How to get around Rio in a wheelchair: British travel writer provides essential travel tips


If you want to know where to go in Rio de Janeiro and how to get there, ask Emily Yates. The 24-year-old British author has travelled the world in her wheelchair and is the ultimate authority on accessibility in the Paralympic host city.

Photo: Screenshot from the cover of travel guide ; Copyright: Lonely Planet

Emily Yates wrote Accessible Rio de Janeiro, a Lonely Planet travel guide with a focus on helping people with additional mobility needs; © Photo: Lonely Planet

In fact, 250,000 copies of the tourism guide she wrote for Lonely Planet, Accessible Rio de Janeiro, were distributed to athletes in the Paralympic village. It's also available free online.

"There was pressure for Rio to ramp up – to use a fitting term – its accessibility and improve in time for the Games," said Yates, who was bitten by the travel bug during a trip to South Africa when she made it to the top of a towering sand dune.

"Rio has done a wonderful job in terms of access and inclusion, but it's not just about physical access. For me it was also about social access and the perception of disability," she said following a presentation at British House on 15 September. "People here are so willing to reach out a hand, and I'm so appreciative of that."

Accessible Rio de Janeiro is 160 pages long and includes the same content as the original city guide. But this latest edition, published in August, tells readers which taxi services accomodate wheelchairs and how to book hotel rooms that cater to specific needs, including visual and hearing impairments. It notes the location of accessible toilets and which tourism attractions are best prepared to welcome people with specific mobility needs.

The top of the list: accessible Carnaval and a visit to Cristo Redentor, the open-armed sentinel in stoic embrace of Rio's cariocas. Yates also suggests getting gnarly on Leblon beach with AdaptSurf, specialists in accessible and inclusive surfing. "There’s no feeling like catching those waves," she writes.

Special features include interviews with Paralympians, and in one of these, Great Britian's wheelchair sprinter Hannah Cockroft heralds Sugarloaf Mountain as a must-see. "I was a little apprehensive about whether I would be able to have an enjoyable experience whilst pushing uphill, but it was incredible to have the opportunity to see everything that everyone else could see," said triple-gold Cockroft.

Before she wrote the latest guide for Lonely Planet, Yates travelled to Rio every few months over three years as an accessibilty consultant to MetrôRio, the city's subway service. Although the metro is 100 per cent accessible, Yates said she worked to improve awareness and acceptance of people's different needs. 

"Forget awkwardness around assistance," she writes in the intro to the guide. "The Brazilians might know how to party, but they also know how to help anyone who needs it."

A lover of bright colours and vintage dresses, Yates is laid-back and open, just like the cariocas in the city she's come to love. Her wheelchair is kitted out with paisley prints and hot-pink spokes, a compliment to the pastel shade of her hair.

Admiring athletes on the field of play is powerful and inspiring, but she said accessibility affects many people in subtle ways every day, from the parent with a baby buggy, to the elderly using a cane, to the person wearing a cast.

And, she added, don't presume all disabilities are immediately visible. "In order to create brilliant access and inclusion, it's really important that you focus on the most severe disability. If you cater for someone who has the most additional needs, then you have catered to everyone," said Yates, a London 2012 'Games maker' also volunteering for Rio 2016 at wheelchair basketball.

Besides, there is the important fact that disability can affect evey person and every family at some point in life. If not today, perhaps tomorrow. "You can go to bed able-bodied and wake up disabled," said Yates. "It is one of the most fluid concepts there is."

Creating access for those who need it most ensures everyone is served, she said. "Good access and good univeral design should simply be there to help everybody."; Source: Rio 2016
More about the Paralympics 2016 in Rio at: