I don’t know about you, but one of my New Years resolutions this year will be to travel and see even more of this wonderful world. There are so many places to go, but as a wheelchair user, I’ve got my eye on ten particular wheelchair-friendly destinations. These are cities and countries that have gone above and beyond when it comes to accessibility and have gained international recognition for their efforts. If you’re keen on traveling in 2018 too, check out the places that made my list!
#1: South Korea
Host of the February 2018 Winter Olympics and the March 2018 Paralympics, South Korea is poised to become a wheelchair-friendly hotspot in mere months. It generally follows that when a country hosts the Olympics and Paralympics, they become significantly more accessible – both for the athletes and the fans. Because of this, I recommend checking out the bustling, cosmopolitan capital of Seoul as well as the Olympic host city Pyeongchang. Chock full of winter wonderland scenery and classy resorts, Pyeongchang was already an excellent tourist destination that the Olympics will bring to the next level with improved facilities and accommodations.
#2: Brussels, Belgium
As the designated host city of the 2018 World Summit on Accessible Tourism in October, Brussels is also likely to get an accessible makeover. Known as the unofficial Capital of Europe, Brussels is a beautifully historic city that certainly wasn’t known for its modern accessibility in the past. Today, however, it’s more than possible to have an awesome time wheeling around this charming capital, and hosting the World Summit on Accessible Tourism is likely to make that ring even truer. Plus, if you visit in the fall, accessibility is likely to be at the forefront of the minds of many people in Belguim’s tourism industry.
Long flights are the bane of any wheelchair user’s existence when traveling, and so are long hours spent in front of the computer searching for any hint of a good accessible tour company covering your desired destination. That’s why I had to include Iceland on my list. A reasonable flight time from both the eastern United States (only about 5 hours) and Europe will allow you to explore some truly otherworldly scenery. Plus, with WOW and Icelandair, there are a lot of excellent low-cost options for getting to this island country.
Additionally, I’ve been to Iceland and can tell you firsthand that there are some awesome accessible tour companies there… My experience with Iceland Unlimited was the absolute best! And the icing on the cake? For a decade now, Iceland has topped the Global Peace Index as the safest country in the world!
While accessible tour companies aren’t quite as plentiful here as they are in countries like Iceland, there are some great options such as Ecuador for All that will take you through the incredible scenery of the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Galapagos Islands. Aside from possessing all three of these natural wonders, Ecuador also made my list because in 2017, the citizens of Ecuador elected the only wheelchair using head of state in the world as their president.
In the past few years, during his time as vice president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno increased the budget for disability services more than fifty-fold, was named the Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility to the United Nations, and was even nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for his accessibility advocacy. Accessibility has improved a ton in this South American gem with Moreno’s leadership, and it’s an upward trend that seems as if it will continue for the duration of Moreno’s presidency. With respect for wheelchair users and awareness of accessibility at an all-time high in Ecuador, now is an excellent time to visit.
Heralded for its universal code promoting barrier-free accessibility city-wide, Singapore is oft considered the top accessible destination in Asia. Why go this year? Well, its code has been in place for over two decades now, meaning that there’s hardly a building without a ramp or a curb without a curb cut. It’s a veritable paradise for wheelchair users who prefer public transport to get around, because its mass rail transit and bus system are entirely accessible, as are most of its tourist destinations. And when the city-state of Singapore embraced accessibility, its populace did too — so Singaporeans are some of the most friendly people you’ll meet and are always willing to lend a hand if you need one.
#6: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
What Singapore is to Asia, Dubai is to the Middle East. Dubai is a quintessentially modern city, and that’s always a plus when accessibility is concerned. Featuring world class medical facilities and what is widely considered one of the most accessible airports in the world, it’s no wonder that this desert jewel made my list. Why go now? Over the last few years, Dubai has grown into a fully mature and extraordinary international tourist hotspot — and with all of this wealth and glamour has come increased accessibility for all.
#7: Berlin, Germany
For a city steeped in history, Berlin is different than its European counterparts. Because so much of it had to be rebuilt after the second World War, Berlin has succeeded in becoming one of the most modern and up-to-date European cities. It didn’t stop after its reconstruction; in fact, Berlin has forged ahead in accessible development and legislation, which resulted in its receipt of the 2013 European Commission’s Access City Award. That was nearly five years ago, and Germany’s heavy investment in the accessibility of its most popular city continues today. If Berlin piques your interest, check out the city’s accessible tourism guide.
#8: Milan, Italy
A more recent winner of the EU’s Access City Award, Milan’s unprecedented efforts to increase its accessibility were recognized in 2016. Not too long ago, Milan was considered by many wheelchair users to have too many architectural barriers to make this historic Italian city worth the trip. I’m happy to say that this has changed, both for tourists looking to explore the treasures this city has to offer as well as local wheelchair users who have seen their employment prospectives increase. Milan’s new universal design standards are ambitious, and the city has even more hopes for the future. I can’t help but think how exciting it would be to visit Milan at a time when its accessible vision is unfolding!
#9 London, England
London isn’t new to the accessibility scene, but it’s a mainstay. What distinguishes England’s capital from the rest of the world’s cities is that you won’t have to reserve an accessible taxi cab in advance here – they’re on the streets, everywhere! Though if you wanted to use public transportation, that’s well-known for its accessibility too. Or, perhaps you just want to wheel around – well, you’re in luck there too! London’s tourist areas are mostly flat, and many are known for their well-maintained sidewalks and plentiful curb cuts.
Why visit London now? Well, if you’re an English-speaker new to the accessible travel scene, it’s less overwhelming to start somewhere with a similar culture and language. Plus, London has provided a fairly cheap getaway for Americans ever since last year’s vote to leave the European Union left the British pound fairly weak compared to the American dollar.
#10: Orlando, Florida
With perpetually warm and sunny weather, a flawlessly flat landscape and an increasing stream of world-class entertainment destinations, Orlando has always been a cornerstone of the accessible travel scene — but there’s no better time to visit than now. With more baby boomers retiring, Florida has upped its game even more when it comes to care and amenities for the elderly… and along with that comes improved accessibility. Plus, with fairly new attractions like Universal Studio’s Harry Potter World and Disney’s World of Avatar, which just opened last year, there’s even more to do than there was in the past.
Well, now you’ve seen my recommendations for this year’s top accessible travel destinations. From longtime accessible destinations with new attractions and travel perks, to cities whose accessible travel eras are just now dawning under powerful new initiatives, there are plenty of places to go in 2018. So, to all you intrepid travelers, I’d love to hear what’s next on your list of accessible destinations!
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