16 Mar Gondolas Embrace Accessibility
For a long time, a trip to Venice has been a double edged sword for people with disabilities. On the one hand, Venice is one of the world’s most spectacular cities, and its unique environs make for a fantastic place to visit. On the other hand, with its network of canals, narrow streets and haphazard bridges, it can be a bit of an accessibility nightmare. However, the city is about to take a big step – or oar-stroke – in the right direction with the arrival of new accessible gondolas.
The project is being driven by Gondolas4all, an Italian charity who are tackling Venice’s accessibility problems head-on. The charity is the brainchild of Alessandro Dalla Pieta and Enrico Greifenberg, both gondoliers themselves for twenty years. Alessandro felt saddened by the unavailability of gondolas to people with disabilities, and decided to do something about it.
While riding in the actual gondolas is possible for wheelchairs, the issue has come in accessing the boats. Until recently, wheelchair users would either need to be helped out of their wheelchairs or lifted in their wheelchairs to board a gondola, a solution which was not very practical and often proved to be quite an unedifying experience. Gondolas4all have sought overcome this by constructing a special dock.
Wheelchair users descend a non-slip matt onto the specially constructed floating jetty made entirely of recycled plastic obtained from Tetra Pak processing. This will be constructed by the company Rein, who have also helped to fund the project. People then board an automatic wheelchair lift, constructed by Fadiel, which will ensuring a safe and smooth journey into the gondola.
The first dock will be located at Piazzale Roma, a central transport hub for Venice which can be accessed by car and train, meaning that Venetian gondolas really are as accessible as possible. The project has been brought about through a mixture of public and private financing, with €50,000 donated by the Veneto Regional Authorities, and the rest coming through crowdfunding. It’s really encouraging to see both city authorities and the public-at-large taking accessibility issues seriously, and dipping into their own pockets to help improve the city for people with disabilities.
All gondola drivers for Gondolas4all will undergo a special six week training course, with an emphasis on disability terminology, a knowledge of different disabilities and related mobility needs and a knowledge of relational/emotional aspects. You can book a ride at the usual tariff rates, set by the Venetian council, from this website, with the first gondola rides set to launch in six weeks time.