Mobility products vary from country to country, but who should care?
YOU, the wheelchair user should.
Understanding global standards for safety, quality, and accessibility stimulates conversation through comparison, keeping disabled users aware and informed.
This is part of how the mobility industry evolves, and how wheelchair users can keep the conversation going for a better quality of life. In this article, we compare Europe vs USA wheelchairs. Let’s go!
European vs USA Wheelchairs Overview
When we think of Europe, images of castles, quaint cafes, rich culture, and cobblestone streets might come to mind. Although for wheelchair users, cobblestone streets aren’t a dream come true.
But honestly, those centuries-old roadways don’t matter. Most European countries place a high emphasis on quality of life for everyone, including people with disabilities.
The consensus is that investing in every citizen’s quality of life, in turn, facilitates a healthy and successful society.
This is a foreign concept in the free market US. For example, most European countries have universal healthcare, where people with disabilities don’t have to wrestle with insurance coverage or pay out of pocket for medical services. They receive the care they need free of charge.
In Europe, mobility is viewed as a quality of life issue, while the US government views it as a medical issue.
That’s why we see American wheelchair users handed the lowest cost device needed for in-home use only. While in Finland for example, a person can receive a $25,000 fully accessorized power wheelchair simply because they are entitled to it – it’s what they deserve to live a higher quality of life.
So why don’t US agencies like Medicare deliver? In true free-market form, companies do not manufacture goods that can’t be sold. For example, the cutting-edge iBot was discontinued in the US due to a lack of funding from the government and insurance agencies.
If this brief comparison is already shocking for you, that’s good! That’s why it’s important to compare current mobility standards on a global scale.
One of the reasons why the US laws differ from European laws is that the majority of American wheelchair users accept the low-cost devices they receive from agencies like Medicare. In other words, they go home and call it a day without thinking, “I should get what I deserve and I’m going to fight for it.”
Keeping an open mind stimulates conversation and pushes for improved accessibility, leading to overall better quality of life.
European vs USA Mobility Products: Accessibility & Safety
In this section, we’ll take a more in-depth look at European vs USA accessibility.
Of course, Europe is a continent and the laws differ from country to country, but as a whole most European cities are highly accessible, with walkable city centers.
We’ll start by analyzing three European cities that are popular destinations for people with disabilities due to ease of access.
Admittedly, most of the cobblestone streets in London were destroyed during WWII, making it incredibly easy for wheelchair users to get around. But that’s not the only reason why it’s a superstar destination for the disabled.
Most of London’s terrain is flat, especially the main tourist areas. The sidewalks are also upgraded with curb cuts at most street intersections, and they’re regularly maintained.
There is also the simple fact that English is the primary language, which is actually a huge advantage for getting around (since we are comparing the US and Europe). If you need help, it’s much easier to ask instead of struggling with Google Translate.
London also boasts an excellent public transportation system that is accessible for wheelchair users. Many tube stations are step-free with level platforms and even boarding ramps. There is also designated seating for disabled passengers.
Wide access doors, audiovisual information, and grab rails are also plentiful for using the London overground and train system.
Like London, Barcelona’s medieval city center is mostly cobblestone-free, making it a top destination for wheelchair users.
Public transportation is highly accessible as well, with elevators found in most metro stations, ramps for buses, and numerous modern hotels featuring ground floor access and roll-in showers.
But probably the best access can be found at the beach! Wooden ramps begin at the sidewalk and lead down to the water’s edge – a rare delight! There are also beach wheelchairs available for use.
If you’re a WWII history buff, then Berlin is the place to be. it’s also very accessible for wheelchairs!
Most of the city’s terrain is flat, which is a big win, but there is also an excellent sidewalk system with ramps included.
The train system is also designed to accommodate wheelchairs, with level platforms and ramps that make entry and exit a breeze. There are also seats for disabled individuals.
Public buses are equipped with manual loading ramps, and there is also priority seating for wheelchairs.
Wheelchair Accessibility & Safety in the USA
The US is a giant country, with sprawling cities that are mainly accessible by driving. So while the US missed out on the cobblestone era, more likely than not you need an accessibility van to get around, unlike in many European cities where you can get by without a vehicle.
With that being said, you do see spacious sidewalks equipped with wheelchair-accessible ramps and parking lots with disabled parking spaces.
But it’s not everywhere, and US public transportation? Well, that’s a challenge even for able-bodied Americans.
For example, the New York subway station is not known to be wheelchair friendly, with only a handful of elevators reaching the platforms.
Not many public buses in major cities make it easy for the disabled to travel, with few accessible bus lines, resulting in excruciating transit times.
And even though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed requiring all public buildings and commercial facilities built after 1993 and public transit to be updated for wheelchair accessibility, there are still infrastructure inconsistencies in many places.
Here is a list of the top US cities for wheelchair accessibility.
- Orlando, Florida
- Portland, Oregon
- Chicago, Illinois
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Seattle, Washington
- Denver, Colorado
- Reno, Nevada
Final Thoughts on Europe vs USA Wheelchairs
When comparing Europe vs USA wheelchairs, the biggest difference isn’t regarding types of models and how individuals acquire them. What it really comes down to is social justice.
In Europe, quality of life is paramount, which means the government invests in the people’s physical and mental health. For disabled individuals, having a wheelchair is a basic human right that gives them the independence to function as comfortably as possible in society.
Therefore, it’s not uncommon to see cities adapted for accessibility and safety – from accommodation to public transit. In the US, there is still room for improvement, but it’s up to every American wheelchair user to stay informed on global practices and lobby for the changes that increase the quality of life.
Resources & References
- Reluctant Towns, Cities, and States Are Being Dragged Into Court to Fix Sidewalks for People With Disabilities, Time.
- ‘People aren’t disabled, their city is’ inside Europe’s most accessible city, Guardian.