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Accessibility Proves An Obstacle But Attitudes Are Changing

travel firm has recently announced plans to offer the first-ever wheelchair accessible tour of Machu Picchu. The Inca site in Peru has always been considered off-limits to traditional wheelchair users due to its rough terrain, steps and narrow walkways. However, tour operator, Wheel the World, have developed a way to visit the Unesco site by using a special foldable trekking-style wheelchair.

This exciting news comes the same week it was reported that a wheelchair user was unable to access an Ikea café in Reading. Nigel Brown who visited the store in January said the majority of the store was “fine and quite accessible” but he struggled to wheel himself in his manual wheelchair through the barriers in the café and his friend, who uses a powered wheelchair, could not get through at all. A spokesperson for Ikea said; “We are naturally disappointed that we have not lived up to Mr Brown’s needs as a wheelchair user. We will take Mr Brown’s feedback for the future as we continue to improve the accessibility of our stores.”

Unfortunately Mr Brown’s experience is not an anomaly and we regularly read articles about wheelchair users having difficulty accessing shops, transport or other buildings or areas, or sometimes being refused access altogether.

However, with the fantastic news from Wheel the World, it does appear that attitudes are changing around accessibility. Automotive leader Ford have recently reinvented its traditional car mat and transformed it into a lightweight, portable and smart ramp for disabled drivers to help tackle inaccessible public spaces. The ‘Accessibility Mat’ was initially developed in Brazil in an effort to help wheelchair users negotiate inaccessible areas such as pavements without drop curbs or potholed roads. This innovative product can easily be carried on the back of a wheelchair.

Not content with that, Ford also made the mat ‘smart’ by incorporating technology and allowing the mat to connect to the wheelchair user’s smartphone via Bluetooth. When the wheelchair user uses the device, the mat gathers data on the location and highlights places where disabled access needs to be improved and flags it to local authorities.

Although this revolutionary device is not yet available in the UK, the project shows that steps are being taken to improve accessibility for wheelchair users to help create a more accessible and inclusive society.

Find out more about the new Accessibility Mat from Ford in this short video:

Accessibility Mat from Vico Benevides on Vimeo.