Dear Editor,

What a nice discovery your web-site is!! I will be going to Venice Italy in the fall and have been trying to gather some information on what type of accessibility issues and/or equipment rentals may be available there. I have limited mobility and spend part time in a wheelchair. Have you any direction you can give me on information sources in Venice? Thank you ever so much, Carol Ann Brown

Carol,

Yours is one of several requests we’ve had for information on Venice. I guess the enchanting beauty of that city trumps the obvious hurdles it presents. It will take a lot of planning and will be far from easy, but fortunately, Venice is somewhat (barely) accessible and I’ve been able to cull some information that should prove helpful. I recommend reading everything as new information is added with each resource. First, here are the sites of three travel agencies that plan tours of Italy, are very knowledgeable, and can arrange accessible ground transportation (often a troublesome issue): Accessible Italy, another Accessible Italy, and Accessible Journeys. Next, here are some very insightful online articles describing the (in)accessibility of Venice and how best to get around: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3. The next two sites are from the tourism board and a self-proclaimed accessible hotel.

Finally, the inside scoop from other disabled traveler’s input: You have a choice – either to work your way about on land or to use the vaporetti – the latter will be less tiring, but you will miss out on a lot of local detail. Remember, there are only three bridges across the Grand Canal and both those at the Rialto and Accademia look like the north face of the Eiger as you approach them and are as about as welcome. In addition, there are a very limited number of bridges which are fitted with lifts – the majority are in the S Marco area, one in the eastern District with one on Murano and two on Burano. The lifts are operated by keys which are available from APT offices. The best one to approach is the S Marco office which is on the right hand side under the archway approaching the Piazza from Szda S Moise or telephone +39 041 5415887. Not all these lifts are likely to be operational – we found that around half were out of commission. Furthermore, the instructions provided were unclear.

For museums, this site gives access to a page providing location, opening times and layouts as well as what can be seen in all the city’s museums. If it’s a really popular sight, arrange to get there for opening time.

The disabled access map of Venice shows the areas around each waterbus stop which can be accessed without crossing a bridge. The secret therefore is to use the waterbus system to move between these zones and to travel on land within them. For example, the route that everyone takes from St Marks to the Accademia involves crossing five bridges plus the seriously daunting Accademia bridge. Get onto a Line 1 waterbus at St Marco Vaderossa and two stops later, you are dropped off directly in front of the Accademia. This site gives access to online timetables while the Hellovenezia website provides both on-line and a downloadable timetable which can be printed off and is in both Italian and English. It also includes separate maps of the various routes which are less confusing than a single general map. This is a really useful document and was vital to planning. The waterbuses themselves are highly reliable and with wheelchair access to those on most routes. We can vouch for lines 1, 82, Lagunanord . Many landing stages have electronic displays showing the next arrivals with times and destinations. Wheelchairs are accommodated in the covered area immediately behind the bridge which gives good views off to either side in you can fit yourself into a corner against the stern cabin. The landing stages are all floating and therefore (in theory) are on a level with the boat deck when you land or embark. The ramps to the stage from dry land move with the tide. Of course, due to waves on the canals, there is a tendency for the landing stage and boat to move up and down out of sequence. Moving on and off the boat can require a bit of skill and choosing the right moment – best when what you are moving onto is above where you are – but the crew will ensure that the boat is kept secure against the landing stage and will offer help. The waterbuses are free for disabled users and helpers are supposed to pay €3.5 on routes outside the central area. In reality, a great deal of flexibility is shown, including staff calling disabled users to the head of the queue.Without doubt one of the most dramatic routes is up the Grand Canal from S Marco at dusk. Lights flickering on the water, illuminated buildings, cafes on either bank – and its free! It’s worth going all the way up to Roma and then taking another boat back to S Marco, sitting on the opposite side to get another view coming back.

Basilica

Unmissable. Disabled access into the Basilica during the morning only is by a doorway from the Piazzetta dei Leoni on the north side of the church controlled by an attendant and currently surrounded by building works. At other times, I understand it is closed off and you have to find an attendant. This side entry also doubles as access for worshipers. Although the parts for a ramp system were stacked up inside the door and could have been in use at some stage, we found that the way in was over a raised step which was just wide enough to pull the chair up onto it backwards, turn it very carefully through 180 degrees so it didn’t slip off and now facing the right way, carefully let it down the other side. Once inside the porch, a ramp runs up into the chapel and there are no more steps throughout the main body of the Basilica unless you want to look at the Pala d’Oro. A charge is made for this and the area is only accessible via steps to the immediate right of the altar and through a turnstile, returning the same way. There is space just before this area to leave a chair out of everyone’s way. Arrive at the Basilica around 15 minutes before the main doors are opened and you can enjoy the interior in some peace before everyone else is let in. This is at the end of Mass so it is expected, quite properly, that you will be quiet. You will be restricted to a side chapel behind a barrier until the service finishes, but you can see a great deal from there. Although it is claimed that visitors are limited to ten minutes (and probably most only stay ten minutes as they come in groups and are marshaled through intensively by their guides) there are plenty of corners to get you out of the flow and no-one seems to be too worried if you go against the flow . A pair of binoculars is strongly recommended to help in viewing the ceiling mosaics.

It is now possible to get up to the Museo Marciano where the originals of the four bronze horses are on display together with displays of mosaics, tapestries and books and to look at the ceiling mosaics from a different and closer vantage point. Disabled access was not advertised in any way and only came to light when my husband clambered up the steep stairway to the Museum and spotting a lift in a corner, made some enquiries. It is also challenging. Ask one of the attendants: the way from inside the Basilica is down a flight of steps to the left of the altar and then left again into the cloister. It may be possible to enter through an office building which faces onto the Piazetta dei Leoni which involves fewer steps – we came out that way and it was physically a lot easier but you’re dependant on what the staff will allow you to do. Once in the cloister, two more steps and the lift from a storeroom takes you upto the first level of the museum. An attendant will wait to take you to the second level and also operate the two stair lifts when you need them. The stair lifts are narrow and will only take a standard wheel chair but will deliver you to the area where the original horses are on display and allow you to look down the nave. The view is well worth the effort. The museum has WCs on the first level.

Doge’s Palace

One of the easier ones. The entrance from the Molo San Marco is on the level but tickets are only available from the office on the left-handside as you enter which is up some steps. Once into the Palace courtyard, the disabled WC is next to the general lavatories on the right hand side and is kept locked – the key is available from the attendant in the general toilets and because the entrance to these is unisex, there can be a queue to be worked around. Access to the upper floors is via a lift from the cafeteria at the end of the central courtyard again on the right hand side. Attendants will operate it for you and were very helpful. A great deal of the floor space is accessible with ramps up to the ballroom area which is incredible. The Palace does get very busy but during our visit people tended to come in groups, leaving spaces between them to see everything if you were patient – and a lot of what you really want to see is high up in the rooms. The Secret Itinerary – reputed to be one of the best tours in Venice – can’t be done in a wheelchair.

Museo Correr

Difficult but worthwhile: an elegant flight of stairs runs up from the main entrance in the arcade running under the museum by the post office. I left my wife there and went up to the ticket desk on the first floor to arrange for an attendant to operate the lift which is accessed from Calle Larga Ascension which runs down to Bacino Orseolo. Best to go down in the lift with the attendant so you know precisely where it comes out. It is a very small lift and while it can be accessed via a ramp, we had to fold the wheelchair up to get it in and my wife had to stand. Once on the first floor, it’s very straightforward and you can happily ramble though to the Archaeological Museum and Library but to get to the second floor – which is strongly recommended because of the paintings there – including the famous “Two Venetian Ladies on a Terrace” by Carpaccio – requires another small lift which is well hidden accessed by ramps and difficult to get into.

Ca Rezzonico

Described as “fully accessible”. Close but not quite accurate. To get there, you have a choice of disembarking at the Ca Rezzonico vaporetto stop and crossing a wooden bridge to the front of the building or taking an 82 to Zattere and walking for about half a mile over what appears to be a bridge-less terrain. “Appears” is the word because the steps of the Ponte S Barnaba just as before you arrive at the museum extend across the pavement you will want to use. But it is a pleasant walk. There may be a way around them, but we went for assertive action here. Anyway, once at the Ca Rezzonico, there are only a couple of steps down into the entrance foyer. Lift, WC and café are fully accessible. However, one room on each floor is not accessible due to steps and the attic gallery over the main top floor is step access only. Also, as is to be expected in Venice, some of the floors are decidedly off line and uneven so some care with the chair is necessary.

Accademia

Something of a challenge but well-worth all the effort despite the look on my face! Three steps up into the entrance foyer and then two long flights of stairs to the main floor. A stair climber is available and having called in advance with a day and time to visit there was only a delay of a couple of minutes before it was encouraged into operation. However, once on the first floor, there were two further sections of a couple of steps each to be negotiated but once past these, the floor was open. Disabled WC about halfway round. Locked but key available from attendants. More steps to be negotiated on the way out before heading down the two main flights again with the assistance of the climber.

Ca Pessaro

One of the easiest. Disabled access is through the doors accessing the WCs from the entry courtyard and then into the cloakroom and then the main hallway. If locked, the key can be sorted out at the ticket desk. Lift to all floors. Very accessible. However, a question mark does exist over the contents – in addition to some very well known work, the gallery contains some late C19th /early C20th examples of doubtful meaning and content.

Ca d’Oro

Steps into foyer but believe ramp can be provided. Lift to upper floors access from ground floor by temporary ramp. Could only access first floor during visit due to some unspecified technical problem with the top floor. Access to loggia on first floor up step.

Lace Museum

Flight of steps up to first floor where the displays are, internal steps. WC. Access very complicated.

Palazzo Mocenigo

Very difficult. Two flights of stairs to first floor. Promised stair lift has not materialized.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Difficult – two steps upto entrance on ground floor and two long flights of stairs to the first floor. Stair climber seen but not in use. Suggest calling ahead to make arrangements because the first floor is incredible and worth the effort.

Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

Steps to the ground floor and a stairs to the first floor. In reality, it’s the ground floor which is the interest with the famous sequence of paintings by Carpaccio showing St Augustine with his fluffy little dog, St Jerome with his Lion

Bridges

A very limited number of bridges have been fitted with stair lifts. They do not always work so don’t rely on being able to use them. Of the four which we tried, only one was in working order. There is a separate lift for each side of the bridge and the “rest” position is at the top of the bridge to which the lift will return automatically if not used after 10 minutes. Each lift has a control pillar at the bottom of the rails on which it runs. If the lift is not in the rest position, it is called by inserting the key in the pillar, turning it and pressing the button.When the lift has reached the bottom of the rail, open the cover to the control panel on the lift itself – this is secured by a lock on the top of the panel.

General:

Bathrooms – there is a habit of fitting very low lavatory pans without seats. While the latter is inconvenient, the level of the pan is difficult and requires careful maneuvering – even more interesting if the lights go out as well if they are on a timer!

Flooding – Venice does have a flooding problem which can be serious.

Hotel – we stayed at the Violino d’Oro which has a specific disabled room with bathroom on the second floor overlooking the canal. Ramps into the hotel and into the breakfast room on the ground floor, excellent lift, wide doors in the disabled unit and a huge bathroom with grab rails and easy access shower. Very helpful staff – recollect it was €250 per night including breakfast (decent with good coffee) with a 10% discount for cash.

Venice’s train stations at Mestre and Santa Lucia are both accessible to the disabled and fitted with access ramps, disabled toilets and Welcome Centers.- contact 041.785570 from 7.00 am to 9.00 pm. Assistance to board the trains is available given 24-hours notice.