An accessible city is conceived not only to make the life of people with reduced mobility easier, but also to improve the life of all its residents. Pavement ramps or accesses to buildings are in the same way beneficial to older people, people with an injured limb or parents who usually carry prams. Accessibility enhances the quality of life of all citizens, since it makes possible that everyone moves with independence and safety.

In spite of the efforts, many cities are not adapted to people who use wheelchairs or have auditory or visual disabilities. Too elevated kerbs, pavement bumps, city litterbins wrongly located or buildings with too weak lighting, with stairs but no ramps, are some of the issues that people with reduced mobility may find.

As far as buildings are concerned, Spanish building regulations were modified in order to avoid discrimination against disabled citizens when accessing and using facilities, buildings or premises. Architectural elements, as well as others such as ramps, automatic doors, lighting, lifts and other elements such as fire alarm systems or safety signage systems (visual, auditory or tactile), amongst others, need to be considered.

What makes a city accessible? Accessibility is measured considering three essential aspects:

  • Physical aspects, wider pavements and with more ramps, sound at traffic lights, Tube stations with lifts, information panels in Braille, etc.
  • Economic aspects, such as adapted workplaces, accessible buildings (with adapted toilets, ramps and automatic doors in accesses to make people’s entries and exits easier), accessible information desks, etc.
  • Social aspects, avoiding the creation of little accessible areas (not treating them as accessibility ghettos), but allowing all citizens to share the same space, for instance in adapted playgrounds or museums with accessible information systems, etc.

An accessible city not only consists in improving accesses, but also in having at disposal systems, which simplify things and do not remind at all times that certain people have a disability. Some cities are achieving this objective and following their example is fully desirable.

One of them is Gothenburg, in Sweden, which got last year the Access City Award due to its efforts to remove architectural barriers in three basic aspects: transport, housing and work environment. This city prioritizes people with reduced mobility or disabilities when accessible housing is available and each year recruits assistants specialised in accessibility in around 300 work centres.

Berlin also got this same award, because projects of the city reconstruction after the unification have been carried out with great efforts to remove barriers. The German capital possesses huge avenues and squares where circulation becomes comfortable and bus stops are adapted.

Considered one of the most qualified cities as far as attention towards people with disabilities is concerned, Salzburg has carried out a comprehensive adaptation. Public transport, infrastructure and communication systems, as well as tourist attractions are fully adapted. Accessibility is a core idea, which is strictly accomplished in this city.

And lastly, a Spanish city, Ávila, which has been awarded with several prizes due to its accessibility plans. Since 2002, this city has developed a town plan in collaboration with organizations of people with disabilities and older people.

We are walking on the right path, although there is still much to be done.