Wheelchair-accessible Costa Rica

Aquatic wheelchair; photo by Sistemas de Accesibildad Total

Costa Rica is taking steps towards making its fabled natural beauty accessible to all.

It’s a matter of law–Costa Rica requires handicap accessibility in hotels and other public spaces–and of emerging technology.

At the recent Expo Travel trade show in San José, for example, Sistemas de Accesibildad Total, an accessible design firm, introduced to the country two new wheelchairs that will make it easier for those with mobility problems to travel jungle trails or even to wheel into the surf.

There are two versions of the chair, both with large, balloon-like yellow tires that stabilize the chairs over uneven surfaces and keep them from sinking into the sand. One version has life preservers and can go into the water.

Though Costa Rica law requires handicap accessibility (for more conventional wheelchairs) in public spaces, regulations have not been widely enforced. Another bill under consideration in the legislature is meant to give that first law teeth, by laying out punishment for those who fail to comply.

Parks are public spaces, and the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) wants to make more national parks and reserves accessible to people of all abilities.

Veragua Aventure Park

Wheelchair-accessible Parks
Right now only two parks are wheelchair accessible: Poás Volcano National Park, near the capitol of San José, and Carera National Park, not far from Jacó on the country’s Pacific coast. Both parks have paved pathways and ramps. Some private parks, like Veragua Adventure Park, have taken it upon themselves to make their attractions and facilities wheelchair accessible.

SINAC has plans to make six other national parks accessible, including Irazú Volcano National Park, Guayabo (the country’s only pre-Columbian ruins protected in a national park), and the ever-popular Manuel Antonio, where officials hope to build accessible walkways to the park’s mangroves and beach, including a ramp that would allow wheelchair access to the ocean.

Funding for these changes remains a challenge, but with the Accessibility without Exclusion Party (PASE) gaining ground in recent elections, it looks like the pressure to make public places accessible will not let up.