DisABILITIES If there's a wheel, there's a way

"We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history."

- Sonja Johnson

History of Disability In Reggio

  • There is about 2.6 million people living with disabilities in Italy.
  • Around 163,249 people live in Reggio Emilia.
  • 3.5% of people live with disabilities in Reggio Emilia.
  • 48.6 million tourist each year visit Italy.
  • Department of Municipality of Reggio Emilia helps make improvements for those living with disabilities.

What People Need to Pay More Attention to

While exploring Reggio Emilia, it is easy to overlook and not notice how hard it would be for an individual to get around that is living with disabilities. With the beautiful architecture, authentic style, and traditional feelings that Reggio Emilia has to offer, it is hard to notice anything wrong with the town. However, when looking closely it is hard to understand how so many things have been overlooked. Those living with disabilities in Reggio Emilia face the difficult challenge of living when it comes to wanting to do normal every day things. Although one living without disabilities might not notice the obstacles one might face with a disability, those living with these realities face these challenges every day.

Get Out of The Road!

“Uscire dalla strada!” A man driving yelled out to me as I was walking alongside the roads towards downtown Reggio Emilia. I wasn’t crossing the street when I wasn’t supposed to be, I was simply walking to get to my destination on the only road that could get me there. I later translated what he said and found that it meant, “Get out of the road!” I found myself laughing at the irony of his statement because there was only a road. Where I was walking didn’t have a sidewalk, except for a tiny narrow curb that would be hard to balance on since there was chairs placed up and down it. I find myself getting frustrated at bikers and cars that I have to dodge sometimes so that I don’t get hit here, because it is hard to share the road when there isn’t an accessible sidewalk that can fit multiple people walking. I have never appreciated sidewalks so much until coming to Reggio Emilia. I am from California, where any street you go on will have a wide enough sidewalk to fit walkers and bikers, not to mention wheel chairs. Although I have observed a handful of people with wheelchairs out and about on the streets in Reggio Emilia, I have noticed that they always have to have someone helping them, and that they have no choice but to go in the middle of the street sometimes. In a population that has over 100,000 people in it, I am curious as to why this is. I also can’t imagine the frustration those living with wheelchairs must feel sometimes since it is not easy for them to get around everywhere they want to go. Reggio Emilia needs more access for those in wheelchairs/ disabilities that will make it easier for their everyday lives with getting around. It isn’t just the streets and sidewalks, but also the steps and entrances to places. I have seen numerous places that don’t have wheelchair ramps or anything to help those with disabilities here in Reggio Emilia. Not having these simple improvements in Reggio Emilia, is taking away those with disabilities full capabilities. Those who are disabled are not incapable of doing anything one who doesn’t have disabilities can do, however factors such as environment can hold a person with disabilities back, preventing them to reach their full capability and independence. So what is being done to improve this problem in Reggio Emilia?

The Price to Pay

Money. There is never enough of it to go around, however it’s interesting what one will pay for. Reggio Emilia is special because it has a charm to it that is hard to beat. It’s traditional streets and buildings make it one of a kind and impossible to copy. However one needs to ask themselves is everything traditional, also practical? While walking across any street that has a crosswalk in Reggio Emilia, you may notice something missing. Reggio Emilia does not have crosswalks built for those who are blind and disabled. 99% of the time, anywhere you go in the United States will have crosswalks that flash lights and have sound for those who cannot see, however after being in Europe for over a month I have not seen one here. Not having an accessible crosswalk for those who need it is eliminating the possibility for one with disabilities to get around by themselves safely. Imagine crossing the street with your eyes closed, not being able to see when it’s your turn to go. It is just a disaster waiting to happen, and with it being 2016 shouldn’t ever be a scenario for someone. APS stands for Accessible Pedestrian Signals, and is what the device is called that alerts a blind person or those who are disabled when it is okay to cross the street. According to The Volpe Center, (The National Transportation System Center) it is estimated the additional cost for an accessible pedestrian pushbutton compared to conventional pushbutton is $350 per unit. The total additional cost to provide accessible pedestrian signals and pedestrian pushbuttons, including labor and other equipment such as stub poles varies by location. Overall, The Volpe Center estimated that the total additional costs are $3,600 per intersection based on a published cost study and interviews with local transportation departments. (US. Access Board,2016) Reggio Emilia is a town of over 100,000 people and with this cost one has to wonder why nothing has been done to change this issue. When doing the math, each person would only have to donate around 15 cents in order for a whole intersection based crosswalk APS system to be installed. One also has to wonder what Reggio Emilia’s City budget is, and why they haven’t given this matter enough attention. A big problem in society is that if a problem doesn’t affect them, they won’t even think about it, however Reggio Emilia has a chance to better its community. A call for action needs to be done.

More Than Just Makeup

The other day I was out and about in the town of Reggio Emilia, and decided to go into the makeup store Sephora. Upon entering the store, I was pleasantly surprised to see much more than just makeup. An electronic wheelchair accessible ramp has been placed inside Sephora since there are stairs inside of the store. Seeing this made my entire day, for this was the first thing I have seen in Reggio Emilia that has been done for those specifically with disabilities. I have been in many stores and shops in Reggio Emilia that have steps or stairs, and have not seen until now an easy accessible solution for those who have disabilities. On average, a wheelchair ramp costs anywhere between 1500 and 4000 dollars, however it is possible to get a ramp for as little as 400 dollars. I was so interested in the fact that there was a wheelchair ramp inside of Sephora that when I was purchasing my makeup I asked the cashier about it, who thankfully spoke fairly good English. She told me that the wheelchair ramp was fairly new, and that it has been in the store for a little over a year now. I asked her how it improved the lives of those coming in and out of the store who have disabilities. She responded by telling me that it is a very easy machine to use, and that it has only made the lives of those with disabilities better. I couldn’t help but feel the smile that was on my face after hearing this. Something as simple as a wheelchair ramp, is one of the many resources needed to improve the quality of life for those living with disabilities in Reggio Emilia. This got me to wondering why other stores haven’t done the same thing. I considered this shopping trip a very good trip, and can only hope to see more of these changes in stores all around Reggio Emilia. On this day I definitely gained more than just makeup; I gained a new hope that changes are starting to happen in Reggio Emilia.

Hearing From Others

With all the wondering about why the community of Reggio Emilia hasn’t done more to help those with disabilities, I decided to ask some people on my own on their thoughts about this issue. Surprisingly, almost everybody I talked to had similar responses which were, “Hmm, I’ve honestly never given it that much thought until you just pointed it out.” In my opinion, this is the problem Reggio Emilia faces, and why there hasn’t been that much change. Not enough people think about the lives of those who are disabled daily routines, and how they are affected by the lack of resources available to them. The lack of education on this issue can be an easy fix. By spreading the word as a community, Reggio Emilia has the chance to make a huge difference, and has the chance to better the lives of those who are disabled.

“Sometimes I notice that, but not enough. I agree that change must happen to improve the lives of others.” - Piero
“Wow. You make a great point. I have never realized how difficult that must be for those facing disadvantages.” - Claudia, 35
“What do you mean? We pay attention to those disabled.” I pointed out to her how the stairs didn’t have a ramp access that made it accessible for those who are disabled. She thought for a second and then said, “Ah. I see. I believe we have the ability to change that to help those in need.” - Isabel
Also keep in mind: Weather changes making cobblestone slippery

The Irony

A great opportunity presented itself to me last weekend in Reggio Emilia while I was out to dinner eating pizza at a place called Condor. I was with my family who was visiting, and at a table right next to us was a man eating with his friends who was in a wheelchair. To my luck, my dad’s first language is Italian, so he is fluent and can talk to whoever he wants to in Italy. My curiosity began to grow, as I thought about this man in the wheelchair. I wondered what his opinions and thoughts were about the streets of Reggio Emilia, and how his everyday life was affected by being in a wheelchair. Now, I would never want to bother someone while they were out to eat, however ironically enough my dad and his family got to talking since we were sitting so close to one another. After about ten minutes of them talking, I asked my dad to explain to this man that I have been doing a project on improving the lives of those in wheelchairs/ those who have disabilities, and asked what his thoughts were on this issue since he actually has to deal with this in his everyday life. His response saddened me. This man’s name was Giovanni, and he had two daughters and a wife. My dad and him got to talking more, and my dad found out that it wasn’t until five years ago that he needed a wheelchair. This issue needs to be noticed and acted on. Why should one have to change their whole routines just because they have a disability? We should be making the lives of those with disabilities different for the better instead of adding onto their condition and making it harder for them than it needs to be. To me, it was ironic that I met Giovanni while being out with my dad who could communicate with him. I got to understand this issue more from his perspective, and was reminded why I choose this subject to talk about in the first place. Hopefully Giovanni is a reminder to not just me but everyone on why change in Reggio Emilia needs to be done in order to help improve the everyday lives of those living with disabilities.

“Very few people have asked me this. I guess I hardly notice it anymore, it has just become my routine to go around what may be an obstacle to me. Life sure is different though.” - Giovanni, Been in a wheelchair for 5 years.

Taking Charge to Make a Change

"Think of our city as a pilot municipality at national level, a city that smiles to the differences and their location in the belief that they are a cultural and ethical resource. A city that is not closed but opens and sees disability as a privileged point of reflection from which to watch the company. A city that does not forget the fragile categories, that respects and makes a strength of its innovation policy. A city that proudly displays the persons with disabilities. The city of all people.” -Health Department of Municipality

Reggio Emilia; A City Without Barriers

The project of the municipality is an organization in Reggio Emilia that aims to help improve the lives of those with disabilities. The president of the health department of municipality of Reggio Emilia is Annalisa Rabitti. The project that Annalisa Rabitti and her team are working on right now is called, “Reggio Emilia City Without Barriers.” This project is targeting the architectural barriers of Reggio Emilia, and aims to improve the pavement of Reggio Emilia, as well as entry access for those with disabilities into places. Last year on April 30th, the restoration of the Prampolini Square pavement was finished, already improving an area for those with disabilities to go to. Recently a loan of 60 thousand EURO was assigned to the Municipality of Reggio Emilia by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport for the construction of the ‘Tactile paving’ from Piazzale Marconi Central Station to the Via Emilia. Now, Reggio Emilia’s city without barriers is focusing on training and social inclusion for vulnerable people. Not only are these amazing improvements done in the past year, but they also have founded a system that those with disabilities can use, where one can book equipped vehicles for persons with disabilities, at no additional cost, for school, travel, or sport trips. I think that Reggio Emilia could benefit tremendously if this organization was more advertised, allowing Reggio Emilia to make more changes each year.



Created with images by Giorgio Galeotti - "Piazza Fontanesi - Reggio Emilia, Italy November 28, 2009" • Giorgio Galeotti - "Piazza San Prospero - Reggio Emilia, Italy - October 2008" • Giorgio Galeotti - "Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio - Reggio Emilia, Italy - March 2009" • Honza Soukup - "Drank his wine..." • Nick Kenrick. - "All roads lead to Rome series" • -marika bortolami- - "Reggio Emilia - Italia" • paulbr75 - "cobble stone street road"

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