August 14, 2012

Accessibility Key (rating accessibility/accommodations in and around Rio de Janeiro, June-August 2012):

>:P phbbbbt = mau (bad)

:| straight face = mais ou menos (so-so, ok)

:) happy = bom, ta legal (good, great)

 **(Highlighted writings below refer specifically to accessibility issues)

Amazing Sand Castle–One of Many–Found along Copacabana Beach

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.

  :) happyMy 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.

Copacabana Studio Apartment Main Room with Bed, Sleeper Sofa, TV, Dining Table and Chairs

          :) happyThe 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.  

Copacabana Studio Apartment Hallway

:) happyThe 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.   >:P phbbbbt 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.  

Copacabana Studio Apartment Bathroom

Copacabana Studio Apartment Walk-In 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.   :) happyThe 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.  >:P phbbbbt The satellite TV and the wi-fi were quirky and slow, but ok for six weeks. :) happyThe 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  On the whole, this apartment suited me fine.

Copacabana Studio Apartment Kitchen

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!

          :) happyEvery 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.  :| straight faceAlthough, 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.

Guida in wheelchair with PCA Cristiane at Pão de Açùcar

 >:P phbbbbtThe 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. 

Copacabana Sidewalk

 :-O surprisePeople, 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,

Rio Broken Sidewalk with no Ramp

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.

Easier to Maneuver Rio Sidewalks with a Walker than a Wheelchair

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).

          >:P phbbbbt 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.  

El Centro-Rio Sidewalk Obstacle

            Instead, we ended up going to a nearby cafe for tea and a ‘bomba’ (small chocolate eclair, Brazilian style–yummy!) pastry.

On Second Thought…

 Although, there was a ramp for my wheelchair to enter, the place was small with very narrow aisles.  

Cafe (too) Narrow Aisle for Wheelchair Access–Dar um Jeito!!

          >:P phbbbbtMy 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.  

But Guida…the Cafe Men’s Bathroom is Accessible!

         :| straight faceAfterwards, 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 ( 

Copacabana Palace Hotel and the Beginnings of Renovation

         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!  

A Lot of Renovation is Needed at the Copa Palace Hotel…

Let’s Return in 2 Years….

And See How Far Accessible…

Renovation has Come at the Copa Palace Hotel


Copacabana Palace Hotel Renovation in Progress

           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.   

Excellent Accessibility in Copacabana-Ipanema on a Sunday Afternoon

  :) happyAlthough 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…


6 responses »

  1. Guida, I’m really enjoying your blog! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! It’s great not only to hear about your adventures, but also to learn more accessibility in Brazil. I’m impressed by how much it seems to have improved, but sad that there is still so much work to be done. Fortaleza, my city, probably needs even more work than Rio. Keep posting!

    • Ligia,
      Obrigada! You’d be surprised. Fortaleza scored high on the U.N. sidewalk survey–number one, I think. Ceará is way ahead of Rio in so many ways, I hear. I’d love to get to Fortaleza someday and check out the city’s accessibility! I have a connection there I hope to meet. Abraços,Guida

  2. I am so happy to be catching up again on all your adventures in Rio! It is GREAT reading! Can’t wait for the rest! Love the smiley faces for rating things – good graphics! When you said there was a part of Rio you longed to see but the sidewalks made it impossible to get to the Metro, where was it you were trying to go? Just curious. You should send this blog to the Copacabana Palace Hotel and offer to be a consultant for them as they spend those millions making their hotel accessible. There is nothing like a true wheelchair user to provide feedback. Plans and specifications don’t tell the whole story!

    Keep posting! Love it all!

    • The center of Rio was where we wanted to go…O Centro…

      Thanks for your feedback! There is a very active disability movement in Rio and throughout Brazil, so I know the Hotel is getting tons of input. One group, in particular, is located at UFRJ (Universidade Federal Rio de Janeiro), called Núcleo Pro-acesso, a “pioneer group of architects, professors and researchers, located at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). These people dedicate their energy to research, teaching, planning, and to inclusive projects creating spaces and universal design for people with disabilities.”

      Professor Regina Cohen is one of the founders of this group. I did not get to meet her this trip but hope to in the near future. This group is doing very important research on accessibility and Universal Design!

  3. I agree with Marti that you should send part of your blog to the Copacabana Palace Hotel offering to be a consultant for accessibility before the plans are executed. This leads me to think there are probably quite a few consulting venues ANYWHERE rating accessibility. I think this could be a great income generating possibility for you, with the bonus of the opportunity to travel — a slightly different take on the Accidental Tourist! The cold showers, while disconcerting, must have given you a good jolt in the mornings! Waiting for more…XOXO

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Carmela! I do hope there is some sort of career waiting in the wings for me after I graduate with my M.A. It’s either a job or onto a Ph.D..quem sabe? Working with Students with Disabilities and Study Abroad between the USA and Brazil would, of course, be ideal. I dream of returning again and again to Brazil–so much of the country I still need to see!

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