Survival Tips for Special Needs Travelers in Rome, Florence and Venice

Italy is not especially accessible to the blind or wheelchair bound and special needs travelers may find life in Rome, Florence and Venice challenging. Sidewalks can be narrow and uneven while the lack of parking often leads locals to leave cars in unorthodox places. The situation in Rome is however gradually improving. All museums are now accessible and most of the city can be reached with relative ease. The Vatican museums in particular are simple to navigate and provide tactile tours. Most subway stations are equipped with elevators, braille maps and raised floor trails for safely getting from entrance to platform. Stations on the Metro B line all have lifts which isn’t always the case with Metro A however Bus 590 follows the same route above ground and is wheelchair accessible as are many buses in the capital. These are entered from the doors in the center with the assistance of drivers.

Florence is the most accessible of the three cities. The center is flat, pavements are in good condition and traffic is limited. Even if there will never be an elevator to the top of the Duomo many museums can be navigated with ease and are free for the disabled and their companions. There’s also no need to wait in line to enter the Uffizi or Accademia as long as you have proof of any invalidity. Wheelchairs can be rented from the tourist office near the train station, there are 14 public bathrooms in the historic center and many museums have created special tactile tours (055/268224) for the visually impaired. A group of specialized guides provide tours and the list is available online or from the tourist office (Piazza Stazione 4, 055/ 212-245, Mon.-Sat. 9am-7pm and Sun. 9am-1pm).

Venice may seem impenetrable to special needs travelers but 70% of the city is actually accessible to all. The city created a bridge-free itinerary with descriptions in French and English along with a useful accessibility map that highlights ways of avoiding urban barriers. Both can be downloaded online or picked up from the citta per tutti/city for all office (San Marco, Ca’ Farsetti 4136, 041/274-8144, Thurs. 9am-1pm) or other tourist offices around the city. Tactile pavements have recently been installed along many canals and several flat footbridges and non-slip ramps set up along key routes. Wheelchairs can be rented from health care stores and up to 4 can board vaporetto lines 1 and 2 at a time. Users and companions benefit from reduced fares (€1.50) on all public transportation. There are seven public toilets within the city and one in each of the major outlying islands.

Traveling between cities by train is convenient for anyone with reduced mobility and Italo (892929, goes to great lengths to accommodate passengers. Seat numbers and other signage are written in braille and 2 seats in car 8 are reserved for wheel chairs. These are located next to restrooms and snack machines designed for maximum accessibility. In-station assistance can be arranged up to one hour before departure at Florence SMN and Venezia Santa Lucia stations daily from 8am to 10pm and with 12 hours advance notice in Rome Termini and Tiburtina. Trenitalia (800/906060, provides similar service and assistance.

Your Guide to Italy:
Moon: Rome, Florence & Venice
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