Amid the cobbled streets and crowded museums of Florence, visitors and residents with disabilities can face unexpected challenges. But beauty and heritage are for everyone to enjoy: that’s why Destination Florence is a staunch advocate of accessible tourism, a sector that’s on the rise as public knowledge of this theme grows.
On the frontlines in the mission for an ever-more welcoming, accessible Florence is university student Andrea Mucci, the blogger behind Contro Ogni Barriera – Firenze Accessibile. Drawing from his personal experience in a wheelchair and his ongoing conversations with city officials, he shared his two cents on working together, his hopes for the future, and what we can all do to pitch in.
Ph. courtesy of Andrea Mucci
DF: Ciao Andrea! Tell us about yourself and your mission.
AM: I’m 20 years old, have limited lower body abilities, lots of curiosity and joie de vivre. I’m in my second year in Humanistic Studies in Communication at the University of Florence. A born Florentine, I love my city. That’s why, since 2012, I’ve been working to raise awareness of the need to bring down architectural barriers, which are very prevalent throughout our area.
In 2016 I started a blog, Contro Ogni Barriera – Firenze Accessibile, which I use along with Facebook and Twitter to promote my #Mollaloscivolo project (translating roughly to “leave the ramp unobstructed”). It’s an awareness campaign aimed at drawing institutional and individual attention to the importance of respecting the city and “building a bridge” for the person who comes after you. In this particular case, I’m referring to a parking problem: the need for motorists to refrain from obstructing those small sidewalk “ramps” and crosswalks that allow everyone to get around freely, including those of us with disabilities, strollers, children, elderly people, and others. I particularly focus on building awareness in the city administration; I’ve been welcomed there many times and maintain constant dialogue with them, in order to help them set an example by building a culture based on respect and civic duty, a culture ever more focused on ensuring the liveability of our spaces. The goal is to make Florence reach new heights as a “City for All.”
I also want to help people who, due to ignorance or indifference, have never had the chance to understand how these barriers are created and how little effort it actually takes to keep them from ever going up.
Week to week, I update my blog with national and international news on accessibility and human rights.
DF: What are the main accessibility-related challenges in Florence, and what are the city’s strong points?
AM: Moving around Florence on my electric wheelchair, I frequently have to riskily navigate long stretches on roads themselves rather than on sidewalks, due to absent or blocked ramps … There are also lots of businesses that I can’t enter in a wheelchair (when there are steps at the entrance and no ramp, for example). Along with these physical barriers, there are avoidable complications that we create ourselves: uncivilized parking situations, bicycles left in the middle of the sidewalk, and so forth.
I must say, though, that in recent years in Florence, there’s been a general change of mentality in institutions regarding accessibility, and I do notice the efforts being made and the push to respect differences. In contrast with the shortsighted visions of the past, our administrators are paying attention to the issues of accessibility and sustainability and working to plan and execute new works and public services—but it’s just the beginning.
DF: What’s your five-year vision for Florence?
AM: I hope that five to 10 years from now we’ll manage to make Florence a friendlier, more sustainable, and accessible space, more attentive to the needs of those who live here. I hope that there will be more and more educational projects geared toward respecting one’s environment; starting in schools, I hope these will help create a more open culture, one that’s attentive to the “next person.” I want to believe that within a few years Florence will have new infrastructures resulting from accessibility-centered technical projects, and that these will be viewed not as gifts or concessions, but as necessary, legal conditions of societal development.
Our city in 2018, the “European Year of Cultural Heritage,” has set itself apart by participating in the drafting of goals that will go on to be part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This gives us hope for the future. My own commitment to the cause is geared in the same direction: it’s not limited to Florence.
Accessible Florence: travel tips
Mobility difficulties, ageing complications and other special needs shouldn’t be obstacles to exploring the Tuscan capital. DF partner Florence Planet focuses on accessible tours, ranging from short weekend options to full weeklong stays. Got guests or friends coming to the city who could use some specialized itinerary tailoring? Florence Planet – Accessible Tourism (tel. 055.5274578, www.accessibletourism.it) will put them up in a 4-star, centrally located hotel, book dinners in traditional, easy-access restaurants, and take them to both top monuments and well off the main tourist trail.
The mesmerizing Medici Chapels (part of which is pictured above) are among the Florentine marvels that get DF’s accessibility seal of approval. With a wheelchair ramp on the ground floor and an elevator that takes you from the Crypt to the first floor, you’ll be slack-jawed before the opulent Chapel of the Princes in no time. As for your “date with David”, the Accademia Gallery is wheelchair accessible, including the dedicated David tribune (and lesser-known gems like the Hall of Musical Instruments).
For further help in the accessible travel arena, Destination Florence can set you up with transfers and excursions, custom tours and guided visits, lodging recommendations, and more: get started here. (Another DF-approved resource is the activist Iacopo Melio’s Facebook page).
Find more tips and tours on www.DestinationFlorence.com.