Krakow without barriers

Krakow may become a friendlier city for the disabled. The City Council hopes to adapt the city to the needs of disabled people through technical improvements.

The first discussion will take place during December’s City Council session. Krakow is an old town with old architecture. With each step we encounter stairs, gates with high entry portals and steps down to many cellars.
Museums, offices, schools and other institutions are situated in old buildings not easily accessible for wheelchairs. Apartments built in the 1970s are equipped with elevators which are situated above ground level and accessible only by climbing a flight of stairs.

Pawel Sularz, an author of a new project on removing barriers, says the most important improvements needed are those that deal with public transportation and the ability of disabled people to board trams.

A few years ago, Krakow introduced low-floor buses and trams to assist children and the elderly in addition to the disabled. Now the City Council is planning to install in all trams devices which announce the next stop; the blind will be equipped with personal vehicle identifications, giving signs of approaching cars, and convex maps with Braille descriptions.

The next barrier to fall will be the curb stones that obstruct wheelchairs. There must be a compromise, however. Completely flat surfaces are best for wheelchairs. But the blind prefer different levels for sidewalk and street that they can detect with their walking sticks. Jan Otryl, a member of the Blind Union in Malopolska, has other complaints. Timetables at bus stops are too high, and people with vision defects cannot read them. There are too few traffic lights with sound signals.

The disabled would also like to see in Krakow the Wien system that has been used in Lodz, Bydgoszcz and Poznan. The system was invented in Wien to give the blind remote controllers similar to those for cars. They switch them on when they hear an approaching tram. Near the tram’s door is a chip which reacts to the remote controller signal and announces the tram number and its direction.

In the budget proposed for 2008, one mln zloty would be spent on removing barriers. Some things can be done during new construction, too, such as building ramps when building stairs. And some improvements cost nothing, such as hanging a street name plate a bit lower so that it can be seen by people in wheelchairs.

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