Helsinki, Finland | City Accessibility
Finland is known as one of the most accessible countries in the world. Since the 1970s Finland has been working to ensure that all new buildings and transportation provides equal access for all. The capital city, Helsinki, is a compact city. It's large enough to have a ton to do and see during your trip, but small enough that it's easy to get around (especially for those with battery powered wheelchairs that are concerned about losing battery!). One of the things that I have noticed around Helsinki is a lack of Braille, but audio and visual guides are often provided, always on the train and the metro, and signage is large with contrasting colors.
You will notice the accessibility as soon as you arrive at the airport. Planes always pull up to the jetway, so there are no stairs to walk down from the plane. The airport has large pathways and elevators all throughout, including to the train that goes into the city. The transportation here, which has been voted the best in Europe many times before, is wonderful to use for people with wheelchairs and/or mobility impairments. To travel around Helsinki you can take a train, a tram, the metro, ferries, or buses. The trains and metro have level landings and elevators provided at every stop. The gaps are not large to board, so those with small wheels or people who have difficulty walking should not run into a problem with this. About 70% of buses have lowered sections, but the timetables will tell you which buses have these. For the most part, the buses in the touristy areas of town will have the lowered section, with a pull-out ramp, to board the bus. If you are traveling alone, just signal or call out to the driver (or someone around you if you can't get the driver's attention) and the driver will unload the ramp so that you can board. There is a designated area for wheelchair users and there are designated seats for those with mobility impairments. Wheelchairs users and their assistant, if traveling with one, travel for free, so no need to buy those heft transport passes!
If you don't want to use public transportation or not sure where to go, you can always call a taxi! There are around 100 accessible taxis in the city and they will arrive within 5-10 minutes after calling them. Taksi Helsinki's phone number is 0100 85 500 (if dialing from an international phone the number would be +358 100 85 500).
Within the city there are a lot of cobblestone streets, adding to Helsinki's quaint charm. Often times they are large stones and fairly flat, but there are a few streets that are exceptions. Thankfully, the city has curb cuts throughout and sidewalks. Make sure to be on the lookout for the biking lanes -- they bike fast here, so people respect the pedestrian lanes and the biking lanes! Almost all museums, galleries, malls, and churches have ramps and/or elevators. Most small shops are wheelchair accessible, but there are some that have steps up into them. (But I have seen a few places that keep small portable ramps in their backrooms, so ask before leaving!).
One of the biggest events in Helsinki is the Flow Music Festival each summer in August. The festival is designed so that everyone can attend: accessible taxis are given special permission to drop customers off 50 meters from the entrance, there are larger accessible portable toilets provided throughout the festival, the land is flat and smooth, there are special wheelchair podiums provided in tents (if you want to use it), and if bringing an assistant, they can attend the festival for free! We didn't see any sign language interpreters at the festival this past summer, but hopefully that's something we can see in the future.
The main thing to be on the lookout for in Helsinki is the weather! It gets quite cold here in the winter time, well below freezing, so although the snow is dry and often packed down, there still can be a lot of ice throughout the streets. If you think this could be an issue for you, don't chance it! If you really want to see snow, head up to north to Lapland where there is so much snow and nature you don't have to worry about the ice on cobbled streets! :)
Helsinki is a beautiful city that is thankfully accessible to all! Have you been to Helsinki? How did you feel about accessibility there? What was your favorite mode of transport? Let us know in the comments!