Wheelchair travel and politics in Costa Rica

Candy Harrington, who writes about travel for “wheelers and slow walkers,” takes on accessibility politics in Costa Rica in a recent blog post. I met Candy at a talk she gave on “Finding Your Niche” in travel publishing, and she has done just that, becoming the go-to girl for what she calls barrier-free travel. After the talk I mentioned to her that Costa Rica has a single-issue political party–Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión (PASE)—that focuses on physical accessibility and inclusion.

Costa Rican streets aren't kind to wheelchair users. Photo: Erin Van Rheenen

She took the ball and ran with it, writing on her blog that PASE isn’t “just a splinter group supported entirely by the disabled population; but instead a driving force in Costa Rica politics with a substantial mainstream following.” And Candy poses a provocative question: “If a relatively inaccessible country like Costa Rica can have a political party based on inclusion, then why can’t it happen in an accessible country like US? And if it did, could this type of a party actually garner a solid mainstream following?”

Two things you don't often see in Costa Rica: special parking for disabled drivers, and 'Prohibido fumar' (No Smoking) signs. These are in front of a government building in downtown San José. Photo: Van Rheenen

Of course the fact that Costa Rica has a political party that advocates for wheelchair users could also be an indication of just how how far the country needs to come in that area.

Costa Rica’s streets and sidewalks are challenging enough for able-bodied walkers, who must be on the lookout for ankle-breaking holes, deep gutters, and careening cars. Wheelchair users in this country have to be especially resilient and creative, as they won’t find many ramps to help them over curbs or lifts to get them on buses.  On the other hand I’ve seen strangers pitch in to help when a wheelchair needed to get over a high curb or a wheelchair user needed to be loaded into a car or bus.

PASE recently won 4 seats in Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly. I’ll be curious to see if  the landscape will change for local and visiting “wheelers.”

  • By Doooooglasss, March 31, 2010 @ 4:41 am

    Wheelchairs, here , are about as useful as a snowmobile.

  • By Erin Van Rheenen, March 31, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

    Great analogy, Doooooglass, and all too true. I remember a few years back at a book reading in Berkeley a young man approached me after I spoke about Costa Rica. He’d been an avid surfer and was now in a wheelchair, following a car accident. He asked if I thought Costa Rica would be a good place for wheelchair users. The most positive thing I could think to say was that he’d be a pioneer, and that his efforts might help others that came after him.

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