My friend Tony had taken a trip to Madeira Island and has told me much about his experience. While there he described all of his joyful moments especially finding out about his roots. Tony kindly offered to share some information that might enlighten people on reviewing wheelchair accessibility from another country’s point of view.
Hi, My name is Tony and I have had the delight to be in Kenny’s life for the last 12 years. Throughout the years we have been on many vacations together and faced many accessibility obstacles when on these trips. I would like to share my thoughts on the accessibility of Madeira Island, Portugal.
What a breath of fresh air being on another continent. At the airport there was a woman who was blind. I could tell because she had a white cane and she was being escorted by an airport worker all the way to the gate to board. All her carry on luggage was also being carried by a worker. When it was time to board she was the first to get on and the first to get off the plane. The airport is totally accessible and you will have no problem getting around. Even the restrooms are all accessible.
The Island is celebrating it’s 500 years of discovery and is having the biggest party ever with fireworks and people who came from all over the world. The Island which is called the “Hawaii of Europe” and the “Island of the Sun”, has four inactive volcano’s. It has very high mountains and most of the cities and its villages are built going up these steep slopes. These pictures can’t do any justice for seeing is believing and capturing the beauty of this place.
Most of the Island have changed their transportation systems building new roads and highways. Most fascinating are building tunnels through the mountains in order to get to places quicker. At one time going from the airport across the Island would take 2 ½ hours through the old historic roads. Now, it would only take 40 minutes. Many of these new road now have sidewalks. When looking at these old roads as shown here by the edge of the cliff there is no place for a person to travel. Making it very dangerous not only for the driver but for anyone who wishes to travel village to village on foot. These roads still exist and some are just for tourists. Capturing a bit of history and imagination.
Passageways or short cuts leading from street to street would definitely be impossible for a person in a wheelchair to use. Most of the streets are too high up on a slope for wheelchairs. Although, someone in a power chair may be able to get away using some of these streets.
The Beaches were especially interesting to me. Since the Island is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean it has bad undertows. It would be hard for even a good swimmer to safety swim in its waters. That is why these so called beaches are built with a barricade allowing people to swim and protecting people from it currents. I have been to four different beaches and looking around I did not see any way possible that a person in a wheelchair can get into the water.
One in a wheelchair may be able to sit on a level cement slope overlooking the water or even use the remarkably built buildings by the beaches that have food, restrooms, locker rooms etc.
Some beaches import sand and make it look like the typical beaches that we are all use to. In the winter months seas are rough and the sand washes away only to get rebuilt by importing more sand for the summer months. These beaches would most likely be the best beaches for a person in a wheelchair to utilize a beach wheelchair and enjoy the waters of the Island.
I took a bus to get into the city of Funchal which is the major city and capital of the Island. Catching the bus at approximately 6:10am is not even accessible. There is no lift on the bus and you would have to order a special equip van in order to travel around. Once in the city you would have no problem getting around because everything looks just like Boston when it comes to accessibility. With very few obstacles that I encountered, a person in a wheelchair would have very little difficulty getting around the downtown area of the city.
Here are some pictures of places in the city of Funchal that are totally wheelchair accessible. Dolce Vita, is a wonderful mall recently built accommodating all. With ramps, double sliding doors, elevators and state of the art restrooms (which even have call lights for assistance) This mall makes your visit a memorable one.
The largest and most organized fruit and fish market in the world is located here and is totally accessible. It has ramps to get into, elevators and lots of space to maneuver around. This market puts a fresh look on things. A beautiful botanical garden which has trees that are imported from all over the world ranging to thousands of years of age is also accessible to persons in wheelchairs. The only thing that was missing was making the restroom a bit larger to get into.
Cable cars that go to the tops of the mountains are totally accessible, they are called Telefericos Da Madeira, (Madeira Cable Car). www.madeiracablecar.com This place was incredible with automatic double sliding doors; all equip restrooms; wide enough cable car; and access to the all gift shops and beautiful gardens. A definite a must if you ever visit.
There were some place that were disappointing to me where you would think access would be a definite. All churches that I have been to all have doors that open. But, they are not flush to the floor. They leave a little lip preventing access to a wheelchair. Someone walking with a cane may even have a hard time getting into the churches with the high step they need to take in. Once inside you would have no problem getting around or even finding a pew or an area to sit at. These churches are so old they may not have sections cut out at the pews for a person in a wheelchair to enjoy the service. They may have to sit out in the aisle.
One particular museum downtown was not wheelchair accessible. There was no way to get in with stairs leading to the front door. I asked if there was another entrance to accommodate and they said that the front door was the only way to get in. Too bad because it showed the formation of the island, all its sea creatures and species of birds. This museum also has a mini aquarium and a library. All important sources of information only to be left out for that part of the community who cannot access. Their local post office was not wheelchair accessible. It was a weekend and they were closed but when I looked around trying to find some sort of access I was not able to see it. Perhaps there was, but I was not able to spot it.
I had dinner at a Japanese Restaurant for some sushi. It was a newly built building and of course everything was thought of. An elevator led to the restaurant which was on the second level with seating overlooking a balcony. It was delightful. Even the Japanese waiter spoke Portuguese. Don’t leave a tip because they will know that you’re a tourist. Tips are never given and it’s not a sign of disrespect. Its OK not to leave a tip. Although, they will get excited if they get it.
The Presidential Palace is where the president has the option to stay as this house. The President of Madeira Alberto João Jardim usually only comes to the Presidential Palace to do business. He has a home of his own. The place was not showing tours so I was not able to see how wheelchair accessible it was. With guards at the front gates, they still let my mother and I in to take a look at his garden. It was beautiful and fully wheelchair accessible with paved cement paths leading to water fountains and different caged animals. It kind of looked like a miniature zoom/garden.
Back to the area of St Vincent where most of my family is from was a museum called “The Volcano’s and the Origin of Madeira Island”. It was awesome where you got a first hand look at some tunnels were lava once flowed making the formation of the island.
Some areas of this museum, a person in a wheelchair would not be able to access especially when going through the actual volcanic tunnels. The museum itself is accessible and you would be able to get around most of the exhibits. The restrooms are all accessible.
In Santana Madeira there is a park called “Park Thematic of Madeira“. This park will take you through the discovery of the Island its nature and ends where your imagination takes you. You can click on this site to learn more: www.parquetematicodamadeira.pt.
Entering the place you will have no problems for there are plenty of handicap parking spaces in a parking garage. Entering the gates there is a section just for persons in wheelchairs. Prices are reasonable but no discount for the disabled or visually impaired.
Basically you stroll along these walkways that are wide and lead you to different buildings that hold exhibits. At this exhibit, you would need to get onto a boat simulation ride that is on tracks and takes you through the history of Madeira Island. This ride is not wheelchair accessible for there is no way they you can get on the simulated boat. There is a virtual ride where the seats are in motion and you are locked into your seats. This exhibit is also not wheelchair accessible. Although, a person in a wheelchair may watch the film off to the side there is a section with stationary seating for women who are pregnant and persons who have and back problems. This was an awesome experience. It reminded me of the virtual ride MOM at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon MA.
The restaurant is totally wheelchair accessible, spacious, perfect restrooms and service is great. There are also row boats and a train ride that are not wheelchair accessible. Some people had a hard time maneuvering those boats. You are left on your own and it is included in the admission price. Overall, someone in a wheelchair would have a good time at this park. Anticipate a majority of your day being spent here.
I came to Madeira at the most busiest times of the year when all the festivals take place. Every province celebrates its own festival alternating every weekend. The best festival was the one where I was staying at in St. Vincent. It was about a one week long celebration. People are friendly and know how to party in a peaceful fashion. The streets are packed and you would have a hard time getting through the crowed. Not the greatest place for someone in a wheelchair unless you are adventurous.
The day before I was to leave, I helped my Aunt and Uncle pick grapes to be sent to the wineries to be made into wine. The Island is famous for richness and quality of the grapes. Trust me it was hard work. Something that I would not want to do on a full time basis. But it was nice to get in there and contribute getting my hands dirty. Someone in a wheelchair would never be able to experience this due to the unstable terrain and slope of the ground. Although, from the street you would be able to help sort out the grapes as my uncle is doing here.
Finally, a chapel that is at the center of the village built as a reminder of all the hardship, commitment, love and faith of the people of Madeira Island. This chapel was built by the people of the village with their bare hands. A group effort made when there were no tractors, lifts and all those mechanical constructions machines to help build buildings today. My mother has told a story of a time when as a little girl she wanted to help so bad in the construction of this chapel. All her brothers and sister and herself brought up little bags of sand and hiking for over an hour before finally getting to their destination. This shows exactly what the people of Madeira Island are all about. They have come a long way and yet have so much still to overcome. I have found my roots and I am proud to be a Madeirian.
I give Madeira Island, Portugal THREE STARS for wheelchair accessibility. Madeira Island has become a busy tourist attraction. It has come a long way and shows growth year to year. When it comes to wheelchair accessibility Madeira vs. USA, the Island is about five years behind. I give the People FIVE STARS for caring, loving and being grateful for what they have. At a museum a painting of a sickly person sitting out on a stretcher being transported over mountains with two men at each end holding on. The people would bring the old, disabled and sick when going to the Doctors or Hospitals. They would sometimes travel for days until they got there. I believe Madeira Island is right behind us and their minds are set on the right track. OBRIGADO! Thank You!