet. Not all of them are equally informative. Most useful are those that were created on the initiative and with the help of associations for the disabled. Many of them contain not just a simple list of public and private buildings that are accessible, but also supplementary information, and tips.

Checklist for city guides

What does a good, informative city guide for the disabled look like? What should it contain? The accessibility of institutions such as local authorities, health and social services, transport facilities and driving schools, car rentals and city tours, service companies, shopping, restaurants, leisure activities, and culture. And, last but not least: accessible parking, toilets and telephones. Normally, they use easily identifiable pictograms and extra notes about how to get access. Are there any elevators, ramps, etc., and where exactly are they located? You want a good city map which can be magnified, so as to see the detail. After all, what good is a ramp if you don't know that it's not at the main entrance, but somewhere round the side.

Cooperation makes sense

It goes without saying that city guides can only be as good as the actual facilities, and these need to be included. And the information must be up to date. Thanks to the Internet, this is now very easy. Particularly, if we all work together. So your suggestions and comments can help to make a city guide into a useful, practical tool.

We're asking you!

What is your experience with city guides in your own or other cities and communities? Were they useful? What did you like? What was missing? Write to us contact(at)myhandicap(dot)com We look forward to your contributions.