By Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha
© Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha 2004
article is the fruit of our May 2004 trip to
article is dedicated to our friend Bob Gustke and to the memory of his late
wife, our friend Patricia Gustke, who traveled the world together, Pat in her
wheelchair, Bob on foot. At a time when
good access anywhere was only a dream, they traveled to places far less
Many thanks to George Clapper for typing this article and to Lucy Arevalo for writing the English-to-Spanish dictionary of access words (see below).
our first trip to
In planning our trip we used the Internet and other information sources but not a travel agent. We traveled on our own. Michele speaks Spanish, which was helpful and added to our enjoyment.
We have tried to be as accurate as possible, but of course accuracy is not guaranteed. The reader should confirm all information, especially access details, directly with hotels, museums, transportation providers and other facilities. As in all research, primary sources are much better than secondary ones. Also, things change. It is essential to re-confirm information shortly before acting on it.
Because one’s physical capabilities,
limitations and equipment affect the access achievable under a given set of
environmental and design conditions, and one’s point of reference colors one’s
perception of access, we’ll tell you about ourselves. We are fortunate to live in
In planning our trip we sent questionnaires to numerous hotels inquiring about access. A form of hotel access questionnaire is Appendix A. You are welcome to adapt it for your own use. A metric conversion guide is Appendix B. A dictionary of key access terms in Spanish is Appendix C. This article (including the appendices) may not be reproduced or used for profit without our written permission, but readers are welcome to reproduce or use it for any other purpose.
The rain in
One way to mitigate the smoke somewhat is to eat when the restaurants first open – which is early for Spaniards but late for many Americans – and there are fewer locals. The disadvantage of this, of course, is you will have less interaction with Spaniards and will eat in an almost empty restaurant. It’s also imperative to request a non-smoking hotel room; even though there is no guarantee it will be truly smoke-free, the chances are that a smoking room will be very smoky.
Access at most major museums and monuments is quite good. We encourage you to try to tour all major museums and monuments that interest you - they are likely to be at least partially accessible.
Store and Restaurant Access
Stores and restaurants typically are up one step, and the proprietors are very willing to lift your wheelchair up it. Some have recently installed permanent ramps that, while typically too steep even for a person in an electric wheelchair to access independently, make access easier than the step alone would have been. Many cafes and restaurants have outdoor tables. Most branches of the major department store, El Corte Ingles, have level access.
Michele used ATM’s at a variety of banks in various locations. Most were too high or in a bank up one or more stairs. We saw a few accessible ATM’s.
If you use an electric wheelchair, we recommend obtaining a wheelchair battery charger with settings for 110 and 220 volts. It eliminates the need for a separate converter. A surprisingly small, lightweight and inexpensive charger with dual settings is available from MK Battery. www.mkbattery.com. Also try Lester Electrical. www.lesterelectrical.com.
We highly recommend gel cell batteries, which are non-spillable, safer and more acceptable to airlines than wet batteries.
We experienced no problems charging Howard’s wheelchair in hotel rooms.
Spanish public bathrooms, whether
accessible or not, generally are quite clean even though few are staffed by
attendants. It was easier to find
accessible bathrooms than we’d expected, although there are some important
widespread design flaws. Most accessible
bathrooms are large enough for comfortable maneuvering and are equivalent in
size to those in
Almost every museum that is accessible has an accessible bathroom. Most branches of the major department store, El Corte Ingles, have an accessible bathroom. Even some restaurants – though certainly not the majority - have accessible bathrooms. Fortunately, employees at stores and restaurants are very willing to direct you to the bathroom even if you aren’t a customer. There is a gracious understanding of urgent needs.
Most cities we visited have many
accessible bus lines. The majority of
buses have the wheelchair symbol. We
used buses only in
took a couple round trips on different lines in
Accessible “Eurotaxis” are
Generally, it’s necessary to call
a taxi in advance. In most places the
fare includes meter charges to your location from wherever the taxi is when you
call. Airport pickup is a flat
rate. Fares are reasonable, at least
Despite extensive research we were unable to find an accessible minivan or van to rent. Any reader who finds one is encouraged to share the information with the website where this article is published. We drove from city to city in a large but inaccessible Peugeot 607, and limited transfers to the bare minimum. Once in a city, we parked the car and didn’t use it until we departed for the next destination. The 607 has four doors and extremely comfortable leather seats, including a passenger seat with electric height and angle adjustments. The adjustable leather passenger seat made transfers somewhat less difficult. The well-designed trunk is wide and long but not low, making it relatively easy for Michele to stow the wheelchair because she didn’t have to bend down. The Peugeot’s handling, acceleration and ride were superb, and Michele enjoyed driving it.
Although bus access is
good, we still believe that for hotels, as for real estate, the three most
important factors are location, location and location (assuming the hotel has
good wheelchair access). Strolling through
a beautiful, interesting neighborhood is one of the most enjoyable things about
traveling, and it’s best not to depend entirely on transportation to get to
museums, monuments, stores and restaurants.
Staying at a central location also makes it easier to stay out late, and
Hotel access is a mixed bag. In our research we encountered good general awareness of the need for accessible rooms, but it was difficult to find them in some cities. The state of the art doesn’t include roll-in showers; we were able to find only one hotel with a true roll-in shower. As with public bathrooms, there are widespread design flaws in hotel bathrooms such as poor placement of grab bars (which sometimes block the transfer space) and inaccessible toilet flush buttons or buttons that require too much pressure. Also, even hotels with fairly good bathroom access had several barriers that would be obstacles for a solo traveler, such as heavy room doors and inaccessible electrical controls, light switches and closets. But the good news is that the obstacles are manageable, especially for someone traveling with an able-bodied companion. Most hotel personnel we encountered were eager to help and receptive to suggestions for improving access.
Much of our trip involved intercity driving, so we required parking in most cities. Don’t assume that a hotel offers parking. Parking is scarce in the center, so it’s important to inquire about parking at your hotel and, if the hotel has parking, reserve it when you reserve your room. Parking is typically not included in the room rate. Many hotels that don’t have on site parking have an arrangement with a nearby parking lot.
Many hotels offer a buffet breakfast that is generally not included in the room rate.
In planning our trip we sent access questionnaires in English to numerous hotels, mostly three- and four-star. The questionnaire, with minor improvements and turned into a form, is Appendix A. You are welcome to adapt it for your own use.
In Spain, as in France, “accessible” in describing a hotel room means merely that there are no barriers such as stairs and there is sufficient doorway width and other space for a wheelchair to travel to, enter and move around the room - that there is, in effect, what Americans would call an “accessible path of travel” to and within the hotel room. Hence, an “accessible” room may have a completely unusable bathroom and inaccessible elements such as light switches. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be a uniform, generally accepted standard for “accessible” - many hotels consider a room accessible if it is literally, but just barely, physically accessible. “Adapted” means that the room has been modified to allow a wheelchair user to use the bathroom and other features are usable by people in wheelchairs. Unfortunately, however, almost all adapted rooms reported lack roll-in showers. In many hotel and third-party websites, the presence of the wheelchair symbol means only that the hotel is “accessible,” not necessarily that there are any “adapted” rooms. This is especially true of the tourism sites for the cities. Therefore, unless you are able to use what Americans would consider an inaccessible bathroom, when inquiring about access, ask whether the hotel has an adapted room.
In our discussion of each city, we describe where we stayed. We also list other hotels that told us they have adapted rooms and those that told us they don’t have any. We include the latter to provide a more complete picture of the current state of hotel access and to emphasize a caveat: if you inquire about those hotels and are told they have an adapted room, be sure to double check and get specific information; perhaps they’ve renovated the rooms since our inquiries. Note that, although we use “adapted” in categorizing hotels, the hotels we list as not having adapted rooms aren’t necessarily even “accessible.” Also, we omit the many hotels that failed to respond to our inquiries.
We visited a few hotels but most entries are based solely on the written responses we received; therefore, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information. Accuracy depends entirely on the respondent, typically a reservationist; we did not specifically ask the hotels’ general managers to respond. We asked follow-up questions when a response was ambiguous but did not send a second round of surveys to ascertain whether the answers would be the same both times.
We’ve heard that four- and five-star hotels are legally required to have adapted rooms, but many four-star hotels don’t. We inquired about only a few five-star hotels, so can’t generalize about them.
needless to say, it’s imperative to contact the hotel directly to verify
access, as one would in the
This section is quite limited. We report those aspects we observed; we know that we’ve missed many important items.
Access-Able Travel Source, www.access-able.com has useful general information about traveling in a wheelchair, and articles and links about travel to a variety of destinations.
Global Access Disabled Travel Network, http://www.geocities.com/Paris/1502/ has useful general information about traveling in a wheelchair, and articles and links about travel to a variety of destinations.
The European Union has produced
country-specific disability travel guides in English, including one about
Federació ECOM, a Spanish organization based in
For information about access
For information about access
For information about access in
Agencia Espanola de Turismo para Personas con Discapacidad has a website (in Spanish only) with tourist information and technical information about access. We don’t know whether it is a non-profit or for-profit organization. Calle Alcornoque, 1; 41009-Sevilla. www.valinet.org; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
For information about accessible
apartment rental in various places in
I am sorry this letter is not in Spanish, but I don’t understand Spanish. My wife and I will arrive in [ ] on [ ] and depart on [ ]. We will stay for [ ] nights.
I use an electric wheelchair that is [[ ] centimeters ([ ] inches)] wide. I am unable to walk at all. My wife is not disabled. We would like a non-smoking room with one large bed. We have the following questions about your hotel:
1. Do you have any specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms? If not, please disregard the other questions. Thank you and we would appreciate a recommendation of hotel in the area that does have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms.
If you do have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms, we have the following questions. Please answer even if you are fully booked for the requested time, because we are interested in your hotel for the future.
1. Is it necessary to go up or down any stairs in order to get from the street entrance to the guest room? Does the building have an elevator? If so, how wide is the elevator door and what are the interior dimensions of the elevator?
2. In the bathroom, is there space for a [ ] cm wide wheelchair on one side of the toilet? What is the width of the doorway into the bathroom? What is the height of the toilet? What is the size of the shower? Can a wheelchair roll into the shower? Are there grab bars near the toilet and shower?
3. Are all the doorways in the room at least 75 cm wide?
4. What is the size of the room? Does this include the bathroom?
5. Was the building renovated recently?
If you do have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms, is the room available on the nights mentioned above? If yes, please quote a price.
Thank you very much. We can be reached at [ ]. We really appreciate any help you can provide.
Very Truly Yours
Metric Conversion Guide
One inch = 2.54 centimeters.
One centimeter = 0.3937 inches
One meter = 39.4 inches
One square meter = 10.76 square feet
One kilometer = 0.62 miles
One mile = 1.61 kilometers
One kilogram = 2.2 pounds
One pound = 0.454 kilograms (454 grams)
One liter = 0.264 gallons
One gallon = 3.785 liters
English-To-Spanish Dictionary Of Disability Access
Words And Phrases
by Lucy Arevalo
disabled - minusvalido
I am disabled – Yo soy minusvalido
I am unable to walk – Yo no puedo caminar
wheelchair - silla de ruedas
I use a wheelchair – Yo uso silla de ruedas
I use an electric wheelchair – Yo uso una silla de ruedas eléctrica
electricity - electricidad
wheel – rueda
battery – bateria
tire – neumático or llanta
my wheelchair needs to be repaired – mi silla de ruedas necesita ser reparada
transfer board - tabla para transferir
ramp – rampa
Is there a ramp? - Tiene una rampa?
stairs – gradas or escaleras
there stairs? - Tienen gradas?
How many stairs are there? - Cuántas gradas tienen?
elevator – elevador
Is there an elevator? – Tienen elevador?
Is it necessary to climb any steps to get to the elevator? –
Hay necesidad de subir gradas para llegar al elevador?
What is the size of the elevator?- De qué tamaño es el elevador?
What is the width of the doorway? – Cuánto mide de ancho la puerta?
is the height of the bed? - Cuánto mide
de alto la cama?
up - arriba or suba
down - abajo or baje
roll-in shower - regadera [or ducha] adaptado para silla de ruedas
wheelchair accessible bathroom - baño adaptado para silla de ruedas
grab bars – barras para sujetarse
Is the bathroom wheelchair accessible? – Está el baño adaptado para silla de ruedas?
Does the bathroom have a roll-in shower? – Está el regadera [or ducha] adaptado para silla de ruedas?
Are there grab bars in the bathroom? – Tiene el baño barras para sujetarse?
Is the bus wheelchair accessible? – Está el autobus adaptado para silla de ruedas?
Is the train wheelchair accessible? – Está el tren adaptado para silla de ruedas?
Is the van/minivan wheelchair accessible? – Está la van/microbus adaptado para silla de ruedas?
Does the van/minivan have a ramp? – Tiene la van/microbus una rampa?
Does the van/minivan have a lift? –
Tiene la van/microbus un levantador o rampa levadiza?
The elevator/ramp/lift is broken –
El elevador esta quebrado
La rampa esta quebrada
El levantador or rampa levadiza esta quebrada
How far is it from [ ] to [ ]? - Qué distancia hay entre ( ) y ( )?
Blind – ciego
I am blind – Yo soy ciego
Braille – Braile
guide dog – perro guia
deaf – sordo
I am deaf – Yo soy sordo
hearing impaired – persona con impedimento auditivo/ persona con impedimento para oir
I am hearing impaired – Yo tengo impedimento para oir
sign language – lenguaje en señas
sign language interpreter – intérprete de lenguaje en señas