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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Europe: Access all areas?
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

Photo of wheelchair user getting off bus
By 2006 Barcelona's transport will be fully accessible
With the summer holidays upon us, people are heading for an ever wider variety of foreign destinations thanks to last minute deals and low-cost airlines. But for disabled travellers finding a location that they can explore with ease requires careful research and forward planning.

BBC News Online visits two leading European cities to see how they shape up.


The city of Barcelona didn't realise how difficult it was for disabled people to get around until the detailed planning work started for the 1992 Olympics and Paralympics.

In the short term the only answer was to borrow a fleet of buses from Berlin to transport the teams of disabled athletes from one venue to another.

Photo of Nora Bednarski in front of the UGC cinema
It's not just about seeing the film, it's about a social activity, going out with friends
Nora Bednarski

The Games were the catalyst for making Barcelona one of the most disabled friendly cities in Europe - and work is still going on to improve its accessibility.

Eighty-five percent of Barcelona's buses are now equipped for wheelchair users, with the rest soon to follow.

It is a similar story on the city's Metro: of 121 stations, 39 are completely accessible to disabled passengers, 14 more are in the process of being adapted and a further 52 will be worked on during the course of this year.

"Our aim is to make it easy for disabled people to be able to use the underground by themselves," said Belén Rodríguez who runs Barcelona's Metro system.

"Two of our seven lines are now completely accessible, and we'll have all of the work completed by the end of 2005."

These giant leaps forward in improving the lives of disabled people have been achieved by an alliance of disability campaigners and local politicians.

The result was an agreement signed by both parties which promised a fully accessible city by 2006.

Photo of disabled person using amphibious chair
Disabled bathers can enjoy the water with everyone else
"It's great for disabled people in Barcelona," Rosa Romia Pastor told BBC News Online.

When she is not at work in one of the city's shops, Ms Romia Pastor enjoys going to the beach.

Barcelona has six beaches which have been adapted for disabled access.

The Nova Icária beach has accessible changing rooms, boardwalks all the way down to the water and a team of Red Cross volunteers who can assist people into amphibious chairs.

Although Barcelona has improved public spaces as well as its transport system, it lacks the sort of legislation that will force businesses in the UK to make their services available to disabled people in Britain from October 1 this year.

But here, too, campaigners are now lobbying Catalonia's regional government to enact more stringent laws.

"Most businesses don't have a basic level of accessibility," said Ricard Gomá who runs Barcelona's Institute for People with Disabilities.

"We need a regional law because, as a local authority, we don't have the power to enforce these rules."

Mr Gomá is confident that once the new laws are on the statute books his organisation will be able to champion disabled people's rights in the private sector as it already has done in the public domain.


In Brussels - at the heart of the EU - disabled people have a very different experience of moving around the city.

Although the metro was built 50 years after Barcelona's, it only has 10 accessible stations and won't be fully adapted until 2012.

Photo of Brussels town hall + wheelchair user
Heritage over access
Makeshift wheelchair ramps
Businesses not duty bound to change
"There's a lot to do in Brussels and we are 20 years behind everyone else," said Cleon Angelo who runs a local association of wheelchair users.

"This is very bad because Brussels is the capital of Europe and we should be showing a good example."

In the city's historic, cobbled streets preserving heritage has triumphed over providing access.

Even the town hall - where people who get married are obliged to attend a civil ceremony - has no step free entrance.

Wheelchair users have to be manhandled into the building or use with a makeshift ramp made of two planks of wood.

There is no obligation on businesses to make newly refurbished facilities accessibility either.

Nora Bednarski - a wheelchair user who works for the European Disability Forum - is unable to access any of the auditoria in her local UGC multiplex, the Toisan d'Or.

"It's not just about seeing the film, it's about a social activity, going out with friends," she said.

"For a person with reduced mobility in Brussels that's a very limited reality."

Until EU member states can agree on common standards of accessibility, travelling within and between them will continue to be something of a lottery for disabled people.

The BBC's Geoff Adams-Spink
"Barcelona is one of the most accessible places in Europe"

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