As the first full day of competition gets under way on 2016 Paralympic Games, the city of Rio de Janeiro once again finds itself hogging the international spotlight – and is determined to show its best side for its visiting para-athletes and Paralympic visitors.
The city has distributed 35,000 copies of its self-produced accessibility guide, “Dicas Para Atender Bem Turistas com Deficiência (Tips for Better Serving Disabled Tourists)”, to hotels, restaurants and other appropriate tourist-related points of interest in order to help facilitate better communication and the addressing of mobility within the Carioca capital between disabled Paralympic athletes, fans and the local community.
Difficulties for disabled visitors are not uncommon in Rio. Many issues, especially surrounding public transport, access to venues, false “Wheelchair Accessible” claims from local businesses and a lack of respect for designated parking spots came to light during the Summer Olympic Games. The new guide aims to not only address some of those points, but also to educate the public regarding disability and accessibility issues, etiquette and cultural sensibilities. It also contains important information on what to do in case of emergency, if for instance, there was a deaf person or a wheelchair user staying in a hotel during a fire alarm.
“This Olympic moment is very important; Brazil is becoming more accessible internationally,” said Marco Lomanto, head of Embratur’s special projects division. “This guide, which goes to our partners in hotels, airports, bars and restaurants, among others, is a product on which the Ministry of Tourism worked very hard for people with special needs.”
Though many of Rio’s biggest attractions are accessible (the famed Sugar Loaf mountain, for example, is accessible for scooters and wheelchairs), much of the city’s infrastructure – cracked pavements, silent crosswalks – can make for challenging navigation. Leading up to the Paralympic Games, street ramps, curb cuts, and tactile paving have been installed in strategic points around the city; and metro and BRT (bus rapid transit) systems also include accessible design features.
But the hurdles in Rio are not limited to infrastructure – there is a lot of room for cultural improvements, which is main point addressed in the government’s guide. The BBC’s disability correspondent, Nikki Fox, noted in 2015: “it can be hard living in Rio if you’re disabled – and the problems aren’t just about access. Of the millions of disabled people of working age in Brazil, just 2% are in employment and as few as 7% have completed any form of higher education.”
On Thursday, Interim Tourism Minister, Alberto Alves, and Embratur president, Vinícius Lummertz, will introduce additional measures to help tourists and business-people prepare disability-suitable itineraries and improve quality of service at tourist establishments. This includes the introduction of the Accessible Tourism app, a collaborative accessibility platform available in Portuguese, English and Spanish.
Additionally, Lonely Planet has produced its own Accessible Rio city guide.
(Additional reporting Ken Foxe)