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We took our first trip to Europe in 2007. I was determined to show my daughter, Arielle, that being in a wheelchair should not stop her from pursuing her dreams or traveling abroad. When we returned home, I wrote about our experiences. Compassion in Action was my first online article. The Reeve Foundation posted it on their site and added pictures, you can see it here.Thanks, Rob.

During that trip, we did run into some accessibility problems, but every time people were willing to lend a helping hand. When I made our plans for our vacation to Barcelona, I expected to have many of the same issues we encountered four years ago. I was wrong. Barcelona is the most accessible city I have ever been to in Europe – and in the United States. There are accessible signs everywhere, and the tourist attractions that are not completely accessible do not charge people using wheelchairs.

One of our greatest discoveries was an accessible beach. For years I have watched Arielle struggle on our beaches here in Cape Coral and Ft. Myers. Wheels and sand don’t mix. Then I saw the simplest of solutions and wondered why every beach doesn’t offer this.

A ramp that leads to the water.

I was very happy when I saw the ramp and then astounded when I saw the accessible shower bench and bathroom on the beach.

Notice how there is no armrest on one side. That is so people in wheelchairs can transfer easily onto the bench.

Bathroom on the beach in Barcelona. Woman on the beach wondering why I’m taking a picture of the bathroom.

Our second greatest discovery was on our road trip to France. We stopped in Roses because Eric wanted to see a famous restaurant called El Bulli nearby. There are always two lingering questions in my mind whenever we stop for bathroom breaks. The first is, will it be accessible and the second, will it be clean? I am overjoyed to say that every bathroom in Barcelona was both.

Rest stop bathroom.

But that wasn’t our second greatest discovery. Our second greatest discovery was a shopping cart specifically made for manual wheelchairs.

The cart latches onto the chair so Arielle can wheel and push the cart at the same time.

Transportation is always an issue when traveling in cities. One of Arielle’s favorite places is London because of their accessible cabs. Every cab has a ramp. We only took two taxi’s while in Barcelona, to and from the airport. Both times the drivers were very helpful and willing to take the wheelchair. All of the buses in Barcelona were accessible and guess what… clean. The cleanliness of the entire city (with the exception of La Rambla) was truly amazing.

Subways have always been difficult. It would be wonderful if people using wheelchairs had the same access to all the stops that able-bodied people have. Eric did have to carry Elle many times on our subway travels. I’m sure part of it was our fault for not planning well enough. I did find a sign that listed all of Barcelona’s accessible stops.

We bought our ticket to Montserrat and the cable car ride from a machine in the subway. We had the choice of taking the train or the cable car up the mountain. There was no sign telling us the cable car platforms were not accessible. The cable car itself was, but there were many steps in both stations. If you’re using a wheelchair take the train. We tried to switch to the train for the ride back but discovered they were two different companies and we would have had to pay double. The cable car ride was breathtaking, and the people who worked at the station seemed embarrassed and upset that it wasn’t accessible still there were many steps, and it would be impossible for someone using an electric chair.

The car itself is accessible and can hold up to 35 people. Believe me, when we all piled in for our trip up the mountain, I was counting people.

Most days we walked for miles and explored Barcelona. We only took the subway or the bus when we were worried about timing or completely exhausted. This was a good thing considering all the chocolate croissants, cheese sandwiches and gelato I ate. Every street had ramps and was easy for Elle to traverse. Many times the ramps were marked showing accessibility.

A path in-between cobblestone.

We decided last minute to rent a car and drive to France. It was easy to find a car big enough for all of us and the wheelchair. It turned out to be a great decision because of the total freedom it provided our family. Etched in my mind is the English woman’s voice on the GPS  “Go through the round–about and take the second exit.”

Elle is a pro at escalators. Here we are on our way to the Olympic museum.

Extremely organized, clean and welcoming to those with mobility challenges, that’s how I would describe Barcelona. (Besides being beautiful of course.) There were even airport employees designated to meet the needs of those using wheelchairs.

We are getting ready to board the plane from Barcelona to Philadelphia.

Now I’m curious to see if Barcelona is unique in their accessibility advancements or if more cities in Europe are just as accessible. I guess we’ll just have to do some more traveling to see.

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