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Disabled Access in Prague

First, a little about me so you can put my comments into context. If you want to know more, read the tab “About Me”

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.

First the negatives:
Prague is not wheelchair friendly. If you have excellent wheelchair skills and can negotiate kerbs you will face gutters that are five or six inches deep, and there are few kerb crossings. Your best bet is to use side roads and wheel along the road. The Old Town is flat, but across the Charles Bridge, some hills are quite steep, so a wheelchair user will need to be strong.

Often landmarks and attractions are described as wheelchair accessible but there are always at least one or two steps. The funicular and Petrin Tower, for example are described as accessible, but the slope up to the funicular is at least one in eight. Then there are two steps to the first carriage. It’s possible to wheel to the tower and take the lift half way up, but coming back to the funicular there are about eight steps to the nearest carriage. 

Some of the trams are low and have a button that a wheelchair user can push to alert the driver that the ramp is needed. However, only once did the driver step outside to put the ramp out, but that may have been because we didn’t want to risk the tram moving off without us so my husband manoeuvred me and my chair on board. The older trams have very high steps that I was able to climb using my crutches. 

The positives:
If you are less skilled in a wheelchair, like me, you will need a strong helper. If you can use crutches, and have a strong helper, most of Prague becomes accessible.

And if you stay in the Old Town there are some easily accessible attractions:

The Old Town Square with its astronomical clock is often described as the prettiest in Europe. It has lots of good cafes from which to watch the world, and zillions of tourists, go by. It’s entertaining to watch all the cameras up in the air as the hour strikes. It’s especially entertaining to watch at night when all you can see is the clock and hundreds of led screens!

Its an easy and pleasant wheel across the Charles Bridge. 

There is a ramp down to Kampa Island which has a very nice park, views over the river and cafes. It’s a good place to have a picnic.

There is a lift up the Old Town Hall to the top where there are some great views. 

It’s an easy wheel through the Havel markets where you can buy fresh produce and the usual tourist stuff as well as some very nice art. 

It’s an easy wheel to Wencelas Square where all the modern shops are.

There are concerts every night at lots of different venues … the Mirror Chapel, the Mozart Cafe (it has a lift), St George’s Basilca …

If you’re not prepared to wait for a low tram that us wheelchair accessible, use a taxi- they’re not that expensive because Prague is compact

There are accessible toilets at the Prague castle near St Vitus, near the Charles Bridge on the Old Town Side, and on Kampa Island.

Be Careful:

The room in my hotel was described as a disabled room, but there were no bars in the shower or toilet, I could barely reach the shower hose when standing, and there was no seat in the shower. The room could be accessed from the garage rather than the front door where there were eight or more steps, but there were two steps up from the garage!

Everyone in Prague seems to assume that someone in a wheelchair will have a helper, and that one or two steps are no barrier. 

Other than that, Prague is worth the effort and having to rely on a helper just so you can see this picturesque city and experience its incredibly talented musicians.

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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.

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