July 20, 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)
Every week on a Thursday or Friday, the IBEU Portuguese Classes would take a Passeio–field trip–to somewhere inside or outside the city of Rio de Janeiro. At the start of the Program, Coordinators suggested that I stay and do catch up work on class field trip days (hmph!), since the program did not cover the cost of providing me transportation. I looked into the cost of accessible taxis, but it was very expensive. In hindsight, I wish I had investigated further, such as using public transportation (the bus system) since Rio de Janeiro does have accessible buses. It would have been good for me to at least try out this form of transportation, as part of my exploration of accessibility in Rio de Janeiro.
But I was quite overwhelmed by culture shock, the long school hours, as well as exhausted from all the pre-planning and travel that preceded my arrival in Brazil. My stamina is not what it used to be at the age of 25. Frankly, at the ripe (not so) old age of 55, I welcomed an extra day of rest. As a result, I missed out on several interesting outings. But, one week my Portuguese teacher, Gilberto Zweili, arranged a van to take our class–including me–to Niteroí–a state municipality across the bay, about nine miles south, outside the city of RJ.
The Rio-Niteroi Bridge reminds me a lot of the Dumbarton and San Mateo Bridges that cross the San Francisco Bay in California where I grew up.
We started out around 9:30 am, taking a not-so-accessible van to Niteroí, about a 40 minute ride.
So, once again, people-power kicked in to assist where standard accessibility tools were not available. People are wonderful. They always chip in to help me on and off vans and buses that have no lifts. I was quite used to, and welcomed, this help from folks. I often wondered, at times like this, what happens when traveling PwDs who have no mobility, need to be moved when there are no lifts. I once read an article that showed a picture of the sloppy transfer of a Brazilian quadriplegic PwD from his chair to the inside of an inaccessible van.
Last year, when I traveled to an Inclusive Tourism conference in Socorro, Brazil, the woman I stayed with, who has worked for many years with PwDs, said that although Brazilians willingly help out as needed, they are not trained in the correct way to transfer PwDs. This includes van/bus drivers and other professionals who work in transportation. I think every country, across the world, needs to have basic training for all professionals working for the tourism trade, in how to assist PwDs in getting around, as more people with disabilities are traveling internationally these days.
But, I digress. The trip to Niteroí was very beautiful and worthwhile in terms of my accessibility observations. I was most impressed with the accessibility in Niteroí. The beaches were very accessible, as well as gorgeous.
The sidewalks were well-paved with handicap-marked cut curbs everywhere. I also saw a lot of wheelchair users on the sidewalks in many parts of the city and along the beaches. The biggest surprise was seeing, for the first time since my arrival in Rio, actual handicap parking spots! Perhaps, Copacabana and Ipanema have handicap parking, but I never saw any until I got to Niteroí.
Our Portuguese class first stopped for a coffee break (prices are much cheaper in Niteroí than Rio, by the way!) in town before we headed up a very steep, windy road through a thick forest to the Niteroí State Park. The park was very accessible with excellent ramps, and the view was amazing!
Afterwards, the group headed to the Niteroí Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by the famous Brazilian modernist architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Accessibility: A+!! There was a long, well-graded ramp leading up into the Museum, that looked like a flying saucer, and an elevator inside for access to the second floor of the building.
Niteroí is a place I would consider living if ever I decided to move permanently to Brazil. “The quality of life of the city municipality of Niteroi is considered one of the best (3rd place) among 5,600 other Brazilian municipalities, according to UN indexes”[2000 est.–Wikipedia]. The accessibility is impressive. I would want to further explore the affordability of this city for someone like me, but first impressions of the accessibility, at least, were excellent!
NEXT: PÃO DE AÇÙCAR AND FAREWELL TO RIO DE JANEIRO!