**This is a guest post, written by Srin Madipalli**
My name is Srin and I’m the CEO of Accomable, an online platform for finding accessible vacation rentals and hotels around the world. As we come to the end of 2016, I’d like to reflect on one of my highlights of the year (and of my life); my trip to Rio De Janeiro for the 2016 Paralympic Games to deliver a speech at the IPC Inclusion Summit on accessible travel.
I was a little nervous before travelling. As someone with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I use a powered wheelchair and need 24/7 care assistance. I’m an experienced traveller, but was a little apprehensive as to whether accessibility would be sufficient and if the many media scare stories of security problems in Brazil were an actual reality.
Rio was an incredible experience! I find myself struggling to condense my experiences into a blog post that’s not the length of a thesis. It’s full of interesting things to see and do; and when you throw the amazing spectacle of the Paralympics with competitors and visitors from 100s of nations descending on the city into the mix, you have a recipe for something really special.
In early 2016, I was invited by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to deliver a presentation on accessible travel at the IPC Inclusion Summit. The summit is one of the major conferences held at every Paralympics and draws together leading figures from government, industry and the media to discuss issues how to improve inclusion for disabled people around the world. I was also invited to a special reception at British Paralympic House to showcase the best British startups looking to help disabled people.
Invites to both events were a major honour for us at Accomable; especially as we were the only company representing accessible travel. An extraordinary achievement given we’re a very young company in a world of operators who have been around much longer than us.
Rio as a tourist
The first few days of my trip, before the conferences and meetings were very much as a tourist.
The main things I wanted to see were the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugerloaf Mountain, Copacabana beach and more generally get a ‘feel’ of the hustle and bustle of Rio.
Transport around Rio was difficult. While much of the bus and metro network had some kind of accessibility, their coverage felt sparse in the huge sprawl that is Rio. Moreover, the metro trains had a small 7 – 8cm step that was a struggle for my heavy powered wheelchair.
This is a video of getting (bumping) down:
Where public transport wasn’t practical, we did find a taxi company called Especial Coop Taxis who have a fleet of adapted taxis. While Especial Coop were good; at busy times, getting a taxi could be a lengthy wait. The other major issue was that very few taxi drivers speak English; so making sure you get the help of your hotel can be vital!
A tour of the city
We managed to find a tour company that were able to provide adapted tours around Rio in a specially adapted Jeep. This was one crazy experience. While a lot of fun, the Jeep was a really bumpy ride! Moreover, the ramps were a little wobbly and the weight of my wheelchair (around 200kg) was on the weight limit.
Christ the Redeemer and Sugerloaf Mountain
The two main stops on the tour were to see the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city; and go up Sugerloaf Mountain in a cable car that provides breathtaking views of Rio.
Getting to the Christ the Redeemer statue involved going up a set of steep and bumpy roads in the clunky Jeep. Once we got to the statue we realised that there wasn’t an accessible route to very top; just to a lower level platform with an obscured view.
However! I was determined to get to the top as seeing the statue was something on my bucket list. So to get there, we did something a bit dangerous and risky! With the help of staff at the site, I went up an escalator in my powered wheelchair.
Here’s a video of it (please don’t try this at home!!)
I was so glad we did it! The views were just out of this world and something I’ll never forget.
The next stop was Sugarloaf Mountain which we got up to in a cable car. Access was brilliant. Lots of lifts and ramps to make sure the site was completely barrier-free. Again, the views atop the mountain were breathtaking.
We also spent some time by several beaches, which were vibrant, interesting and just beautiful.
It’s the Paralympics! So I had to go see some of the sport. Our hotel, the Windsor Oceanico was a 30 minute bus ride from main Olympic Park in Barra.
The atmosphere at the Olympic Park was buzzing! Despite the gloomy predictions on turnout that worried me, the park was packed to the brim and had record turnouts. We were super fortunate to see action at the velodrome and watch some wheelchair tennis.
We stayed at the Paralympic Family Hotel at the Windsor Oceanico. The hotel was right by the beach and had a great adapted room with a roll-in shower. I loved staying there and had no issues with it. In the picture below, you’ll see our room. I took my own hoist and some bed raisers to make things easier for my personal care assistant, Filipe.
One of my worries before travelling was safety as Rio is well known for having issues with security. However, I found this worry to be completely unfounded if not entering certain areas of the city, which even most locals avoid. While the huge military and police presence deterred troublemakers, I found local Rio citizens to be incredibly warm, helpful and friendly!
First up was ‘Pitch at the Paras’ at British Paralympic House, which was hosted by the British Ambassador to Brazil, Alex Ellis. I was super proud that we were a company deemed to be one my country’s top startups in the sector. I really enjoyed meeting other entrepreneurs and some of TeamGB’s gold medallists and trying out some amazingly well-made caipirinhas!
Here’s a picture of me with Jody Cundy, a British gold medal winner in the men’s cycling time trial.
The final event was the big one, the IPC Inclusion Summit. The conference had a mix of speakers presenting on a variety of topics ranging from policy to technology and how various initiatives in these areas were trying to make the world a more inclusive for disabled people.
My talk went well and I enjoyed meeting lots of interesting people. I’d spent a long time preparing, so in the end, it was a bit of relief when it was all over!
I loved Rio! However, access is not easy and just about do-able if you’re willing to be flexible. Also, be prepared to witness extreme poverty and numerous social problems you will not see in any Western country.
People are gracious, friendly and hospitable. The food is great. But equally, you need to be careful to avoid parts of the city that are dangerous for tourists.
So if you’re up for an adventure, visit Rio!!
*A Note from Curb Free with Cory Lee: This post includes affiliate links. When you click on a link, I may receive a small compensation, which will help this blog grow into a better resource for disabled travelers.wheelchair accessible rio de janeiro tour