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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wheel dependent? Ecuador isn't for you.

Ecuador is a land of opportunity; rich in culture and spectacular scenery, it's something that really should be experienced, if you can manage it. Of course, there are exceptions to that. One of the glaring oversights that I've noticed with regard to the information about Ecuador is that it is second/third world country that doesn't have very specific advances that you find in the first world. I've heard a couple of stories about people who want to come visit, (or worse, have bought property, sight unseen) who are reliant on either wheelchairs or electric scooters to get around. Accessibility is an issue. There aren't handicapped parking spaces, few (if any) vehicles that can accommodate electric wheelchairs/scooters and the pedestrian spaces are not designed to facilitate wheeled mobility units.
There are good sidewalks in Cuenca and other cities in Ecuador - truly. They just aren't frequent enough to traverse the city without incident. I've touched on this issue in another post a few years ago, but I really think it bears repeating. 
10" curb - there are higher curbs
 Curbs don't have a standard height. I've seen curbs that rise up past my knee, sometimes with a stair, but more often not. Many curbs don't feature ramps at the cross walks and many corners have barriers that protect the buildings from errant drivers that "miss" the corner. The barriers occasionally won't be wide enough to get a wheelchair through. Wheelchairs, walkers, scooters and other mobility devices (outside of a sturdy walking stick) are a rarity here. Beggars with crippled legs used wooden blocks to protect their hands and duct tape on their trousers to get around or a small board with wheels to push themselves along. I have seen the odd wheelchair, but the user is normally on the road with the traffic, trying to navigate through speeding cars and motorcycles.

Broken/missing concrete


Sidewalk ends abruptly
The buses have no ramps or lifts and steep stairs to board, taxis are mostly regular sized cars that are ill equipped to manage your luggage let alone a wheelchair or walker. Even the water company's payment office requires a person to walk up four steps or so. Sidewalks end suddenly in the middle of the block and you are forced out onto the street to pass an extra wide building. The sidewalks that do exist aren't well maintained and are uneven, have missing manhole covers, broken asphalt and missing cobbles. Drainage grates are missing leaving foot wide holes that have to be navigated. Even with sound legs and a healthy sense of balance, you can be caught by the many hazards of the road.
This is not (yet) the place for you if you have mobility issues. (I'm not kidding.) Our brand new building is only accessible through the garage and even that has its challenges. 

Add to this the current construction going on for Tranvia, here in Cuenca, and it's a logistical nightmare, trying to navigate the streets on foot; it's completely impossible in a chair or by scooter.
The planks aren't always secured...
Dodgy corners

Tranvia construction

More disappearing sidewalk
Steps/no ramp
Look, they're trying. New sidewalks get ramps (some of which, I feel, are too steep), and the Ecuadorian government has a fairly progressive policy for people with physical and mental challenges in the work place, but it is not up to first world standards. It's not that they don't want to have people with physical challenges here, they just haven't gotten to the point of development where they've thought about what that requires.

So save yourself some grief, disappointment and money; if you can't get around on your own two feet. Go somewhere that is ready for you, somewhere that's easy for you to get around because, unless you have a four wheel drive wheelchair, an incredible sense of humour and patience all you're going to experience here is frustration.

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