August 14, 2012
Accessibility Key (rating accessibility/accommodations in and around Rio de Janeiro, June-August 2012):
= mau (bad)
= mais ou menos (so-so, ok)
= bom, ta legal (good, great)
**(Highlighted writings below refer specifically to accessibility issues)
I write this post after my return from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This post will assess my living and other accessible conditions in Copacabana and general accessibility at IBEU, where I did the Rio Language/Culture Program from June through August 2012.
My studio apartment worked very well for me. It was located on the second floor with plenty of elevator access. In Brazil, every building has two types of elevators: social (for tenants and guests) and service (for maintenance workers and delivery people). The service elevator actually accommodated my wheelchair and walker better than the social elevator, since it had more space, and less people used the service elevator.
The apartment itself was tiny but very comfortable. I was not able to fit the motorized wheelchair I rented into the apartment, since the hallway leading from the front door to my living room was too narrow. But, I was able to navigate throughout the space with my walker just fine. The electric wheelchair was parked overnight with the doorman downstairs, while I was able to have both my manual wheelchair and walker stored in my apartment.
The bathroom was above expectations. I had a walk-in shower (I did not have to use either the portable shower chair nor grab bar I brought with me from the U.S), a washing machine, toilet, sink and plenty of cabinet space. What can I say? Because of the humidity, there was a “tolerable for six weeks” bug problem. And the water was cold to lukewarm during my stay. Because Rio is so temperate year-round, I figured everyone had cold showers. However, three weeks into my stay, I found out that other students had hot water in their home stays. Since it had cooled down from about 72 degrees to 66 degrees, I called the landlady. She sent a guy to ‘fix’ the water temperature. But there was no change in temperature in the next morning’s shower.
A few days later, my aide, Cristiane, called the landlady on my behalf. The landlady told her that everyone in my building had tepid water, and I needed to turn on the water slowly and only part way to get warmer water. Why didn’t she just tell me that in the first place? The guy came back, fiddled around some more with the water temperature and–sure enough, I had a moderately warm shower the next morning–for about one minute. The weather warmed up, so I enjoyed cool to lukewarm showers for three more weeks–most invigorating! Since I’m not a morning person, these blasts were a wonderful way to wake up every morning. Dar um Jeito.
Everything in Brazil is small, which can make for very tight fitting. The kitchen only had room for me and part of my walker. But the close proximity of the stove, fridge with microwave perched on top, and the kitchen sink made me feel very secure. Small living quarters are not for everybody, but it works great for me due to my lack of mobility. The satellite TV and the wi-fi were quirky and slow, but ok for six weeks. The bed was very comfortable, roomy, and high enough to make getting in and out of bed quite comfortable on my bad knee. I brought a portable handrail from the U.S., to help me push myself out of bed (for more on portable equipment, see http://www.miusa.org/ncde/tipsheets/packingmobility). On the whole, this apartment suited me fine.
The Rio Language/Culture Program was held at the Instituto Brasil-Estados Unidos (IBEU), three blocks from my apartment. My apartment was two blocks from the beach–an ideal location!
Every morning, Cristiane would walk beside me as I rode a motorized wheelchair to classes. The IBEU building was very accessible, with a clean, well equipped (grab bars and elevated toilet) handicap bathroom. There was an outdoor deck where students sometimes gathered for the mid-morning coffee break. Although, I was unable to join students on the deck, IBEU staff and my fellow students always made sure I had snacks, coffee, and company during our break.
The first morning, on the way to IBEU, I nearly tipped over backwards a few times because of the steep ramps and bumpy, cracked cut curbs. As time went on, I was able to master the sidewalks well.
People, however, were quite a challenge to pass on the streets in my wheelchair. There is absolutely no order in the way Cariocas maneuver the streets of Rio de Janeiro as they make their way to work, to the beach, to school, and shopping. Driving my motorized wheelchair through the streets was, in fact, crazy-making! People walk around like zombies. They walked on my right or walked on my left to pass me by–I was never sure which way they would go until they were right on top of me! Although it was truly chaotic, it kept me alert! Between the cold morning showers and the steep ramps, bumpy/cracked sidewalks,
and sea of people I (literally) ran into on the way to school, I really did not need to drink my usual morning coffee until 10 a.m. I am not sure how many toes I ran over or how many ‘bundas’ (butts) I rammed into on the streets of RJ, but I post my ‘disculpas'(apologies) here to my Copacabana neighbors. Soorrryyy!! 😦
As previously mentioned, the Rio sidewalks in their mosaic beauty, were meticulously made with inlaid stone, but very impractical for wheelchair riders–at least in Copacabana. I was able to maneuver the sidewalk from my apartment to the corner cafe better with my walker.
Sidewalks and cut curbs improved markedly when I visited Ipanema (better) and Niteroí (the best) a few weeks later.
One Sunday, my good friend, Matthew, a fellow student in the Rio Program and special buddy (who proved to be a great traveling companion around the city and on field trips!) and I decided to take the Metro to the Centro (center of RJ).
I wanted to try out the accessibility to the Metro station and beyond. We got three blocks from my apartment. The sidewalks and cut curbs at crosswalks were so badly cracked and broken up that we had to forgo our trip to a part of Rio I longed to see.
Instead, we ended up going to a nearby cafe for tea and a ‘bomba’ (small chocolate eclair, Brazilian style–yummy!) pastry.
Although, there was a ramp for my wheelchair to enter, the place was small with very narrow aisles.
My wheelchair kept smashing into people’s chairs and bodies, as I made my way to a very tiny table in the rear of the restaurant.
Afterwards, on our way to Leme Beach, Matthew and I went by the Copacabana Palace Hotel that is in the process of being renovated at the tune of R$30 million, for better accessibility (http://turismoadaptado.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/acessibilidade-motiva-investimento-de-r-30-milhoes-em-reformas-no-copacabana-palace/).
It will take at least a year to renovate, but I don’t have plans to stay at this first class hotel anytime soon, as its rates are WAY out of my cost range!
The Sunday Matthew and I tried to go to the Centro, my motorized wheelchair battery was not charged up, so we took my manual wheelchair. Dear Matthew certainly got an excellent workout that day! We must have walked 4 miles or more. The trek was well worth it. Although it was the middle of winter in Rio, thousands of people, dressed in short/tank tops, sweat clothes and swimsuits sunbathed, swam, and played volleyball in 70+F degree weather.
On Sundays, the city shuts down the road to cars along the beachfronts of Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema and the other Rio beaches, so that Carioca families can stroll, bike, run, skateboard and more alongside the sandy beaches and the impractical, bumpy, cracked, but beautiful mosaic sidewalk that stretches from Leme to Copacabana to Ipanema and beyond.
Although the sidewalks were not up to scale, the road was smooth and easy to maneuver. I passed many wheelchair users and families in carts as I sped alongside my ambulatory friends from Copacabana to Ipanema.
Upcoming posts will report on 19th century accessibility at a Coffee Plantation outside of Rio, Ipanema and Niteroí accessibility standards, an interview with a Carioca wheelchair user, Rio ramps and elevators, plus more! Stay tuned…