Travelling in Italy – Access for People with Disabilities

I am an incomplete paraplaegic, injured at T7/T8. I walk short distance with crutches, can climb steps (but i need assistance if they are high), and my wheelchair has hooks to carry my crutches when I am not using them. I am a 57year old woman living in New Zealand. I am very fit and my upper body is strong. I write this so my comments can be put in context. If you want to know more, read the tab “About Me”

Useful Information:
If you are driving in Italy take your disability parking permit with you. You will be able to park free on the street or in a parking building. You may need to produce photo identification showing the disability or handicap symbol when you use a parking building. In some parks you will need to get your parking chit validated. Italy is trying to cut down on white collar crime so you will nearly always be given a ticket (for parking or for entry to an attraction) that has to be validated. If all the designated parking for the disabled is being used you can use other parks for free. The only parking places to avoid are those disabled parks that have a number because they are assigned to a specific person.

Cities and towns in Italy offer people with disabilities and a companion free entry to all civic and state owned attractions. Many privately owned attractions offer free or discounted entry to people with disabilities. 

People with disabilities do not need to queue for tickets to attractions but can go straight to the ticket office. I suggest either getting the attention of a security guard or going to the ticket office for tour groups and people with reserved tickets. You may need to produce photo identification showing the disability or handicap symbol. I used a New Zealand Operation Mobility Card, some countries have parking permits with ID, otherwise I suggest a letter from your doctor with an Italian translation.

Many hotels, motels and hostels have rooms that are modified for use by people with disabilities. These are usually on the ground floor because even if the building has a lift it often won’t fit a wheelchair in. Contact accommodation directly and be careful to clearly and precisely specify your needs.

It can be difficult to visit towns in Italy because the roads are cobbled, and often steep. However, if you are prepared to have a helper, it is well worth the effort and inconvenience. Also, if you are prepared to accept the help of strangers and explain how they may help, Italians  will go out of their way to help and leave your dignity intact. You don’t have to speak Italian. Body language works, and if you speak English, most Italians understand you well enough.

I visited the following towns in August/September 2012. They are in Umbria and Tuscany (although Tivoli us in Lazio, an hours drive from Rome) Here are my comments on accessibility.

Tivoli
The Hotel OC Villa Adriana has a ground level room with excellent facilities for people confined to a wheelchair. The hotel had a half price special and the room cost us 48euro a night, including breakfast. It is three star plus quality. The staff were extremely helpful and understood my mobility needs. 

The receptionist booked a golf cart to carry me and my husband around the Villa d’Este, a terraced garden with hundreds of fountains. The cart and entry was free.

I visited Hadrian’s Villa. Not all of the grounds are accessible by wheelchair, but the Canopus Pool and other great places are. I can walk with crutches, so I took my wheelchair and crutches and managed to see the entire area. There is an accessible toilet at the main entrance. The attendant has the key.

Old Tivoli is on a steep hill. It could be negotiated in a wheelchair but only with a strong helper to help push up hill on lightly cobbled roads. I walked  down, then up again using crutches. 

The restaurant Sibilla is wheelchair accessible and is in a superb location above the river. The food is wonderful and the ambience is superb. (it’s set beside temple ruins)

Civita di Bagnoreggio
Civita is inaccessible by wheelchair. I walked with crutches across the kilometre long bridge, then up steps. It took me a long time. We stayed in an old monastery which had steep steps up to it. The bathroom has a wet floor shower. If you can walk up steps on crutches, and can walk the distance, it’s really worth the effort to stay the night. Fantastic. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Orvietto
I am not aware of any hotels in the historic centre of Orvietto with disabled facilities. If you are wheelchair bound you will probably need to stay in the town of Orvietto. I stayed in Hotel Virgilio in the square opposite the duomo. There is a lift but a wheelchair will not fit in. I used my crutches. You can park near the duomo for free and for unlimited time if you display a disabled parking permit. 

If you use the funicular to get to the historic centre, you can use a bus to ride to the duomo because the buses have ramps. 

The duomo is wheelchair accessible.

I used my crutches to climb down St Patrick’s well, and to go part way through the Underground Caves. The guides are very helpful.

Sovana
The town is flat so you can wheel its length, less than a kilometre. There are a few steps into the duomo but a helper can help negotiate them. There may be a step into the Santa Maria but it can be negotiated with a helper. There is also a portable ramp kept at the information centre to access the church, the Etruscan Museum and the toilets. A newly renovated church that has been converted to a museum has a ramp.

Il Tomba, an excavated Etruscan tomb about one kilometre away, can only be negotiated with a helper strong enough to tip your chair on its back wheels and push. You will be able to be drive up close to it, providing the driver takes the car back to the car park. You can also be driven to the top of Il Cavore, an Etruscan road that has been carved out and has walls that are from three to twenty metres high. You should be able to wheel down the dirt road.

Montepulciano
This town is on a steep hill. I started at the bottom and worked my way up to the main square where the duomo and enotecas are. The main road was too long and steep for me to use my crutches so I used my wheelchair. The surface is cobblestone and at times I needed my husband to help push me. The enotecas here represent one vineyard, so choose one (or try more than one!) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the specialist wine here. There is an accessible toilet in the square.

Montalcino
Montalcino is also on a steep hill. We had no problem parking at the top  of the hill, and used the disabled parking permit. I was able to independently wheel to the enoteca at the top of the hill. I suspect that the rest of the town will be the same as Montepulciano, a struggle for someone with mobility impairment. The enoteca here has Brunello wines, (special wines to the region) from every vineyard and you pay according to how many wines you want to try, and what quality wine you want to try. You get a wine master all to yourself, and they seem to be able to cater for many languages. It’s very entertaining.

Pitgliano
I could wheel around this town but the big problem is a lack of toilets, western toilets, let alone accessible toilets.

San Galgano
There is plenty of parking, the road is level but unsealed. I could wheel independently through the ruins. There is an accessible toilet. Most people walk the half kilometre to the chapel on a nearby hill, but disabled people can drive up. There are a few steps into the chapel so I used my crutches. The view from the hill is great, so even if you can’t get into the chapel (although a helper may be able to get you up the steps) its worth going there.

San Gimignano
This town is also on a hill. There are at least three parking lots, all of which have parking for the disabled. A disabled person can use the park and ride buses for free, but they have steps, so unless you can climb them your best chance of visiting this town in a wheelchair is to park in the car park outside the front gate entrance and wheel up to the hill to one or both of the squares. It’s over a kilometre. You may need someone to help push you up the steeper bits.

If you can walk with crutches and climb on the bus, leave your wheelchair behind. Have the bus driver drop you off at the first square (it has the well). The second square with the duomo is about a hundred metres away, and the fortress is another two hundred metres. An enoteca is just below the fortress.  You can catch the back down the hill.

There are accessible toilets in the Piazza Duomo.

Siena
I tried unsuccessfully to contact the local commune to get authorisation to park in the TZL.
Instead I parked in the Campo car park which is about 400 metres from Il Campo. The path is wheelchair friendly. However, I used my crutches to get around Siena. From Il Campo there are steps up to the Baptistry and more steps up to the duomo. 

The duomo has wheelchair access but to get to the duomo  by wheelchair you would have to park in a parking building on its level. 

Florence
Florence is great to people with mobility impairments. I emailed their office that deals with people with disabilities and they were very helpful. I emailed in English. Contact details are:
upd@serviziallastrada.it  free call number 800.33.98.91 
They authorised me to drive and park in the ZTL. 

Florence is flat but the paths and roads are cobblestones. Still, it’s not too difficult to get around in a wheelchair. Most of the attractions have accessible toilets, eg San Lorenzo, Ufizzi, Del’Accademia, and have ramped access.

Advertisements

22 thoughts on “Travelling in Italy – Access for People with Disabilities

  1. Thank you Denny! We leave on October 3rd for Italy with our daughter who can walk short distances with canes and uses a a scooter in NYC and a small wheelchair when traveling. I cannot tell you how much time you have saved me!

  2. After just having gotten back from a three week trip touring Italy here are the towns I can recommend for people with mobility issues: Pienza (south Tuscany) a fairly flat hilltown with amazing vistas. The town is raised but the streets are fairly flat. Molfetta down in Puglia was one of my favorite towns (my Dad was born there). Again, the streets are flat and well paved with mostly newer paving stones. The harbor and old town areas are a delight. Pisa is another great spot with the great Piazza Miracola where you’ll find a very flat wide piazza and that leaning tower. Great. Lucca is another town that is flat and incredibly beautiful. Locorotundo is a hilltown in Puglia with great views and the prettiest white houses and streets. There is handicapped parking right near the old city gate across at Piazza Vittorio Emaluale. ANother great town is Alberobello, the town with hundreds of pointed roof trullo houses. There is a flat part of town and then there is the hilly part… which was a bit much for me and my bad knees. Still, there are several neighborhoods with trulli galore. A must see in Puglia.

    Jerry F.

    http://grandvoyageitaly.weebly.com/

  3. Dear Denny ,
    I read your article on the trip to Italy.
    I also have a disability and are currently considering to visit Italy this summer with a companion.
    I wanted asks you: where to get information to get disabled parking in Italy, if I am not a citizen of Italy?
    If you had paid off road trip: in Italy have roads for paid.
    pls you can write some places have free admission to Italy to person with disabilities.
    after that I write to some places, not given me an answer, or I was told that free entry only to citizens of Italy or Europe

    Thanks
    Alin

    1. In Italy if you are travelling by car you can use your mobility permit to drive and park in the restricted areas, ZTL. But it is not sufficient to display your mobility permit, you must also provide the information listed below.

      Contact the city before you go and give them your details. I found it particularly easy to contact Florence. The city web site is:

      http://en.comune.fi.it/administration/mobility/florence_by_car.html

      This is what the site says about getting permission to drive in the restricted areas.

      Disability access
      The holder of a ‘contrassegno invalidi’ (disability pass) requiring short-term access to the ZTL may apply via e-mail to upd@serviziallastrada or call 800339891. In case of a written application, please attach the following documents:
      date(s) of stay in Florence
      copy of the disability pass
      license plate number
      copy of ID

      In France you should be able to simply display your permit from your own country to park in disabled parks. I asked parking attendants at car parks attached to tourist attractions if I could use my NZ permit and they always said yes.

      The countries where I got free access to museums and galleries were France, Italy, Prague and Istanbul. I didn’t have to show any disability ID, I simply rolled up in my chair with my husband and asked a security guard where the disability entrance was, or we went to the ticket office and asked what discount there was for me and my husband – some places gave us tickets that had zero cost recorded, but many, like the Louvre, simply let us through.

      Most places gave free entry to both me and my husband.

      The only place I had to show a disability ID was at the Vatican. It has to have a photograph. The only photographic ID that is issued in New Zealand is a travel card that gives discounts for people with restricted mobility. I understand that the US car mobility parking permits have photographs and some people use these. Anything that has the universal mobility logo, the stylised wheelchair, and your photo on it will work.

      We travel on our own, not in a tour group. If you are part of a tour group, entry costs will be included in your tour costs

      I will try to answer any other questions you have

      1. Dear Denny ,
        Thanks for a detailed response.I travel with a companion – my husband .
        We prefer to travel alone, without an organized group 🙂
        I’ll write to the municipality of Florence.
        If you know what about paying for travel on the roads between the city:
        They paid, for example the Roma in Florence.
        If you paid for use roads or was exempt from paying for travel person with a disability?
        Please tell a visit in Rome, If it accessible place?
        If was the exemption of the payment visit the Coliseum.

        Thanks and Best regards

      2. Hi Alin,
        We did not pay for entry to the colosseum. The colosseum is accessible to wheelchairs. Have you considered visiting Palatine Hill? We visited these two attractions on the same day because they are connected and I wanted to visit both. It would be extremely difficult to use a wheelchair on Palatine Hill. We caught a taxi to the Entry for Palatine Hill. It is then only a short walk up the rest if the hill before it levels out and you can see the remains of the palaces including one that was discovered and excavated only a few years ago. Small groups of four to six are taken down a few steps to see two rooms that have amazing friezes. Then it is a long walk down the hill through the Forum. At the bottom there is a short level walk to the colosseum. I did not use my wheelchair that day, I walked using crutches. I rested often and my husband carried lots of water because there is none.

        Also, if you are driving, have you considered visiting Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli? It is only 30km from Rome, I enjoyed it almost as much as the colosseum, maybe more. It covers a large area and consists of the remains if many buildings that are wonderful examples of Roman architecture. It was built in the second century AD and Hadrian ruled from there instead if Rome. Parts of it are accessible by wheelchair. I used both my wheelchair and my crutches. I walked up or down steps and my husband carried my wheelchair. I then pushed myself around in the wheelchair. My crutches can be attached to the wheelchair.

        We used taxis to drive around Rome. They are very cheap and there is always at least one taxi on every block. No discounts for people with disabilities Parking is not easy in Rome. We hired a car in Rome when we left so that we did not drive in Rome. Rome has mostly level footpaths, but there are some cobblestone paths that are tricky to move on with a wheelchair.

        Cobblestones are everywhere in Florence and other cities. Sometimes my husband had to push me, but I have very small front wheels that get caught easily in the cobbles. In Florence I could park in any disabled park, so long as it did not have someone’s name printed above it. These parks are for permanent residents.

        I could not use my wheelchair in Venice because the bridges are too steep and uneven. I walked everywhere using my crutches, but I never had to walk far because the water taxis go from place to place. Water taxis are free for people with disabilities and their partners.

        We did not drive in the historic area of Siena, instead we parked in a parking building very close to it. Parking was free for us when we showed the mobility permit.

        We visited many hill towns. We parked in car parks outside the towns then caught a bus to the centre if each town. The parking and busses were free with the disability permit. In San Gimignano we parked at the bottom, then caught a bus to the last stop at the top and I wheeled down to the bottom gates then caught a bus from there to the car park. In Montepulciano and Montacino we parked for free then my husband pushed me in my wheelchair to the top and I wheeled myself to the bottom.

        We could drive into Orvieto and park in the town centre overnight for free.

        We discovered that my New Zealand parking permit allowed me to park free in all car parking buildings in Italy. I would suggest that if you want to park in parking building you check with a parking attendant how to make sure that your parking will be free and how to avoid paying the fees. You will have to go to the parking attendant because otherwise you will end up having to pay at a machine before leaving the building.

        We accidentally drove into the restricted driving area in Luca without having prior approval. When we parked in a car parking area we asked the parking attendant to call the Luca commune and give all the details we had given to the Florence commune. That was ok.

        I think that if you visit any town in Italy without having prior approval to park or drive in the ZTL if you contact the municipality straight away you will not get fined

        We did not need to queue or pay for any of the attractions Italy. That saves hours and money!

        Yes, you will have to pay tolls on the toll roads in Italy. There are no discounts for people with disabilities, not that I am aware of anyway. You can avoid toll roads by using back roads, but that can take a lot of time.

        I hope this helps.

        I found a lot of helpful advice in Fodor’s Forum. If I posted a question many people would try to help. Fir example I asked which would be the best hill towns to visit in Tuscany in ten days. I described my mobility and things I was interested in seeing. People offered advice about accommodation, and accessibility to towns.

        I hope this helps

  4. I contacted Florence regarding disabled parking and they were very efficient answering my e-mail immediately. However they want my vehicle registration which I won’t have until I collect my hire car. Did you have this problem?
    Incidentally, the Travelscoot (see below) doesn’t like cobbles. I have to get off and walk and my wife pushes it, it’s very light.

    1. We were using a rental car too. When I explained that I wouldn’t know the registration number until we arrived the commune told us to give them the registration details within 24 hours of arriving. When we arrived at the hostel where we were staying I asked the receptionist to ring the commune with my details. I understand that photographs of vehicles passing through the traffic lights into the restricted area are processed the next day to identify those vehicles that have approval or not.

      1. Denny, the advice and information you have posted here is invaluable. I also want to applaud you for giving me confidence about our upcoming trip to Italy. I’ve been worried that my overweight, arthritic, heart-stented 64 year old body might not be able to take the hilltowns and such that Italy offers. It’s a trip of a lifetime for us and our one-and-only 11 year old son. I don’t want to hold us back from any adventure.

        Although I don’t have a handicap as severe as yours (I walk most of the time without a cane) I have pretty severe arthritis in both knees and my feet. Rainy days are the worst… standing on a line at the deli-counter for 10 minutes can put me out for the whole day–never mind having to wait online for a hour or more at the Vatican Museum and the like!

        I just recently caved in (my wife pushed me out of my pride) and got my PA Handicap placard. I am learning a lot from you on how to use it effectively on our trip.

        Do you think having a .jpg photo on our smart phone or tablet will help us in museums? I double checked and there wasn’t any ID card with my name that came with the placard. I am not so concerned about paying or not, but more concerned about not having to stand on long lines. We are learning some Italian for the trip but I was also thinking of carrying a card–in Italian–that explains my condition and inability to stand for long periods of time.

        Also, since we are staying in an agriturismo outside of San Gimignano, would that prevent us from getting a permit to park or drive into the Florence ZTL since we are not actually staying IN Florence? I could let them know when I will be in Florence.

        Specifically, we are headed to these towns, if you can offer any further advice:

        Pienza, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, Lucca, Florence… and in the South… Sorrento, Amalfi, Castelmezzano/Pietrapertosa, Matera, Alberobello, Molfetta. At the end of the trip we will be in Rome for 5 days without a car. Any tips here would help too.

        Thanks for all the great information!

        J.

      2. Denny,

        At last I’m responding to you… just to remind you, you emailed me some great advice about my upcoming trip to Italy because you couldn’t get a message to me here on your blog due some glitch. Well… I’m back. We did the three weeks in Italy in October (with my wife and 11 year old son) and blogged the whole way through. It’s amazing how unaccessible Italy is for people with mobility issues… yet on the other hand, having a handicapped placard was very helpful. More so than in the U.S. the placard helped us park–and usually for free–in public metered spaces and in public parking lots (like the one close to Piazza Mirocola in Pisa, which would have cost us 45 Euros!) There was even no charge for handicapped tickets to the Palatine Hill (I don’t recommend it… too many steps) and the Colosseum (great elevator for handicapped).

        In the end, somehow, my old knees held out but we had some real challenges. The old paving stones in Pompeii were the worst I think. The curbs there are over a foot high in most places so getting across the ancient streets was a real task. The wheelchair access (metal grate ramps) seemed very limited so I would rate this site very low in accessibility.

        I’ve been chronicling our “grand voyage” on our blog at grandvoyageitaly.weebly.com, or you can check out these more specific links using the search keyword “handicapped” … http://grandvoyageitaly.weebly.com/apps/search?q=handicapped

        I’d be happy to add any advice to your friends too. I’ve got strong opinions on renting cars in Italy and about the places we’ve been: southern Tuscany (Pienza area), northern Tuscany (Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Fiesole, San Gimignano, Vinci), Amalfi Coast, Basilicata (Pietrapertosa, Castelmezzano, Matera) and Puglia (Molfetta, Locorotondo, Bari, Altamura)

        Again, thanks for everything.

        Jerry F.

  5. Thank you, very informative. I have a similar disability (but can’t walk as far as the you) and fortunately I’m able to use this .. http://www.travelscoot.com/ instead of a wheelchair on all types of holidays, It has made a total difference to my enjoyment of holidays and I now carry much of the ‘holiday stuff’ around on it instead of being a burden to my wife.

    1. This looks amazing. I cannot stand without using crutches, do you think I would be able to get on and of it? The guy demonstrating it stands and walks easily

      1. I’m 64 and I’m an incomplete quad C5/6 but fortunately I can stand and walk a few steps without crutches provided there’s some support nearby. Like you I can walk about a km with crutches and climb steps but my balance is very poor as is my core and upper body strength, You’d have to be able to swing one leg over the frame at the bottom. The seat does rotate if its catch is not locked so perhaps you could sit sideways then rotate to get your legs over then lock seat? I think if you could get yourself onto an exercise bike (forget the pedalling) you should be able to manage a Travelscoot. Good luck.

    1. I suggest you email the Italian embassy. From my experience I expect it would be ok. You will need to contact the commune of the area you wish to visit and give them your passport number, the number of your mobility sticker and the registration of your vehicle and the dates you will be visiting.

  6. Thank you. You have made my planning to Italy a lot lot easier. I have been so worried about going and thinking I should scrap the idea until I read your article, now I can’t wait to go. I can also walk some distance with crutches but most of the time I use a mobility scooter.
    Thank you
    Looking forward to following your blog.
    Best wishes
    Gaenor (UK)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s