This article is the fruit of our May 2009 and September 2006 trips to Rome. It’s intended as an introduction, a starting point for your research and a way to convey realistic expectations. We hope it will help you plan an access strategy based on your interests, travel style, and mobility capabilities and limitations.
This article updates our first article about wheelchair access in Rome, Rolling in Rome 2003, and the Rome sections of Vincenza Voyage and Florence and Rome Update 2005, which are on the websites where this article is published. We include here cumulative updates about everything except those museums, churches and antiquities that we last visited in 2003 or access to which hasn’t changed since then. This article also has updates on those museums, churches and antiquities that we visited in 2005, 2006 and 2009. In the descriptions we’ve indicated the year of our most recent visit. Rolling in Rome 2003 remains relevant only for access to museums, churches and antiquities that we last visited in 2003 or access to which hasn’t changed since then.
In May 2009, we also went to Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara and Parma; our article about wheelchair access in those cities is on the web sites where this article is published.
This article is dedicated to our friends Giorgio Cara and David Caplan, with great warmth and many thanks. Each of them showed us a new dimension to Rome, and our trip wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting and enjoyable without them.
We traveled on our own. In planning our trip we used the Internet and other information sources but not a travel agent.
We’ve tried to be as accurate as possible, but it’s essential to confirm all information, especially access details, directly with hotels, museums, transportation providers and other facilities. As in all research, primary sources are much better than secondary ones. Things change. It’s essential to re-confirm information shortly before acting on it.
After this introduction, the sections of this article are: II – General Access in Rome; III – Public Bathrooms; IV - Electricity; Wheelchair Repair; Personal Care; Medical Needs; V – Intercity Trains in Italy – Trenitalia; VI – Transportation in Rome; VII – Hotels; VIII – Museums; IX – Antiquities; X – Churches; XI – Synagogue and Jewish Museum; XII – Other Sites; XIII – Walking Tours; XIV – Teaching Company Lectures; XV – Information; XVI – Italian Disability Organizations; and Appendices.
About Us. Because one’s physical capabilities and limitations, and his equipment, affect the access achievable, and because his point of reference informs his perception of access, we’ll tell you about ourselves. We are fortunate to live in San Francisco, where wheelchair access is generally excellent. Howard has muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair. Michele is able-bodied. On this trip Howard used a Quickie P110 folding electric wheelchair that is 25 inches (63.5 cm) wide, weighs approximately 100 pounds (including the batteries, which are removable) and has gel cell batteries. The footrests are elevating and removable; the wheelchair is 48 inches (122 cm) long with the footrests in the shortest position (including Howard’s toes protruding past the footrests by 2 inches (5 cm)). Howard is 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and, when seated, 57 inches (1.45 meters) high. He cannot walk. All other dimensions in this article are approximate; we didn’t have a tape measure.
Good News about Smoking. As in 2005 and 2006, we were delighted by the complete lack of smoking in restaurants and cafes. A national law became effective in 2005 that bans smoking inside restaurants, bars and cafes, except in specially ventilated smoking rooms. (We saw no restaurants or cafes with smoking rooms.) The penalties for patrons are strict, and those for proprietors even stricter. In our experience the law is taken quite seriously. Smoking is permitted at outdoor tables, but this was rarely a problem: it seems that smokers have become more considerate even when smoking outdoors. Also, if you eat outside in a crowded, bustling city such as Rome, vehicle exhaust is unavoidable, so you can’t expect perfectly clear air anyway. A collateral benefit of the smoking ban we noticed is that fewer people use cell phones in restaurants – many go outside to have a cigarette and use their cell phones.
Phone Numbers. The country code for international calls to Italy is +39. Not all phone numbers in Italy have the same number of digits, so it’s important to double check phone numbers.
Floor Numbers. In describing buildings we use “first-floor” per Italian usage to designate the floor immediately above the ground floor, which Americans refer to as the “second floor.”
Appendices. A hotel access questionnaire is Appendix A. You are welcome to adapt it for your own use. A metric conversion guide is Appendix B. A dictionary of key access terms in Italian and a pronunciation guide, both by Cornelia Danielson of Barrier Free Travel, are Appendix C.
Legal Stuff. This article and the appendices may not be reproduced or used for profit without our written permission, but readers are welcome to reproduce or use them for any other purpose.
A Call for Advocacy. Researching your trip, the trip itself and the time after your return are great opportunities to educate and advocate for access. If we learn in our research that a hotel, transportation provider or museum isn’t accessible and providing access appears feasible, or that something is accessible but could be improved, Howard often sends an immediate email with detailed recommendations. On our trip we provide feedback in real time. After we return we write detailed letters advocating better access, including appeals to government officials. We aren’t only critical - we try to acknowledge and appreciate good access, and we also recognize the logistical and architectural difficulties and limitations in making old buildings and ancient sites accessible. Our communications have usually been well received and our efforts have helped spur access improvements.
Howard has written letters to the mayors of Rome and Paris about access issues, including the need for more curb ramps, and to the Rome and Paris airports. When writing to government officials, we send copies to local disability organizations if appropriate. We’ve sometimes found that a request or recommendation from us, as foreign tourists, can lend additional credibility to similar advocacy by local individuals and disability organizations. Sometimes our efforts add to the cumulative weight of those made by locals. Ironically, it may be easier for officials to ignore or delay action on a complaint by a local than one by a foreigner.
We urge you to use your trip as an opportunity to help move the ball forward on wheelchair access - you will already have the information and the impressions will be fresh in your mind, so writing an effective letter or email won’t take much extra time.
Although many barriers remain, we continue to be heartened to discover a growing awareness of access. People sincerely want to help, although they may not always know exactly how. We saw locals and tourists in manual and electric wheelchairs, although far more in manual wheelchairs. Good access planning is evident in new construction and major renovations.
Terrain and Paths of Travel. Rome is rugged; there are many hills; the streets are bustling, lively, chaotic and crowded; and the pavement is uneven.
Many intersections, even major ones, lack curb ramps. Many site ramps and curb ramps are steeper than in the U.S. When we say that a place is accessible by a ramp, we mean it is physically accessible, not necessarily that it is accessible independently or would qualify as accessible under U.S. law. Even with Howard’s powerful electric wheelchair, Michele sometimes had to push going uphill, guide going downhill and tilt and lift the wheelchair on curbs and up steps entering stores and restaurants. Because Howard uses an electric wheelchair and we traveled together, these barriers were less significant than they would be for a person using a manual wheelchair or traveling alone.
Many small and medium-size streets lack sidewalks and are made of “Saint Peter’s stone,” so named because it has a point, like the dome of Saint Peter’s, on the side facing the earth. The stones are picturesque but uneven; don’t roll too fast immediately after eating. Cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians share the same space. The good thing about these streets is that there is no curb, hence no need for curb ramps.
Parking is tight and parked vehicles often block curb ramps, although we encountered this less in 2006 and 2009 than previously. Construction projects that block sidewalks do not provide an alternative path of travel or a protected path, as they are required to do in the U.S. Even in streets with sidewalks, it is often necessary to roll in the street because of blocked curb ramps, blocked sidewalks and construction obstacles. Even a power wheelchair user or a strong person in a manual wheelchair will require frequent assistance up and down curbs. But don’t be discouraged. People are very willing to help.
Traffic is heavy on the main streets; in addition to cars there are many motorcycles and scooters. Drivers are aggressive in an impersonal way, but very skilled, alert and aware of pedestrians; they are not angry or deliberately inconsiderate. Many of the streets are one-way, making crossing manageable. The yellow lights are long compared to the U.S., as are the entire traffic light cycles, so there is ample time to cross. Some areas in the center of Rome have limited vehicular access, although some drivers ignore the prohibitions.
Roman pedestrians are unfazed by drivers, unafraid of them and, it seems, sometimes even unaware of them.
Solo Wheelchair Travelers. Rome is endlessly fascinating, lively and energizing. Despite the obstacles described above, we believe that some people in wheelchairs would be able to travel to Rome alone, if they are used to the hustle and bustle of a dense city and willing to ask for help frequently.
Because we travel together, certain inaccessible features in hotel rooms that would present significant barriers for someone traveling alone aren’t obstacles for us. We don’t mean to minimize their importance but we sometimes forgot to keep track of them. In describing hotel rooms, we generally haven’t included items such as door pressure, door swing clear space, and accessibility of light switches, temperature controls, electric outlets, window latches and curtain pulls. We recognize that even a relatively accessible hotel room, restaurant, store or monument may be extremely difficult or impossible for someone in a wheelchair traveling alone unless he or she is willing to ask for help.
Restaurants and Stores. Many restaurants and stores have a threshold step of anywhere from 2 to 8 inches (5 to 20 cm). The proprietors are very willing to tilt and lift your wheelchair, although they often require instructions on how to do it. Many restaurants have outdoor tables, and one of the joys about being in Rome in nice weather is eating outside. Enjoy your meals outdoors, as the Romans do, and you will avoid barriers.
Museums, Monuments, Churches and Antiquities. We urge you to try to tour all major museums, monuments, palazzos, churches, parks and antiquities that interest you - they are likely to be at least partially accessible and you will see something interesting and beautiful on the way.
Stair Lifts. The stair lifts at many museums, monuments and churches in Italy (even many new lifts) are typically narrower, shorter and have a lower weight capacity than in the U.S., sometimes as low as 330 pounds (150 kilograms). (The typical capacity in the U.S. for lifts in public accommodations is 750 pounds or, less commonly, 500.) Howard’s wheelchair barely fit many of them - perhaps by 2 inches in width (1 inch on either side). Howard’s Quickie power wheelchair is standard size; people with wider chairs would have difficulty fitting on some of the stair lifts. Our strong impression is that in planning for wheelchair access, the norm in Italy, the default, is a manual wheelchair, and power wheelchairs are still considered unusual. And most Italian manual wheelchairs we’ve noticed have little or no camber and, therefore, are narrow. (Camber is when the large wheels are angled so the space between them at ground level is somewhat wider than the space between them at the level of the seat - the angle of the large wheel to the ground is less than 90 degrees when viewed from behind the wheelchair. Camber greatly improves stability and maneuverability.)
Generally, and unlike typical lifts in the U.S., Italian lifts are able to operate with the moveable safety edges at the front and back in the lowered, open position (approximately parallel to the main platform and the floor), as distinguished from the raised position (at perhaps a 45 degree angle to the main platform and the floor). Howard’s wheelchair footrests often protruded past the front edge and the rear tires often rested on the lowered rear edge. This is less safe because raised edges help prevent the wheelchair from moving forward or backward, so it is crucial to have one’s brakes on. But it mitigates somewhat the small platform size.
ATM’s/Banks. Michele used ATM’s at banks in various locations. All were too high for a wheelchair. We had no occasion to enter banks, but on casual observation the entrances to many banks seemed to be up a difficult threshold step and through an inaccessible security booth.
Public bathrooms in Rome typically are large, well designed and clean, with high quality plumbing, often including bidets or handheld hoses in addition to a regular sink and faucet. They also have high quality tile, often of marble or another stone. Many are staffed by an attendant who cleans them frequently. The main exception to the foregoing is bathrooms in restaurants, which typically are quite small.
Every museum we visited that is accessible has a well-designed accessible bathroom. Because museums are generally free for disabled people, if you need to use the bathroom and are near a museum, you can do so even if you don’t want to see the exhibits. We’ve also had good luck finding accessible bathrooms in government buildings, and there are plenty of government buildings in Rome. Some of the larger and more upscale hotels have accessible public bathrooms. Most employees, guards, government workers and salespeople are quite willing to let a person in a wheelchair use the bathroom even if he isn’t a customer. Howard has even used the accessible bathroom in the emergency department of Fatebenefratelli Hospital on Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina). We generally didn’t seek accessible bathrooms in restaurants or in most churches (Saint Peter’s and a couple of the other major churches do have accessible bathrooms). Most of the train stations we’ve been to in large cities in Italy have large, clean accessible bathrooms.
Wheelchair accessible bathrooms often comprise a single user, unisex, lockable room with sufficient space for a companion, rather than an accessible stall in multi-stall men’s and women’s bathrooms. Sometimes one must ask for a key; this minor inconvenience is well worthwhile because it ensures that the bathroom is clean and isn’t likely to be occupied by an able-bodied person who could be using the regular bathroom.
Most accessible bathrooms have large toilets that are higher than the typical accessible high toilet in the U.S. Typically the toilet is long and has a tank, which means that if there is enough space next to the toilet for a wheelchair, which there usually is, the wheelchair will be well aligned with the toilet. (A design flaw we’ve occasionally seen in square bathrooms where the sink and toilet are caddy corner from each other is that there isn’t quite enough space to get past the sink and next to the toilet.) Often there is a cut out at the front of the porcelain bowl designed to enable the user to use the handheld hose. Typically there are flip-up grab bars mounted on one side on the wall behind the toilet. An emergency alarm with a pull cord is always within easy reach. The sinks are large and the faucet handles are long. Even some bathrooms that are not fully accessible are large enough for a wheelchair.
The attention to bathrooms, water and plumbing in Rome and, indeed, in cities throughout Italy is a legacy of ancient Rome, whose hydraulic engineering set the standard for the world until the 20th century, where public baths were a major cultural and social institution, and where abundant fresh water was available to everyone daily. (Just how much water is the subject of lively and longstanding scholarly debate; the issue will probably never be resolved definitively but there is a consensus that supplying all one million Roman residents with sufficient water, albeit only through public fountains and baths in the case of the poor and middle classes, is one of the great achievements of ancient Rome.)
An Example of a Teriffic Accessible Bathroom - Casa della Memoria e della Storia
This library and resource center for the study of Roman urbanism, located at via S. Francesco di Sales, 5, off via di Lungara in Trastevere was newly renovated when Howard visited it in 2006. It has a superb accessible bathroom - large, with a large toilet, plenty of transfer space adjacent to the toilet, a large sink, and an emergency alarm cord. The center is not a museum, and all its materials are in Italian. The employees were very cordial when Howard asked to use the bathroom, proudly pointing out that it is accessible.
Electricity and Charging your Wheelchair
Italy uses 220 volt AC power. The standard plug has three prongs in a straight line (one is the ground) and is different from the plug used in most other European countries. Plug adapters are available at any travel store; we recommend buying several before your trip.
If you use an electric wheelchair, we recommend getting a wheelchair battery charger with settings for 110 and 220 volts. It eliminates the need for a separate converter. A surprisingly small, lightweight and inexpensive charger with dual settings is available from MK Battery. www.mkbattery.com Also try Lester Electrical. www.lesterelectrical.com
We highly recommend gel cell batteries, which are non-spillable, safer and more acceptable to airlines than wet batteries. Air travel is difficult enough for passengers who use electric wheelchairs; wet batteries compound the problems for everyone.
In 2005 Howard needed to purchase a new battery charger in Rome. In 2009 he needed some minor wheelchair repairs in Bologna. Both times he called the Italian branch of Sunrise Medical for referrals to wheelchair dealers, and Sunrise immediately provided excellent referrals.
Sunrise Medical – Italy. www.sunrisemedical.it email@example.com Main phone +39-052-357-3111. Fax +39-052-357-0060. Address: via Riva, 20, Montale, Piacenza. Jonathan Pezzali, the manager, is very helpful and speaks English well; his direct phone is +39-0523-573-146. Jonathan.Pezzali@SunriseMedical.it Roberto Mandelli, technician; direct phone +39-0523-573-130. Open Monday to Friday 8:30 AM - 12:30 PM and 1:30 PM - 5:30 PM.
Medical Equipment Dealer in Rome. Ortopedia Mancini. www.ortopediamancini.it Phone +39-06-321-3148. Fax +39-06-321-3208. Address: via Tacito, 94 (in Prati neighborhood). Howard purchased a battery charger at the preceding location in 2005. There is another location at via dei Savorelli, 3. Phone +39-06-637-3302. Open Monday to Friday 8:00 AM - noon and 2:30 PM - 6:30 PM. They don’t speak English.
The United States Embassy in Rome provides referrals to English speaking doctors and dentists. www.usembassy.it Phone +39-06-467-41. Fax +39-06-488-2672.
Foundation Santa Lucia – Santa Lucia Rehabilitation Hospital, several miles outside central Rome, offers physical therapy and an accessible swimming pool. We didn’t go there, so this information is based on correspondence. A doctor’s letter is required in advance. www.hsantalucia.it Phone +39-06-515-011/014/022/023/024. Fax +39-06-503-2097. Address: via Ardeatina, 306; 00179 Rome.
V. INTERCITY TRAINS IN ITALY - TRENITALIA
Italy has an extensive nationwide system of intercity trains serving major cities, medium-sized ones and even small towns. The coverage is far more extensive than in the United States. The equipment ranges from sleek, modern, fast Eurostar coaches to clunky, antiquated, slow trains serving regional routes. Making the system accessible to passengers who use wheelchairs is certainly a complex challenge considering how extensive the system is; how long it had been in place before a consensus developed about the need for wheelchair access; the complexity, variety and age of the physical infrastructure; and the fact that the platforms are low while the trains are high.
We’ve taken intercity trains in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009. Our train travel has been of two types: day trips without luggage, where the purpose is sightseeing and the consequences of a glitch are relatively minor; and on each trip to Italy, one or two trips with luggage to get from one city where we stayed to another. We’ve certainly had more stressful situations and frustrating moments then we had wished, especially in our departures from the Bologna station in 2009, but despite these, taking the train is a fast, economical and reliable way to travel from city to city. However, it takes planning, patience and flexibility.
Wheelchair passengers are required to reserve a place on the train, by phone or in person, with the “Sale Blu” “Blue Room” (marked with the blue wheelchair logo) at the station of departure at least 24 hours in advance. In addition, check-in at the Blue Room is required 30-40 minutes before departure. At small stations the employees aren’t strict about the time required for check-in and may not even be available that early. But regardless, always check in before proceeding to the platform; don’t just wait at the platform and assume someone will be there to help.
Wheelchair passengers embark from the platform to the train, and vice versa, by a movable, employee-operated mechanical lift. Reservations are required, so Trenitalia can ensure availability of the lift and the employees to operate it. In large cities where the station is a terminus, getting on and off the train isn’t rushed, but in small cities the train stops for only two or three minutes and the process is quite harried. Be sure to organize your luggage.
The other reason reservations are required is that many trains (especially regional and local ones) have no cars with wheelchair spaces and those trains that do have only a few spaces. This is a major drawback - passengers in wheelchairs have only a subset of train times available to them. For example, in 2009 we took day trips from Bologna to Ravenna, Ferrara and Parma, and when departing Bologna had to choose between leaving at nine in the morning or close to noon. There were departures between those times, but those trains were not equipped with wheelchair spaces. These limitations also preclude flexibility and spontaneity - it’s impossible to change plans at the last minute (other than canceling a trip entirely).
When purchasing tickets on the Trenitalia web site it is essential to make sure that the train has wheelchair spaces and, in Italy, to call or visit the Blue Room as described above. Just because there is a wheelchair symbol on the web site for the train you want does not mean the employees will be ready for you; you must inform Trenitalia in advance. It’s also important to understand that, for able-bodied and disabled passengers alike, purchasing a ticket isn’t the same as reserving a space on a particular train. We found that the best procedure is to reserve a wheelchair space in advance but buy the tickets the day of departure; when you arrive at the Blue Room, the employees can help you purchase tickets. However, like other procedures, this varies from one station to another.
Procedures vary somewhat from one station to another and even from one employee to another. Also, we have the impression that the procedures are in flux, so it is essential to check everything carefully. Be patient and allow plenty of time.
One major drawback and limiting factor is that the movable lifts used to get wheelchair passengers on and off the train are narrow and the folding ramps at the ends are short. Also, not all lifts are the same size or have the same weight capacity. At home Howard uses a Permobil wheelchair, which is considerably heavier and perhaps slightly wider than the electric Quickie he uses when traveling; even the largest lift probably could not accommodate a Permobil. According to Trenitalia’s web site, wheelchairs up to the following dimensions and loaded weight can be accommodated: 27½ inches (70 cm) wide; 47.2 inches (120 cm) long; 42.9 inches (109 cm) high; and 440 pounds (200 kg) loaded weight. But some of the lifts we’ve encountered over the years have been smaller than those dimensions. Often there was almost no room to spare on the sides, and Michele had to shorten Howard’s footrests to the shortest position.
In Bologna in 2009 we returned from a trip to Ferrara one evening and were met with a lift too narrow for Howard’s wheelchair; the assistance employees had to insert an improvised makeshift ramp over the edges of the lift. We were told that the large lift that had been used to get Howard onto the train that morning had broke during the day. The next day, when we tried to make reservations for Parma, we were told to check back the following day because they were borrowing a large lift from a station in another city and weren’t sure when it would arrive; ultimately, it arrived and we were able to go to Parma the day after our preferred date.
The most difficult situation involved our trip to Rome. We checked out of our hotel and showed up at the Bologna train station with our luggage with plenty of time, reservation in hand, and were told we couldn’t go to Rome that day because the large lift was broken (again). Intense negotiations ensued, and the assistance employees ended up transferring Howard to a small manual wheelchair, using a small lift to get him on the train, then squeezing his own wheelchair on the small lift and onto the train, and finally transferring him back into his wheelchair on the train. We were afraid we’d miss the train, but they held it for us.
In many stations there is a passageway under the tracks; depending on the train one takes, it’s often necessary to go through the passageway to reach the track. In most stations there are elevators from the main part of the station to the passageway and throughout the passageway to each of the tracks. This is one part of the system that’s always worked: in our experience the elevators have never been broken. Depending on the station and the time, some elevators are open to the public and others are operated only by Trenitalia employees. But because wheelchair passengers must check in at the Sale Blu and be accompanied to the track by an employee, the elevator will be operated by an employee regardless of what time it is.
Although we had heard that passengers in electric wheelchairs are required to transfer to a train seat or a manual wheelchair on the train, Howard was never asked to do this and always remained in his wheelchair. First class was very spacious; second class, while not quite as large, had ample room for his wheelchair. Each car that has a wheelchair space has a medium size accessible bathroom nearby. The rides generally were pleasant, fast and smooth. On trains where the only accessible car is in first class, wheelchair passengers are usually charged second class fare.
In planning our 2009 trip, we e-mailed Trenitalia’s disabled passenger information service for Bologna inquiring about the schedule of accessible trains and received a detailed reply in English within 24 hours.
www.trenitalia.com Trenitalia has an English-language website that includes detailed information for passengers with disabilities; click on the wheelchair logo at the bottom of the homepage. From there one can find contact information for disability services for stations throughout Italy.
Rome, Lazio and Umbria information for disabled passengers: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trenitalia national helpline for disabled passengers: 199-30-30-60. (We didn’t try to call this number from outside Italy.)
VI. TRANSPORTATION IN ROME
Trambus. Trambus, operated by the Comune (city government) of Rome, provides paratransit services. The vehicles are large wheelchair accessible vans, most with lifts at the side, the others with ramps at the rear. The vans are spacious, and interior height was never a problem. We took rides to the airport in 2005, 2006 and 2009; from the train station in 2006 and 2009; and had a few other rides within Rome. The drivers were always on time, skilled (driving a large van through the crowded, narrow streets of Rome is no mean feat) and courteous. As of 2009, there was a flat rate of €23 per trip within Rome and €60 for airport transportation. These rates are more than a regular taxi but less than a private accessible transportation service. Reservations are required for both airport and in-city transportation. The only hassle is that reservations must be reconfirmed the evening before a ride.
www.trambus.com (The web site is only in Italian.) http://www.romeguide.it/disabili/trambusdisabiliing.htm has an explanation of Trambus’s accessible transportation services in English. Phone +39-06-4695-4695; 06-4695-4001 or 06-4695-4436 or 06-4695-4437; Fax +39-06-4695-4426 or +39-06-4695-4457. Marco Pedroni speaks English.
Private Van Services
In 2003 we took several rides with Fausta Trasporti. They were reliable and convenient, but expensive. The driver was gracious, helpful and spoke English fairly well. The van was clean, large and equipped with a heavy-duty lift.
Fausta Trasporti. www.faustatrasporti.it email@example.com Phone +39-06-503-6040. Fax +39-06-519-684-17.
Other accessible van services, which we didn’t use, are:
Leurini SRL. firstname.lastname@example.org Phone/Fax +39-06-308-913-93.
Schiaffini Travel. Schiaffini is a large company with several locations in Rome. www.schiaffini.com email@example.com Phone +39-06-713-0531. Fax +39-06-713-0537.
Somet. www.sometviaggi.com firstname.lastname@example.org Phone +39-06-661-821-13. Fax +39-06-669-0240.
Private services are expensive in part because the vans are large enough for several wheelchair passengers, so, in effect, one is paying for unused space if one is alone or with only one companion. Prices are sometimes negotiable.
Buses and Trams
In 2003 we took several different bus lines on several occasions. We didn’t take buses in 2005, 2006 or 2009, so the following is based on 2003. Many Roman bus lines are accessible, but despite the schedule frequency, a wheelchair traveler can wait a long time for the bus. Not all the buses on an “accessible” line are actually accessible; the percentage may vary depending on the line. The buses are of the low floor design (like those in Paris and Spain; the low floor makes for a smooth ride), and wheelchair access is by a retractable ramp at the rear entrance. Almost half the accessible vehicles we tried to use had broken ramps or the drivers were unable to get the ramps to function. The effective slope was often steep, depending on the sidewalk and street topography at the particular stop. The drivers were poorly trained on the ramps – sometimes they deployed the ramp so the bottom edge was on the street but too close to the curb for a wheelchair to alight. The wheelchair securement area in the bus is near the side entrance but quite short and often lacks tie downs; there is typically a short seat belt.
The bottom line is that one can’t rely on the buses to get anywhere on time. (Able-bodied Romans say the same thing.) One can get lucky, but don’t count on it. But on vacation, one can often better afford the extra time - getting places on time on vacation, especially in Rome, is less critical than being on time to work or an appointment.
In 2009 we saw many new buses, most of which had wheelchair logos and were equipped with ramps, but we didn’t try any of them. We did take one tram, which was old and not accessible. But the boarding platforms (which were up a gradually sloped ramp) were level with the floor of the tram, so there was no vertical gap. There was a horizontal gap of around 8 inches (20 cm); our friend enlisted some passengers to help carry Howard’s wheelchair over it.
www.atac.roma.it The website of ATAC, the public transit agency, has some information in English. We strongly urge you to call ATAC when you are in Rome to confirm the information. General information: Phone +39-06-57-003. Information for disabled passengers: Phone (within Italy) 800-154-451. Fax +39-06-4695-2087.
We’ve never tried the Metro. Many of the stations are stated to be accessible, but those in the centro storico near where we stayed (Colosseo, Circo Massimo and Cavour, all on Line B) are not. Contact ATAC at www.atac.roma.it and the above phone numbers.
For hotels, as for real estate, the three most important factors are location, location and location (assuming good wheelchair access). Strolling through a vibrant, beautiful, interesting neighborhood is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling. It’s exciting to stay in the heart of the centro storico (historic city center), where one can roll by the same building or piazza ten times and discover something new and enriching each time. Strolling at night is romantic and exhilarating; staying at a central location makes it easier to remain out late. A central location is also more conducive to an afternoon nap because it’s easy to go out again afterwards.
Because accessible public transportation is sometimes unreliable, difficult to find and subject to change, staying in a central location is critical unless you are able to transfer easily to an ordinary taxi. Being within rolling distance of museums, antiquities, monuments, churches, restaurants and shopping saves time, energy, uncertainty, frustration and expense. Up to a point, we would forego a large room, charming atmosphere and contemporary amenities for a great location.
In keeping with the Italian appreciation for water and bathing, almost all wheelchair accessible hotel rooms we’ve seen in Rome and elsewhere in Italy have roll-in showers, unlike in the U.S. and some other countries where only a minority of “accessible” guest rooms have them.
In researching hotels we often start with Trip Advisor www.tripadvisor.com and Venere www.venere.com When inquiring about a hotel, we use the questionnaire attached as Appendix A and ask the hotel to email photos of the bathroom. Many hotels have been willing to send photos in recent years. When it comes to wheelchair access, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Hotels - Where We Stayed
We enthusiastically recommend Hotel Ponte Sisto, where we stayed in 2009 and 2006, and Albergo Santa Chiara, where we stayed in 2005 and 2003. Both are excellent for wheelchair travelers with a companion and for slow walkers. They would pose difficulties for a solo wheelchair traveler, depending on one’s abilities and reach. Considering the age of the buildings and the typical Roman constraints, the proprietors have done a very good job in providing access.
Hotel Ponte Sisto. Via dei Pettinari, 64. Phone +39-06-686-310. Fax +39-06-683-017-12. www.hotelpontesisto.it email@example.com Four star.
We stayed at this elegant but unpretentious hotel in 2009 and 2006. It’s very well located: as its name implies, it’s close to the Ponte Sisto (Sixtus bridge) leading to Trastevere, and it’s near Palazzo Spada, via Guilia and Piazza Farnese. The rooms, courtyard and other common areas are beautiful and well maintained. There is a large, sunny courtyard enclosed by the building’s orange/red stucco walls, with abundant plants and a fountain; breakfast is served there in good weather and it’s a quiet, bright place to relax after the intensity of a day in the streets of Rome. The staff was helpful and professional and breakfast was good.
The street, via dei Pettinari, has rough Saint Peter’s stones, the typical street pavement in Rome, and no sidewalks or curbs. There is a threshold step approximately 3 inches (7-8 cm) high at the hotel entrance. The entrance doors are not automatic. A portable ramp is available, which the doorman will set out when he sees you; if you are entering and the doorman isn’t there, you must find someone and have them ask a hotel employee.
The courtyard is level with the lobby. The floor leading to the breakfast room and bar is gradually sloped. The elevator is fairly large, and was plenty wide for Howard’s wheelchair. Elevator depth is adequate, with several inches to spare lengthwise with Howard’s footrests in a medium-length position. The elevator was large enough for Howard and two able-bodied people.
There are at least three accessible rooms, and possibly five, all of which face the courtyard. On both visits we stayed in Room 107, which we were told is the largest of the accessible rooms. (We saw Room 105 in 2005. It has a roll-in shower and isn’t as large as 107 but is adequate size.) The bedroom is large and has two tall, elegantly framed windows with bright sunlight and a sweeping view of the courtyard. The room is well lit and quiet. The nightstands at either side of the bed are movable and the light switches above them are at an accessible height. The bed is very comfortable. The closet is partially accessible – the drawers are at an accessible height but the pole for hangers is too high.
The marble-tiled bathroom is square and fairly large. There is a threshold of around ½” to ¾” (1-2 cm) between the bathroom and bedroom. There is plenty of open space on one side of the toilet for a wheelchair. However, because the tank is built into the wall, the toilet is shorter than most Italian accessible toilets we’ve seen (“short” meaning “not long”; it isn’t too low to the ground). There is a notch in the front of the toilet bowl, and a handheld water hose nearby in lieu of a bidet. There is a well-positioned vertical grab bar at the wall side of the toilet, but no horizontal bars, so the transfer situation is not ideal, but not bad. The sink is large, with plenty of space for toiletries. The hair dryer is inaccessibly high. There is a medium size roll-in shower with grab bars and a small wall-mounted seat. There is no threshold between the shower and the rest of the bathroom. The water is hot whenever desired and very forceful. The shower controls and soap dish are a bit too high to reach in a wheelchair. There is an electric towel warmer that is too high to reach in a wheelchair.
After our visit in 2006, I wrote to the hotel asking them to improve a few minor access elements. They responded immediately and made several of the changes.
Albergo Santa Chiara. Via Santa Chiara, 21. www.albergosantachiara.com firstname.lastname@example.org Phone +39-066-872-979. Fax +39-066-873-144. Three star.
In 2003 and 2005 we stayed at this terrific gem located near Piazza Minerva, one block from the Pantheon. The central location is perfect. The lobby is much nicer than it appears on the website. The staff was professional and breakfast was good. The front entrance is level with the street, with sliding doors that open automatically. There are three stairs from the lobby to the breakfast room, so we ate breakfast in the lobby.
The only barrier for us was the elevator – it’s shallow and the control buttons are difficult to reach. Michele had to remove Howard’s footrests for his wheelchair to fit in the elevator. With the footrests removed, both of us fit, but just barely. According to hotel employees, the elevator door opening is approximately 31½ inches (80 cm) wide; we didn’t measure but this seems accurate.
We stayed in the accessible room, Room 120. (We believe it is the only accessible room.) It is quiet, large and extremely well lit, though without a view or much natural light. It’s pleasant enough that one doesn’t mind spending time in the room for a break from the hustle-bustle of central Rome. The bed is good transfer height and firm but not too firm. The doorways are 35 inches (90 cm) wide.
The room has two bathrooms, both tiled in travertine. The able-bodied one has a stand-up shower. The accessible one is extraordinarily large, with a roll-in shower on a gradually sloping floor, a pullout shower nozzle in a large sink and, in lieu of a bidet, a handheld water hose near the toilet. The shower has well-placed grab bars and a small wall-mounted seat. The water is hot whenever desired and very forceful. Both bathrooms have emergency call cords and nice features such as electric towel warmers, large mirrors and effective fans. The accessible one even has two flush buttons for the toilet, one wall-mounted forward of the toilet and one on the toilet. As is typical in Roman accessible bathrooms, the grab bar alongside the toilet (away from the side wall) is mounted on the back wall and can be flipped up.
Transfer to the toilet is not ideal but not bad. There is sufficient transfer space on one side of the toilet, but the water hose, a soap dish and a plumbing fixture protrude several inches from the back wall, and the section of the back wall next to the toilet is at a slight angle from the section immediately behind the toilet. A wheelchair can’t go all the way against the back wall or completely parallel to the toilet. A complete side-to side transfer isn’t possible, but a side transfer at a moderate angle is; the angle between toilet and wheelchair is much closer to parallel than to a right angle.
There are some barriers that are minor for someone traveling with a companion but significant for a solo wheelchair traveler. The shower hose and its controls are too high and the controls lack a temperature indicator. One of the bathroom light switches is inaccessible. Though the lower closet shelves are accessible, the pole for hangers is too high and there is no clear path to it. The dresser is large but the drawer handles are far apart and difficult or impossible for most people to reach from a wheelchair. The window controls and curtain pulls are too high.
Hotels - Other Possibilities
The following hotels are worth considering; we visited them but haven’t stayed there.
Hotel Cosmopolita. Via di Santa Eufemia, 5. www.hotelcosmopolita.com email@example.com Phone +39-06-997-071. Fax +39-06-997-0707. Four star.
In 2003 we visited this hotel near Trajan’s Markets in search of an accessible bathroom. The immediate terrain is somewhat hilly and there is a steep slope at the entrance. The hotel was renovated in 2002. There is a large accessible bathroom on the ground floor. The desk clerk was friendly and helpful when Howard asked to use the bathroom. He told us the hotel has accessible guest rooms. We didn’t inspect them but this hotel is worth considering for someone who wants to stay very close to the Imperial Forums.
Grand Hotel de la Minerve. Piazza della Minerva, 69. www.grandhoteldelaminerve.com Phone +39-06-695-201. Fax +39-06-679-4165. Five star.
This luxurious hotel in Piazza della Minerva, caddy corner from Albergo Santa Chiara, has a steeply ramped front entrance (originally low stairs, which have been paved over to create a ramp) and a famous rooftop bar with a panoramic view. There are several large elevators, but the bar is up two flights of stairs from the top floor and isn’t served by the elevators. We didn’t inspect the guest rooms.
Hotel Pomezia.. Via dei Chiavari, 13. www.hotelpomezia.it firstname.lastname@example.org Phone/fax +39-06-686-1371. Two star.
We visited this hotel in 2005. It’s in a great location between Largo Argentina and Campo di Fiori in the heart of the historic center. It has an accessible guest room with a large, well-designed accessible bathroom including a roll-in shower. The accessible room is on the ground floor; the bedroom is not large but is adequate size. The hotel and guest room are clean, basic and spartan. The people at the Pomezia were very gracious and the rate was inexpensive. There is one medium height stair at the entrance, so assistance is required.
Hotel Residenza in Farnese. Via del Mascherone, 59. www.residenzafarneseroma.it email@example.com Phone +39-06-682-10980. Fax +39-06-803-21049. Four star.
We visited this hotel in 2006. It’s well located, across the street from Palazzo Farnese, near via Giulia. The street is sloped somewhat steeply upward toward the entrance, which has no stairs. (There is no sidewalk or curb.) There are automatic doors. The hotel is located in an ancient monastery and the common areas on the ground floor are a bit dark. We asked to see an accessible room, but the one accessible room was occupied. The staff told us the accessible room has a roll-in shower and doesn’t have a view. The staff was friendly and showed us the common areas on the ground floor. There is a somewhat steep ramp in the lobby bridging an 8-inch (20 cm) high change in level. Howard fit in the elevator with his footrests in the shortened position.
Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all government-owned museums and most others, such as the Vatican Museums and the Jewish Museum. It’s still necessary to get a ticket at the ticket counter, although guards were sometimes willing to let us in without a ticket. The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, interesting images and graphics - another reason why it’s advisable to get tickets.
For information about the following museums, which we haven’t visited since 2003 or access to which hasn’t changed since then, see Rolling in Rome 2003: Villa Borghese (Museo e Galleria Borghese); Palazzo Doria Pamphilj; Museo di Roma (Palazzo Braschi); and the Vatican Museums.
Palazzo Altemps - Museo Nazionale Romano (Roman Sculpture Museum) (2006)
A level accessible entrance is located just a few feet away from the main entrance. A moderately sloped ramp on the ground floor leads to a large, attendant-operated elevator. The galleries are on the ground floor and first floor. There are changes in level of several inches among many of the galleries on the first floor, but each change in level has a ramp. Some ramps are short and fairly steep, which was not a problem in Howard’s electric wheelchair, but many manual wheelchair users would need assistance. We didn’t look at the bathroom. The staff was extremely helpful.
Access is very good in this Richard Meier building that was completed in 2006 to house Augustus’s “altar of peace.” A gradually sloped ramp outside the building leads to the entrance, which is at the south side of the building. The ramp is behind the stairs and fountain that face via di Ripetta; it’s closer to the river side than to via di Ripetta and is a bit difficult to see from via di Ripetta. The block of via di Ripetta where the museum is located is closed to vehicles and paved in bumpy stones. Embedded in the wall along via di Ripetta is the Res Gestae of Augustus, the inscription in which the first Roman emperor recounted his life and achievements.
Inside, a gradually sloped ramp leads to the room where the altar is located. The only obstacle is a threshold 3 inches (7-8 cm) high at the entrance to the altar room; this is a narrow threshold, not a stair, and one must go up and then down it to enter the room. Understandably, historical authenticity trumped access in this element. Inside the altar room, the passageway around the perimeter between the base of the altar and the walls was wide enough for Howard’s wheelchair with several inches to spare on each side.
A relatively large elevator serves the museum’s ground floor, basement and upper floor terrace. In the basement a gradually sloped ramp leads down from the level of the elevator to an exhibit gallery. The bathrooms are in the basement. There is a large accessible stall in the men’s bathroom (and, presumably, also in the women’s) with a large, high toilet; ample side transfer space, grab bars, a large sink and an emergency alarm cord.
The selection of Richard Meier to create the first entirely new major building in the historic center of Rome in 50 years was controversial because the mayor of Rome selected him instead of holding a competition; because he is American, not Italian; and because he is a modernist. The work has met with mixed reactions. The current mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, has stated his desire to tear down the building, and, reportedly, is supported in this goal by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
In our opinion, the building is a masterpiece. It’s modest in scale, the ideal size and shape for the altar. It’s respectful of the site and the street line, and yet its glass walls have opened up the site, affording an expansive view of the river on one side and providing both a beautiful visual connection and an appropriate symbolic one to the mausoleum of Augustus on the other. Pedestrians interact with the building: from the river one can see through the building to the mausoleum; and the museum tantalizes pedestrians with a glimpse of its contents. Natural light floods in, yet the building protects the altar (and visitors) from the sun’s rays, heat, humidity, pollution and all the other elements that are ravaging so much of Rome’s patrimony (and that harmed the altar when it was housed in the museum’s predecessor, built in the 1930s).
The building has lots of glass, but not too much; the glass is balanced by travertine and Meier’s signature white-coated steel. Perhaps one can criticize Meier’s use of the white steel, but the building also has plenty of travertine, a classic Roman stone and completely appropriate in this setting, its unfinished surfaces complementing the smooth carved marble of the altar. (Travertine is also historically appropriate: when installed in the first century B.C.E., the altar faced a piazza paved in travertine.) One can imagine, however, that if the building were clad only in glass and travertine, its strong, clean lines might be obscured and diminished, and there might not be enough contrast in color between the building and the altar. Appropriately, the building is all straight lines and right angles; except for the columns inside, there are no curves. Its rectangular shape echoes that of the altar.
The small fountain area in front is filled with people, hardly the sign of a failed building or one disrespectful of its surroundings. In fact, choosing to include a fountain is itself respectful of Roman history and tradition.
Inside one feels serenity, quiet and the physical and mental space to contemplate the art. Unlike so many modern museums, the building is subordinate to its contents rather than trying to overshadow them. Yet, unlike some other modern museums, there is grandeur and a hierarchy of space. Unlike them, too, a sense of anticipation builds as the visitor proceeds from the entrance to the primary exhibit.
The gift shop is small, modest and unaggressive - unlike those in so many museums, the visitor actually has to seek it out rather than being forced into it when exiting an exhibit.
Certainly, one wouldn’t want many buildings like it in the center of Rome. But there’s hardly any danger of that, and the argument that this one is but the first step on a slippery slope isn’t convincing given the lack of available sites for new building, the rigor and slow pace of design review and the archaeological considerations in any building project in the historic center.
Any entirely new building, and any architect, would have been controversial. Exactly what kind of building do its critics believe would have been appropriate?
Capitoline Museums (2009)
The breathtaking Piazza Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, is accessible via a moderately steep winding path to the right of Michelangelo’s Cordonata staircase as you are facing the staircase. There are two related museums in separate buildings, each of which has a portico around three stairs high. Access to the museums has improved significantly since our last visit in 2003, both physically and in the employees’ knowledge, organization and attitude.
The building on the right is the Palazzo dei Conservatori. There is an accessible side entrance to the right, just above the path by which you came up the hill, but it is always locked and one must first get the attention of a museum employee at the main entrance. Unlike in 2003, it was easy to get an employee’s attention and we didn’t have to wait long for her to open the door. The side entrance is perhaps 20 to 25 feet from the front of the building. There is a sidewalk with a curb 7 inches (17-18 cm) high, and from the sidewalk into the doorway there is a threshold stair 5 inches (12-13 cm) high. To avoid the curb, one can proceed further uphill along the path. There is a curb ramp at the end of the sidewalk; one can get on the sidewalk using the curb ramp, go back downhill toward the doorway, turn and enter the door. Either way, help is required. There is a large elevator inside.
A new pavilion has been built in the Palazzo dei Conservatori for the original bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, bronze statue of Constantine and bronze/gold Hercules. It’s completely accessible. It’s air conditioned, filled with natural light, and is a perfect setting for these larger-than-life statues. There is a café on the top floor with a sweeping view from Saint Peter’s to the Spanish Steps. Howard used the wheelchair accessible bathroom, which is smaller than typical and doesn’t quite have enough transfer space at the side of the toilet.
The building on the left is the Palazzo Nuovo. To access the portico, there is a gradually sloped, semi permanent, nonskid ramp at the end of the portico closest to the Roman Forum (the end farthest from the Cordonata staircase). From underneath the portico, there are two or three stairs to enter the building, and there is a moderately steep portable ramp. It’s easy to get the attention of a museum employee to set out the ramp because you will be at the main entrance where you are easily visible. From the ground floor to the first floor there is a new glass elevator that was plenty wide for Howard’s wheelchair (Michele and one other person fit next to him) but not very long - Howard fit lengthwise only with his footrests in the completely shortened position.
There are no stairs at the entrance. A moderately sloped ramp on the ground floor leads to two very large, modern, Plexiglas elevators from which one has a nice view of the courtyard. The gallery is on the first floor and there are no changes in level among the rooms. A large accessible bathroom is on the second floor, with a large, high toilet; grab bars, a large sink and an emergency alarm cord. The outer door to the bathroom area is heavy and would be impossible for most wheelchair users to pull open from inside, so assistance is required.
Palazzo Farnese (French Embassy) (2006)
Michelangelo was the second of three primary architects to work on this breathtaking Renaissance palazzo, widely considered one of the greatest achievements of Renaissance palace architecture. The proportions of the rooms - length, width and height - and the placement of the windows, are perfect. The building has rich ceiling frescoes by the Carracci brothers, which in their day (the Baroque period) were considered to rival Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. The motifs are mythological rather than religious. The building was completely and meticulously restored several years ago.
Palazzo Farnese can be visited only on guided tours conducted by embassy staff. Spaces are limited and must be reserved far in advance. Tours are free and are conducted only in French and Italian. For reservations see the website of the French Embassy. www.france-italia.it
The stone paths in the courtyard are a bit bumpy; this was not a problem in Howard’s electric wheelchair but manual wheelchair users would encounter a bumpy ride. A small but adequate attendant-operated elevator serves the piano nobile (first floor), which is the only floor the public can visit and where the magnificent Sala Hercules and the rooms with frescoes by the Carracci are located. Howard’s wheelchair fit in the elevator easily.
The public bathrooms are on the ground floor and do not include an accessible stall. Legally, an embassy is located on the soil of the country it represents, not the country where it is physically located. Interestingly, the lack of an accessible stall in a bathroom that was renovated recently is entirely consistent with our experience in government buildings in France, and not those in Italy, where the bathrooms are far more accessible.
Villa Farnesina (Accademia Nazionale Dei Lincei) (2006)
During our visit restoration work was underway and the entrance was at the rear of the building, up four or five stairs, and was not accessible. The museum has a small, portable, attendant-operated evacuation style lift, which Howard didn’t try to use. It is possible that the front entrance may have become the main entrance and may now be accessible.
Jewish Museum (2009)
See Synagogue and Jewish Museum, below.
There are two very high stairs to enter the gallery ticket office and bookstore. Several men lifted Howard’s wheelchair, which was not easy. From the level of the ticket office, the Borromini perspective is through a courtyard down two high stairs that are separated by a landing. Again, several men lifted Howard’s wheelchair, and he was able to see the perspective.
The picture gallery is up one floor from the ticket office, and there is a tiny elevator far too small for a wheelchair. Also, Howard was told the gallery is up several stairs from the elevator landing at the first floor. Hence, it is not accessible.
The other side of Palazzo Spada houses government offices. There is a large accessible bathroom on the ground floor, which the employees cordially allowed Howard to use. It has a large, high toilet; grab bars, a large sink and an emergency alarm cord.
In 2009 a tourist told Howard that it’s possible to view the Borromini perspective without any stairs by going through the courtyard entrance to the government offices, but Howard didn’t have a chance to confirm this.
Vittoriano Museum (Complesso del Vittoriano) (2009)
This museum is housed in the grandiose, oversized white building located between Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum that everyone loves to hate. The building, dedicated in 1911 to King Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, has a permanent museum about the Risorgimento (the Italian unification) and special exhibits such as the superb exhibit of the 13th/14th century painter Giotto and his contemporaries that we saw in 2009.
The entrance is off via dei Fori Imperiali, up a somewhat steep hill. A series of moderately steep permanent metal ramps leads to the entrance. From there, wheelchair access is by a stair lift up several stairs to a landing. The stair lift is a typical Italian one in size - Howard’s wheelchair fit without any room to spare on the sides and with his footrests protruding over the front edge. From the landing there are two very steep permanent ramps leading up to another landing. When we exited the museum, Howard went down the ramps backwards and Michele held his wheelchair. From the upper landing there is a medium-sized elevator to the exhibit galleries; Howard fit in the elevator without any problems.
The building is divided into two sections that aren’t connected by level floors, so there is another stair lift, identical to the one described above, leading to the other section of the museum. Each section contains different exhibits, so it isn’t necessary to go from one section to another in order to see an exhibit.
Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all antiquities sites. It’s still necessary to get a ticket at the ticket counter. The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, interesting images and graphics.
For information about the following antiquities, which we haven’t visited since 2003, or access to which hasn’t changed since then, see Rolling in Rome 2003: Coliseum; Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli; Roman Forum; and Ostia Antica.
Via Appia Antica (The Appian Way) (2009)
We took a fascinating but all too brief tour of some of the first sites along the Appian Way with Katie Parla (see Walking Tours, below). Because we were unsure about the accessibility and dependability of the bus lines, we arranged for transportation with Trambus (see Transportation in Rome, above).
First we saw the Villa and Circus of Maxentius and the mausoleum he built for his son, all of which are located between the second and third mile of the Appian Way. The entrance to the site is relatively flat, but there is thick grass throughout. Howard needed a bit of help, and someone in a manual wheelchair would need significant help. The circus (which is the best preserved Roman circus by far) is downhill around 50 feet (15 meters), and the path is steep and has compound slopes, so Howard remained at the top. From there one can see some of the structures of the circus, but not most of them. Next Michele visited the nearby Tomb of Cecilia Metella, which is completely inaccessible. Across the road are the remains of a medieval church, which Howard was able to access by a relatively flat path.
We continued strolling along the Appian Way another couple hundred feet, but soon the pavement stones were so rutted and uneven as to be completely impassable in a wheelchair, and the shoulder of the road ended. Many of the sites are located beyond this point, including the remains of ancient bridges, the Acqua Claudia aqueduct, temples and villas, and numerous mausoleums, gravestones and inscriptions. Because of the pavement and the distances involved, the best (and really the only) way to see the entire area in a wheelchair would be to rent an accessible vehicle for the day.
None of the catacombs - Jewish, pagan and Christian - is accessible, as they are all underground.
It’s remarkable how green, serene and pastoral this area has remained considering it’s so close to the center of Rome. If one didn’t know otherwise, one might think one was deep in the countryside. Even though many of the monuments are inaccessible, time spent here is enjoyable, fascinating and relaxing. Via Appia Antica is rich in history, and exploring it is well worthwhile despite the access limitations.
Baths of Diocletian (2006)
See Santa Maria degli Angeli/Baths of Diocletian in Churches, below.
Column of Marcus Aurelius (2009)
Unlike that of Trajan’s Column, the base of the Column of Marcus Aurelius is at street level. The column is in Piazza Colonna, which is gradually sloped.
Mamertine - Tullian Prison (2009)
The piazza where the entrance to this notorious ancient Roman dungeon is located is accessed by a short, moderately steep path off via dei Fori Imperiali, past the entrance to the Vittoriano Museum. The prison and San Giuseppe dei Falegnami, the church above it, are inaccessible - there is a flight of stairs down to the church and another flight from there down to the prison. The piazza itself is flat and affords a sweeping yet close up view of the Roman Forum, including a very close view of the Arch of Septimius Severus.
There is a relatively moderately sloped semi-permanent ramp with a nonskid surface at the front of the porch, toward the left side. From the porch, the entrance is level. The piazza in front of the building is sloped downhill and there are compound slopes at the edges, so it’s best to approach the Pantheon from the center.
Theater of Marcellus and Portico of Octavia (2009)
Restoration work has continued at these evocative, important sites and along via di Portico Ottavia in the Jewish Ghetto, with impressive progress having been made since our last visit in 2006. There is a flat observation area at the end of via di Portico Ottavia. There is a relatively gradual permanent ramp, with railings on both sides, leading from via di Portico Ottavia down to the Theater of Marcellus. The ground around the theater is relatively flat but remains filled with stones, making for a bumpy ride in an electric wheelchair and necessitating some assistance for people in manual wheelchairs.
As of 2006 the entrance to both Trajan’s Forum and Trajan’s Markets was on via dei Fori Imperiali, next to Trajan’s Column. A flight of stairs leads down to the forum, including the remains of the massive Basilica Ulpia, which are below street level. An enclosed lift (similar to an elevator, but without a full shaft) was installed in 2006. The lift travels straight vertically, not diagonally. The doorway and interior width were ample for Howard’s wheelchair but the interior isn’t long - Howard fit lengthwise only with his footrests in the completely lowered position, and even then his shoes scraped the edge. The lift is operated by an attendant and the ticket office is downstairs, so an able-bodied person must go downstairs and ask an employee to operate the lift.
The forum is fairly flat but the ground is rocky and bumpy. Howard was able to navigate it fairly easily in his electric wheelchair; a manual wheelchair user would need assistance and would have a bumpy ride. There is a tunnel with a smooth, flat metal surface leading from the Basilica Ulpia to the entrance to the markets. The markets are up a long flight of stairs from the forum and are inaccessible. But there’s plenty to see at ground level in the forum.
The area has been under excavation and reconstruction for many years. We didn’t get a chance to visit this site in 2009. It’s quite possible that by now the entrance to the markets may be at the other side of the site, at the intersection of via IV November, via Nazionale and Largo Magnanapoli, which is considerably higher than the forum, so the markets may be wheelchair accessible from that level. Presumably, the entrance to the forum described above remains open, so a complete visit by wheelchair users will include the forum, entered via lift from below, and the markets, entered from above.
For information about the following churches, which we haven’t visited since 2003 or access to which hasn’t changed since then, see Rolling in Rome 2003: Gesu; Sant’ Agnese in Agone; San Clemente; San Giovanni dei Fiorenti; Sant’ Ivo alla Sapienza; Santa Maria in Trastevere; and Saint Peter’s.
Bernini’s elliptical masterpiece is inaccessible. The only entrance is through the front porch, which is semicircular and has approximately 10 semicircular, concentric stairs. Given the number of stairs and the building’s unique and beautiful facade, installing a permanent ramp would be infeasible and would irreparably harm the beauty and integrity of the facade. A portable ramp should be considered, but it would probably have to be unfeasibly long, given the number of stairs. Although it was disappointing not to be able to enter, the façade is so gorgeous that it was worth a visit just to see it.
Borromini’s complex, undulating Baroque jewel, iconoclastic when built and later an icon, is inaccessible. The only entrance is through the front door, which is up three stairs. Given the small site, the building’s unique and beautiful façade, and the narrow door, there really isn’t enough space to install a permanent ramp and, even if it were possible, it would irreparably harm the building’s beauty and integrity. However, because there are only three stairs, a portable ramp might be feasible and should be considered. Although it was disappointing not to be able to enter, the façade is so magnificent that it was worth a visit just to see it.
This basilica is easily accessible. At the entrance there is a threshold of a few inches at most.
Saint John in Lateran (2005)
We don’t remember the details and didn’t take good notes, but Howard was able to access this basilica fairly easily. The basilica and the site on which it’s located are gargantuan, so it took a while to figure out access, but once we did there were no problems. The 13th century cloister, with its beautiful twisted columns, is down four or five high stairs from the basilica, so it’s inaccessible. There is an informative, well-organized audio guide available in English.
Michelangelo’s basilica is accessible – the entrance is at ground level and there is no threshold. The sacristy, which is outside and has an interesting exhibit about the baths and their re-use by Michelangelo as a church, is accessible from the basilica without stairs or a threshold. At least part of the remainder of the baths complex, which is a branch of the National Museum of Rome, is easily accessible.
There is a front porch with three or four stairs up to a landing, then another one or two stairs to the main entrance. The rear entrance, which is quite far, is reached via the street to the right of the church. The rear entrance has one large stair down, then two up. In 2003 the employees and clergy were unhelpful but some tourists lifted Howard’s wheelchair. We went to this church in 2009 and the situation was the same. There is a convent in the building to the left; Michele rang the doorbell and the employee was not helpful. Both times, the employees were the least friendly of those at any church in Rome.
This church is inaccessible – the only entrance is through the front porch, which has approximately 10 stairs. Although its façade is similar to that of Santa Susanna (see below), which has a superb ramp, the latter church has fewer stairs. A ramp appears to be infeasible at Santa Maria della Vittoria.
San Pietro in Vincoli (2009)
This church is located on the Esquiline Hill, and the streets leading up to it are relatively steep. We approached it from the streets below because the streets above have stairs. One of the streets is narrow and there is a blind corner, so beware of vehicular traffic. There are two relatively steep permanent metal ramps leading to the entrance. Howard was able to go up and down both the hill and the ramps without difficulty, but manual wheelchair users will need assistance. The entrance itself is level, and Michelangelo’s tomb of Julius II, with the statues of Moses and other figures including Rachel and Leah, is easy to access.
This church, which is near Santa Maria della Vittoria and has a similar façade, is accessible via a gradual, permanent ramp at the front entrance. The sleek modern ramp is made of wood, metal and Plexiglas, with well-designed handrails and inscriptions on the bottom acknowledging the donors. This church is the home of American Catholics in Rome, which may at least partially explain the modern, well-designed ramp.
See Janiculum in Other Sites, below.
XI. SYNAGOGUE (TEMPIO MAGGIORE) AND JEWISH MUSEUM (2009)
The entrance to the Synagogue is accessed via a somewhat steep metal ramp on the right side. The path to the ramp, which previously had a gravel surface, has been paved. A security guard is always present to assist.
The Jewish Museum and the Spanish Synagogue are in the basement of the Synagogue. The new entrance is off via Catalana (the street away from the river), at the rear of the building. It is necessary for an able-bodied person to get the attention of an employee. There is a stair lift to the basement level, which is a typical Italian one in size, and Howard’s wheelchair fit without much room to spare on the sides and with his footrests protruding over the front edge. The pavement at the bottom of the lift is a bit steep, so be careful when exiting the lift. The entrance to the museum is up a threshold of several inches, but the museum is obtaining a ramp. There is a large, well designed accessible bathroom.
All the exhibits and the Spanish Synagogue are on a single level. Admission is free for disabled visitors and one companion. The museum is fascinating, well organized and well documented, spanning the 2,200 years of the Roman Jewish community and including beautiful ritual objects of silver and textiles, ancient tombstones, and documents from the Ghetto period (1555-1870) through emancipation until the present. All of the explanations are in Italian and English. There is an excellent bookstore with many books in English.
The museum director and her staff have been very receptive to recommendations for improving access.
XII. OTHER SITES
Janiculum (Monte Gianicolo) (2006)
We tried to get to the top of the Janiculum hill by way of via Garibaldi. Just below Piazza San Pietro in Montorio (where Bramante’s acclaimed Tempietto is located), the street slopes steeply and curves sharply uphill. A flight of stairs leads up to the Tempietto. We didn’t continue on via Garibaldi because Howard would have had to remain in the street on extremely uneven terrain and in the face of heavy automobile traffic. Drivers would have been unable to see him, and vice versa.
Palazzo della Cancelleria (2005)
Phone +39-06-69-884-816. Vatican offices are housed in this large palazzo, the first palace in Rome to be built in Renaissance style. Concerts are held here from time to time. The splendid arcaded courtyard, which is sometimes open to the public, has relatively level access from the street. We don’t know about access to the upper floors.
Parco della Musica (2009)
We went to the café in this music complex designed by Renzo Piano that opened in 2002. The three auditoriums are arranged around an outdoor courtyard which also has a café, bookstore and other shops. The courtyard is basically level, with some gradually sloped ramps. There is a medium-size accessible bathroom in the lobby. The remains of an ancient Roman farm, discovered during excavations for the project, have been preserved and there is an exhibit about them in the lobby. We didn’t go to a concert or see the auditoriums.
Vatican Gardens (2006)
Due to natural and architectural barriers, the Vatican Gardens are not wheelchair accessible. For those who are able to walk, tours are given on a limited basis, and it’s necessary to make reservations far in advance. Fax +39-06-6988-5100. http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html
XIII. WALKING TOURS
A knowledgeable guide can enrich travel anywhere, but this is especially true in Rome because of its complexity, multiplicity of physical and historical layers, vast temporal scale, extraordinary richness and sometimes overwhelming density. There is a lot to absorb. The walking tours we took with Context Rome and Katie Parla were among the highlights of our trips.
Context Rome. www.contextrome.com www.contexttravel.com Context operates in-depth small group (six people maximum) walking tours (Context prefers the term “itineraries”) of three to four hours led by English-speaking docents who live in Rome and typically have advanced degrees in art, architecture, history or urban planning. The docents aren’t conventional tour guides, but specialists sharing their expertise and passion for their subjects. Context also operates in other major cities. We’ve taken their tours in Paris and Naples, which also were excellent. Context offers a large variety of itineraries with varying degrees of wheelchair access. When signing up, provide as much information as possible about your mobility limitations and capabilities.
We took “Classical Rome” in 2005 with Tom Rankin and again in 2006 with Katie Parla, “Roma Antica” in 2005 with Sarah Yeomans, and the Jewish Ghetto in 2006 and the Capitoline Museums in 2009 with Katie Parla. Michele also took an inaccessible tour of “Underground Rome” in 2006 with Carlos Machado. Fascinating, in-depth and interactive, these walks added a rich new dimension to our knowledge and appreciation of Rome. The route for Classical Rome was hilly but Tom and Katie mitigated the obstacles as much as possible. Part of Roma Antica involves the Palatine Hill, which is up many stairs, so Howard said goodbye at that point. (Sarah had thoughtfully rearranged the itinerary to make the Palatine Hill the last destination.) The docents’ knowledge and insights were deep and broad, their passion for their subjects energizing and the pacing perfect. They were historically imaginative in evoking the times. They welcomed questions, and our fellow travelers asked well-informed ones. Context viewed wheelchair access as a challenge and a learning opportunity, not a burden. Context also has an informative website.
Katie Parla. www.katieparla.com Besides being a superb docent for Context, Katie Parla gives private tours of Rome and southern Italy and writes insightfully about Italian art, antiquities, architecture, food and wine. (www.parlafood.com) In 2009 she took us on a fascinating tour of Via Appia Antica (the Appian Way) that was one of the highlights of our trip (see Antiquities, above). Her knowledge of Rome is impressive, and she’s very aware of and conscientious about wheelchair access.
XIV. TEACHING COMPANY LECTURES
The Teaching Company produces series of lectures on a variety of subjects by award-winning college professors from the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Those we’ve purchased have generally been excellent. Some series are available in either CD or DVD, while those for which the visual content is essential are available only in DVD. Over the years we’ve enjoyed the following series and found that they’ve added immeasurably to our knowledge and appreciation of Rome.
History of Ancient Rome by Professor Garrett Fagan
Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity’s Greatest Empire by Professor Steven Tuck
Famous Romans by Professor Rufus Fears
Italian Renaissance by Professor Kenneth Bartlett
Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance by Professor William Kloss
Genius of Michelangelo by Professor William Wallace
www.handyturismo.it firstname.lastname@example.org Handy Turismo is the official accessible tourism website of the Comune of Rome. Some pages are now in English. The website is a bit clunky, but it’s a useful starting point. The tourism office answers inquiries about access in Rome from Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and by email. Their information isn’t always up to date, so it’s advisable to confirm with the source to which they refer you. Phone +39-06-3507-5707 or +39-06-5833-2730. Fax +39-06-3507-3152.
Comune of Rome - Disability Services (Ufficio Mobilita Disabili del V Dipartmento). Phone +39-06-6710-5387 or +39-06-6710-5393 or, only when calling from Italy, 800-015-510. Address: viale Manzoni, 16.
Presidio del Lazio. Services center for people with special needs. Toll free number from within Italy 800-271-027.
www.contextrome.com Context Rome has useful and interesting insights about urban trends and issues in Rome, archaeological and historical information, and information about lesser-known places of interest.
www.parlafood.com Parla Food. Besides being an extraordinary tour guide, Katie Parla blogs about Italian food and wine. Her opinions are passionate and well-informed, and the pictures and descriptions are enticing.
About Accessible Travel in General
www.globalaccessnews.com Global Access News - Disabled Travel Network, operated by the extremely knowledgeable and always helpful Marti Gacioch, has terrific general information about traveling in a wheelchair, and articles and links about travel to a variety of destinations. Marti also publishes a superb, free monthly e-zine with informative and useful tidbits and links to accessible hotels, apartments, transportation and museums. To sign up, go to the website.
www.access-able.com Access-Able Travel Source has a database of articles and links about accessible travel to a variety of destinations. The woman who operated this website died several years ago; her husband maintains the website but has not added to it.
www.emerginghorizons.com Emerging Horizons Accessible Travel News publishes a magazine available online and in print by subscription only, and its author, Candy Harrington, has written several books on accessible travel that are available on the website.
www.miusa.org Mobility International USA (MIUSA) focuses primarily on exchange, work/study and community service programs for disabled students but can also provide useful accessible travel information. They have been helpful to us.
www.slowtrav.com Slow Travel is a website loaded with information about traveling more slowly than typical tourists. It isn’t specifically about wheelchair access, but it has some trip reports/articles about wheelchair access to various destinations.
XVI. ITALIAN DISABILITY ORGANIZATIONS
In addition to advocacy and medical research, some Italian disability organizations provide services such as transportation and referrals to service providers. Many of these organizations have semi-autonomous local branches, some of which maintain their own websites. The local branches are more likely to provide assistance to disabled travelers than the parent organizations. To find the websites of local branches, go to the parent organization website.
AISM (Associazione Italiana Sclerosi Multipla). www.aism.it
ANIEP (Associazione Nazionale per la Promozione e la Difesa dei Diritti Civili e Sociali degli Handicappati). www.aniepmobile.com
ANMIC (Associazione Nazionale Mutilati ed Invalidi Civili). www.anmic.it email@example.com
DPI Italia (Disabled Persons International Italia). www.dpitalia.org firstname.lastname@example.org
FAIP (Federazione Associazioni Italiane Para-tetraplegici). www.faiponline.it
UILDM (Unione Italiana Lotta alla Distrofia Muscolare). www.uildm.org
My wife and I will arrive in [ ] on [ ] and depart on [ ]. We will stay for [ ] nights.
I use an electric wheelchair that is [[ ] centimeters ([ ] inches)] wide. I am unable to walk at all. My wife is not disabled. We would like a non-smoking room with one large bed. We have the following questions about your hotel:
1. Do you have any specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms? If not, please disregard the other questions. Thank you and we would appreciate a recommendation of hotel in the area that does have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms.
If you do have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms, we have the following questions. Please answer even if you are fully booked for the requested time, because we are interested in your hotel for the future.
1. Is it necessary to go up or down any stairs in order to get from the street entrance to the guest room? Does the building have an elevator? If so, how wide is the elevator door and what are the interior dimensions of the elevator?
2. In the bathroom, is there space for a [ ] cm wide wheelchair on one side of the toilet? What is the width of the doorway into the bathroom? What is the height of the toilet? What is the size of the shower? Can a wheelchair roll into the shower? Are there grab bars near the toilet and shower?
3. Are all the doorways in the room at least 75 cm wide?
4. What is the size of the room? Does this include the bathroom?
5. Was the building renovated recently?
Also, could you e-mail some photos of the bathroom.
Please quote a rate.
Thank you very much. We really appreciate any help you can provide.
Very Truly Yours
Metric Conversion Guide
One inch = 2.54 centimeters.
One centimeter = 0.3937 inches
One meter = 39.4 inches
One square meter = 10.76 square feet
One kilometer = 0.62 miles
One mile = 1.61 kilometers
One kilogram = 2.2 pounds
One hundred grams = just under ¼ pound (3 ½ ounces)
One pound = 0.454 kilograms (454 grams)
One liter = 0.264 gallons = 1.056 quarts
One gallon = 3.785 liters
English-To-Italian Dictionary Of Disability Access Words And Phrases
© Barrier Free Travel 2003, 2006
(Included by permission of, and with thanks to, Cornelia Danielson
of Barrier Free Travel)
“disabled” - DISABILE or HANDICAPPATO
“I am disabled” – SONO UNA PERSONA DISABILE
“wheelchair” - CARROZZINA or CARROZZELLA or SEDIA A ROTELLE
“I use a wheelchair” – SONO IN CARROZZINA
“I use an electric wheelchair” - USO UNA CARROZZINA ELETTRICA
“wheel” - RUOTA
“battery” – BATTERIA
“tire” – GOMMA
“tire tube” – CAMERA D’ARIA
“my wheelchair needs to be repaired” – LA MIA CARROZZINA HA BISOGNO DI ESSERE RIPARATA
“transfer board” - TAVOLETTA DI TRASFERIMENTO
“I am unable to walk” – NON CAMMINO
“ramp” –RAMPA or SCIVOLO or PEDANA
“is there a ramp?” - C’E’ UNA RAMPA?
“are there stairs?” CI SONO DELLE SCALE?
“how many steps are there?” - QUANTI GRADINI SONO?
“elevator” - ASCENSORE
“is there an elevator?” – C’E’ UN ASCENSORE?
“is it necessary to climb any steps to get to the
elevator?” – CI SONO DEI GRADINI PER ARRIVARE ALL’ASCENSORE?
“what are the elevator’s dimensions?”- QUALI SONO LE DIMENSIONI DELL'ASCENSORE ?
“what is the width of the doorway?” – QUAL’ E’ LA LARGEZZA DELLA PORTA?
“what is the height of the bed?” - QUAL’E’ L’ALTEZZA DEL
“up” - SU
“down” - GIU'
“roll-in shower” - DOCCIA A PAVIMENTO
“accessible bathroom” - BAGNO ACCESSIBILE or SERVIZIO IGENICO ACCESSIBILE
“grab bars” – MANIGLIONI or CORRIMANI (hand rails)
“is the bathroom wheelchair accessible?” – IL BAGNO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?
“does the bathroom have a roll-in shower?” – IL BAGNO E’ CON DOCCIA A PAVIMENTO?
“are there grab bars in the bathroom?” – CI SONO DEI MANIGLIONI NEL BAGNO?
“is the bus wheelchair accessible?” – L’AUTOBUS E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?
“is the train wheelchair accessible?” – IL TRENO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?
“is the van/minivan wheelchair accessible?” – IL PULMINO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?
“does the van/minivan have a ramp?” – IL PULMINO HA UNA RAMPA?
“does the van/minivan have a lift?” – IL PULMINO HA UN SOLLEVATORE ?
“the elevator/ramp/lift is broken” – L’ASCENSORE/ LA RAMPA/ IL SOLLEVATORE E’ ROTTO (or “ROTTA” depending on the gender of the noun)
“how far is it from [ ] to [ ]?” - QUANTO DISTA DA [ ] A [ ] ?
“blind” – NON VEDENTE or CIECO
“I am blind” – SONO CIECO or SONO UN NON VEDENTE
“Braille” – same word is used, pronounced “brile” (with a long “i” and silent “e” like “bile”)
“guide dog” –CANE GUIDA
“deaf” – NON UDENTE or SORDO
“I am deaf” – SONO SORDO or SONO UN NON UDENTE
“hearing impaired” – IPOUDENTE
“I am hearing impaired” – SONO QUASI SORDO
“sign language” – LINGUAGGIO DEI SORDOMUTI
“sign language interpreter” – UN INTERPRETE DEL LINGUAGGIO DEI SORDOMUTI
Every letter (vowel and consonant) is pronounced in
Italian. There is no silent “e” for example as there is in English
A is always a short “a” (as in “adopt”)
E sounds like a long “a” (as in “ate”)
I sounds like a long “e” (as in “eat”)
O sounds like a long “o” (as in “oats”)
U sounds like “ou” (as in “you”)
C has a hard sound like “k” before “o” and “a” (carrozzina) BUT BEFORE
OTHER VOWELS it sounds like the “ch” in “chair” (doccia)
Editor's note: Don't miss the following access reports by Howard & Michele Chabner. Just click on the title.
Paris Passerelles - Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Paris
Paris Appendices: Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire, Metric Conversion & Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey Results)
Paris Passerelles Supplement 2005
Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) and Paris 2007
Rome, Florence, Vicenza & Naples, Italy 2003-2006
Rolling in Rome 2003
Vicenza, Florence & Rome 2005
2006 Navigating Naples 2006
Cordoba & Seville
Toledo, Madrid, Segovia
Additional Information & Appendices A, B & C
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1995-2012 "All Rights Reserved"
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