Rolling in Rome 2012
Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Rome
By Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha
© Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha 2012


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Michele, Howard &  Jason having dinner in Rome.

Michele, Howard &  Jason having dinner in Rome

This article is based on our trip to Rome in May and June 2012 with our friend Jason Shuffler.  We also visited Rome in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009 and wrote about wheelchair access in Vincenza Voyage, and Florence and Rome Update 2005. This article supersedes them, except as to Vicenza and Florence in the 2005 article.  When describing a museum, church, antiquities site or other place, we indicate the year of our most recent visit.  On this trip we also went to Naples; our article about wheelchair access there is on the same websites as this one.


As you can see, we really love Rome!  Reluctant as we are to begin with a cliché, it is true that “Roma, non basta una vita” - “Rome - a lifetime is not enough.”  Above all, we hope this article will inspire you to go:  access barriers are not trivial and often frustrating, but the high points are really high.  Like everyone who enjoys traveling, our highs come from the people one meets, the beautiful and inspiring art, architecture and natural scenery one sees, the culture one experiences, the history one learns, and the food and drink one relishes.  These are reason enough for returning to a place we find endlessly fascinating and exhilarating, and wheelchair access adds another dimension.  As a disabled traveler (Howard) and an able-bodied spouse who is affected by access barriers (Michele), there are some unique high points:  the sense of empowerment and optimism in being able to travel, in overcoming the obstacles and barriers, in seeing how other places handle access, in realizing that no place has a monopoly on good design and in seeing progress on repeat visits.  The differences in access between one place and another yield interesting and valuable insights about cultural differences in general, unexamined assumptions, priorities, values, organizational methods and design styles.  Even the downside has an upside:  encountering access barriers in other places makes us appreciate just how good access is at home.


This article is dedicated to our friends Jason Shuffler, Cornelia Danielson and Martina Dalla Riva, with great affection and with many thanks for making our trip unforgettable!


We traveled on our own, not with a group.  In planning our trip we used the Internet and other information sources but not a travel agent.  


We’ve tried to be as accurate as possible, but it’s essential to confirm all information, especially access details, directly with hotels, museums, transportation providers and other facilities.  As in all research, primary sources are much better than secondary ones.  Things change.  It’s critical to re-confirm information shortly before acting on it. 


About Us.  Because one’s capabilities, limitations and equipment affect the access achievable and his point of reference informs his perceptions, we’ll tell you about ourselves.  We are fortunate to live in San Francisco, where wheelchair access is generally excellent.  Howard has muscular dystrophy, uses a power wheelchair and cannot stand or walk.  Michele is able-bodied.  On all our previous trips to Italy Howard used his traveling wheelchair, a Quickie P110 power chair that, at around 100 pounds (45 kg), is lightweight for a power chair.  With a tubular frame similar to a manual wheelchair, it can be tilted and lifted up one or two stairs.  On this trip, however, he used his everyday wheelchair, a Permobil with a seat elevator, reclining back, elevating footrest and tilt-in-space.  The Permobil is much more comfortable and more rugged, but there are some disadvantages.  It weighs around 325 pounds (148 kg) and, unlike the Quickie, cannot be tilted and lifted, although it can climb a curb or step around 3 inches (7 to 8 cm) high.  This presented obstacles we had not encountered on previous trips at some restaurants, stores and churches.  The Permobil is 26 inches (66 cm) wide and, with the footrest in the shortened position, 48 inches (1.22 meters) long.  Howard is 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and, when seated in his wheelchair, 57 inches (1.45 meters) high.  All other dimensions in this article are approximate; we didn’t have a tape measure.


A Call for Advocacy.  Researching your trip, the trip itself and the time after your return present great opportunities to educate and advocate for access.  If we learn that something isn’t accessible and could feasibly be made accessible, or that something is mostly accessible but could be improved, Howard often sends an immediate e-mail with detailed recommendations.  On our trip we provide feedback in real time.  After we return Howard writes letters advocating better access, including appeals to government officials. We aren’t only critical - we try to acknowledge and appreciate good access, and we also recognize the logistical and architectural difficulties and limitations in making old buildings and ancient sites accessible.  Our communications have usually been well received and our efforts have helped spur improvements.


            Howard has written to the mayors of Rome and Paris about access issues, including the need for more curb ramps, and to the CEOs of the Rome and Paris airports.  When writing to government officials, we usually send copies to local disability organizations.  Sometimes a complaint or recommendation from us, as foreign tourists, can lend additional credibility and cumulative weight to similar advocacy by local individuals and disability organizations.  Ironically, it may be easier for officials to ignore or delay action on a complaint by a local than one by a foreign tourist.


We urge you to use your trip as an opportunity to help move the ball forward on disability access - you will already have the information and the impressions will be fresh in your mind, so writing an effective letter won’t take much extra time.


Good News about Smoking.  We continue to be delighted by the complete lack of smoking in restaurants and cafes.  An Italian law became effective in 2005 that bans smoking in restaurants, bars and cafes nationwide, except in specially ventilated smoking rooms.  (We saw no restaurants or cafes with smoking rooms.)  The penalties for patrons are strict, and those for proprietors even stricter.  In our experience the law is taken quite seriously.  Smoking is permitted at outdoor tables, but this has rarely been a problem: it seems that smokers have become more considerate even when smoking outdoors.  Also, if you eat outside in a crowded, bustling city such as Rome, vehicle exhaust is unavoidable, so you can’t expect perfectly clean air anyway.  And a collateral benefit of the smoking ban is that fewer people use cell phones in restaurants in Italy than in the US - many go outside to have a cigarette and use their cell phones.


Phone Numbers.  The country code for international calls to Italy is +39 (from the US, 011-39).  Not all phone numbers in Italy have the same number of digits, so it’s important to double check.  Unlike in some other European countries, you must dial 0 before the area code whether calling within Italy or from abroad; the 0 is not dropped when calling from abroad.  For example, to call Rome from the US, dial 011-39-06-xxx-xxxx and, from within Italy, 06-xxx-xxxx.


Floor Numbers.  We use the Italian designation for floor numbers in buildings.  For example, “first floor” is the floor immediately above the ground floor, which Americans refer to as the “second floor.”  In Italian elevators, for example, the ground floor is “0”, rather than “1” as in the US.


Websites.  Most Italian websites that we link to have webpages available in English that are easy to find; usually there is a logo for English at the top of the homepage.


Table of Contents.  After this introduction, the sections of this article are: 

  II - General Access in Rome

 III - Public Bathrooms

IV - Electricity; Wheelchair Repair; Personal Care; Medical Needs

 V - Transportation in Rome

VI - Intercity Trains in Italy – Trenitalia

     VII - Hotels and an Apartment

    VIII - Museums

IX - Churches

 X - Synagogue and Jewish Museum

    XI -  Antiquities and Other Sites

   XII -  Outside Rome

 XIII -  Walking Tours – Context Travel and Katie Parla

       XIV -  The Great Courses Lectures

 XV -    Information

      XVI -    Italian Disability and Medical Organizations



Appendices.  A hotel access questionnaire is Appendix A.  You are welcome to adapt it for your own use.  A metric conversion guide is Appendix B.  A dictionary of access terms in Italian, including a pronunciation guide, by Cornelia Danielson of Barrier Free Travel, is Appendix C. 


Legal Stuff.  This article and the appendices may not be reproduced or used for profit without our written permission, but readers are welcome to reproduce or use them for any other purpose. 


Although many barriers remain, we continue to be heartened by the growing awareness of access.   People sincerely want to help, although they may not always know exactly how.  We saw locals and tourists in manual wheelchairs, and a smaller number in power wheelchairs and scooters.  Curb ramps remain the most problematic area; far too many corners still lack them, and many curb ramps are too steep and lack textured warning surfaces.  Interestingly, some curb ramps have railings, and some sidewalks have grooves in the pavement leading to the curb ramps in order to provide wayfinding for blind people using canes.


Terrain and Paths of Travel.  The historical center of Rome is rugged.  There are many hills, the streets are bustling, lively, chaotic and crowded, and the pavement is uneven.


Many intersections, even major ones, lack curb ramps.  Not infrequently there is a curb ramp at one end of the street but not the other, so it’s necessary to backtrack and roll in the street.  Many site ramps and curb ramps are steeper than in the US.  When we say that a place is accessible by a curb ramp or site ramp, we mean it is physically accessible, not necessarily that it is accessible independently or would qualify as accessible under American law.  Because Howard uses a power wheelchair and we traveled together, these barriers were much less significant than they would be for someone using a manual wheelchair or traveling alone.


Parking is tight and parked vehicles often block curb ramps, although we have encountered this less on each successive trip.  Construction projects that block sidewalks typically do not provide an alternative path of travel or a protected path, as they would be required to do in the US.  It is often necessary to roll in the street because of missing curb ramps, blocked curb ramps, blocked sidewalks and construction obstacles.  Even a strong person in a manual wheelchair will require frequent assistance up and down curbs.  But don’t be discouraged - people are very willing to help.


Many small and medium-size streets lack sidewalks and are made of black “Saint Peter’s stone,” so named because it has a point, like the dome of Saint Peter’s, on the side facing the earth.  The stones are picturesque but uneven; don’t roll too fast right after eating.  Cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians share the same space.  The good thing about these streets is that there is no curb, hence no need for curb ramps.


Traffic is heavy on the main streets, with cars, motorcycles and scooters vying for limited space. Drivers are aggressive in an impersonal way, but very skilled, alert and aware of pedestrians; they are not angry or deliberately inconsiderate.  Roman pedestrians are unfazed by drivers, unafraid of them and, it seems, sometimes even unaware of them.  Many of the streets are one-way, making crossing manageable.  The yellow lights are long compared to the US, as are the entire traffic light cycles, so there is ample time to cross.  Some areas in the center of Rome have limited vehicular access, although some drivers ignore the prohibitions.  There are some pedestrian-only zones. 


The reward for navigating the difficult streets of Rome is that there is beauty and life wherever you turn.  You can go to the same place many times, and each time notice something remarkable that you missed before. 


Barricades at Ponte Sisto.  Ponte Sisto is one of the main bridges on the Tiber River, connecting the main part of the city to the heart of Trastevere.  On each side of the river there is a chain that keeps vehicles out.  It was locked day and night during our 2012 trip, whereas on previous trips it was sometimes open.  To allow pedestrians to pass there are semicircular metal barricades at both ends of the chain, but they are too small for many wheelchairs.  In 2012 Howard got stuck in them, and Jason and several bystanders had to lift his Permobil millimeter by millimeter.  (On previous trips he was just barely able to make it in his Quickie.)  In order to cross the river into Trastevere we went to Ponte Garibaldi, the next bridge south, which has no barricades.  Some of the other bridges may also have chains and barricades. 


There is a similar barricade in the street leading from via Arenula to the Jewish Ghetto, but it is larger and Howard had no problem navigating it. 


Termini train station area.  The area around Roma Termini train station, at least the streets between the station and Santa Maria Maggiore, seems much cleaner, more orderly and less seedy than in the past.


Restaurants and Stores.  Restaurants and stores typically have a threshold step from 2 to 8 inches (5 to 20 cm) high, and few have portable ramps.  This was rarely a problem for Howard in past trips because he used a lightweight (100 pounds/45 kg) power chair with a tubular frame similar to that of a manual chair.  It was not difficult for Michele to tip and lift the chair up one step or occasionally even two.  Michele is quite proficient at this and employees were always eager to help, although often they did not quite know how.  It was amusing for Michele to watch as strong, macho men tried to use brawn instead of finesse and then were amazed - and slightly embarrassed - when she showed them how easy it was to do.  (Michele is 5’4” tall.)


That was not possible on this trip because Howard used his Permobil, which weighs around 325 pounds (148 kg) and has a solid frame, so the entrance step presented much more of a problem.  The Permobil can go up a step of approximately 3 inches (7 to 8 cm), but the entrance step at many restaurants and stores is higher.  The entrance step would present problems for travelers in wheelchairs that cannot be lifted.

Howard & Michele at an outdoorrestaurant in Rome.

Howard & Michele at an outdoor
 restaurant in Rome.


Many cafés and restaurants in Rome have outdoor tables, and we ate most meals outside.  Eating outdoors is one of the joys and delights about being in Rome in warm, sunny weather.  The entrance steps would be much more of an obstacle in other seasons, when sitting outdoors is not an option.  For travelers in wheelchairs and scooters who have a choice of when to travel, being able to avoid the entrance barriers in restaurants and cafés is another reason for visiting Rome when the weather is good.


Museums, Monuments, Churches and Antiquities.  We urge you to try to tour all major museums, monuments, palazzos, churches, parks and antiquities that interest you - they are likely to be at least partially accessible and you will see something interesting and beautiful on the way. 


Elevators and Lifts.  In American parlance an “elevator” is a vertical access device with a fully enclosed carriage and, usually, automatic doors, and a “lift” is a smaller vertical access device that is typically open at the top, does not have full height sides and can accommodate only one person.  Lifts are typically installed outdoors or when space is limited.  Types of lifts are “porch lifts,” which travel straight up and down, and “stair lifts,” which travel diagonally along a stairway.  In British parlance the word “lift” denotes both true elevators and these types of lifts.  We use the American terminology because it is more precise.  It’s important to know whether a vertical mobility device is a true elevator, which is typically larger, capable of carrying more weight, easier to use, usable independently and less prone to breaking down, or merely a lift. 


Many of the porch lifts and stair lifts in Italy (even many of the newer ones) are typically narrower, shorter and have a lower weight capacity than in the US, sometimes as low as 330 pounds (150 kilograms).  (The typical capacity in the US for lifts in public accommodations is 750 pounds or, less commonly, 500.)  Howard’s Quickie power wheelchair, which he used in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009, barely fit many of them - perhaps by 2 inches (5 cm) in width (one inch/2.5 cm on each side).  That wheelchair is standard size; people with wider chairs or with scooters would have difficulty fitting on some of the lifts. 


Unlike in the US, many Italian lifts are able to operate with the moveable safety edges (mini-ramps) at the front and back in the lowered, open position (roughly parallel to the platform and the floor), as distinguished from the raised, ramped position (at perhaps a 45 degree angle to the platform and the floor).  On previous trips Howard’s Quickie wheelchair footrests often protruded past the front edge and the rear tires rested on the lowered rear edge.  This was a bit scary because there was no room to spare and no raised edges to help prevent the wheelchair from moving.  In this situation it is essential to align one’s chair precisely and make sure the brakes are secured.


In 2012 Howard did not try any lifts in his Permobil. 


Our strong impression is that in planning for wheelchair access, the norm in Italy, the default, is a manual wheelchair, and power wheelchairs are still considered unusual.  And most Italian manual wheelchairs we’ve noticed have little or no camber and are narrower than in the US.  (Camber is when the large wheels are angled so the space between them at ground level is wider than the space at the level of the seat - the angle of the large wheel to the ground is less than 90 degrees.  Camber widens the base in order to improve stability and maneuverability.)   

ATM’s/Banks.  Michele used several ATM’s, all of which were too high for a wheelchair.  We had no occasion to enter banks, but on casual observation the entrances at many banks seemed to be up a difficult threshold step and through an inaccessible security booth.


Solo Wheelchair Travelers.  Rome is endlessly fascinating, lively and energizing.  Despite the obstacles, we believe that some wheelchair users would be able to travel to Rome alone, if they are used to the hustle and bustle of a dense city and willing to ask for help frequently.


Because we travel together, some inaccessible elements in hotel rooms that would present significant barriers for someone traveling alone aren’t obstacles for us.  We don’t mean to minimize their importance but we didn’t keep track of them.  In describing hotel rooms, we generally haven’t included things such as door pressure, door swing clear space, and accessibility of light switches, temperature controls, electric outlets, window latches and curtain pulls.  We recognize that even a relatively accessible hotel room, restaurant, store or monument may be extremely difficult or impossible for someone in a wheelchair traveling alone unless he or she is willing to ask for help.     


Public bathrooms in Rome typically are large, well-designed and clean, with high quality plumbing, often including bidets or handheld hoses in addition to the sink.  The main exception is bathrooms in restaurants, which usually are quite small.   Many bathrooms have high quality tile, often of marble or another stone.  Many are staffed by an attendant who cleans them frequently. 


Almost every museum we visited has a well-designed accessible bathroom.  Because museums are free for disabled people, if you need to use the bathroom and are near a museum, you can do so even if you don’t want to see the exhibits.  We’ve also had good luck finding accessible bathrooms in government buildings, and there are plenty of government buildings in Rome.  Some of the larger and more upscale hotels have accessible public bathrooms in the lobby.  Most of the train stations we’ve been to in large cities in Italy have large, clean, accessible bathrooms.  Most employees, guards, government workers and salespeople are quite willing to let a person in a wheelchair use the bathroom even if he isn’t a customer.   However, Howard generally didn’t seek accessible bathrooms in restaurants or most churches (Saint Peter’s and a couple of the other major churches do have accessible bathrooms). 


Wheelchair accessible bathrooms often comprise a single user, unisex, lockable room with sufficient space for a companion, rather than an accessible stall in multi-stall men’s and women’s bathrooms.  Sometimes one must ask for a key; this minor inconvenience is well worthwhile because it ensures the bathroom is clean and isn’t likely to be occupied by an able-bodied person who could be using the regular bathroom. 


Most accessible bathrooms have large toilets that are higher than the standard accessible high toilet in the US.  Typically the toilet is long and has a tank, which means that if there is enough space next to the toilet for a wheelchair, which there usually is, the wheelchair will be well aligned with the toilet.  (Occasionally we have seen square bathrooms where the sink and toilet are caddy corner from each other and there isn’t quite enough space for a wheelchair to get past the sink and next to the toilet.)  Often there is a cutout at the front of the toilet bowl designed to enable one to use the handheld hose.  Typically there is a flip-up grab bar on the side of the toilet away from the wall, and often also a fixed grab bar on the wall side.  An emergency alarm with a pull cord is always within reach.  The sinks are large and the faucet handles long.  Even some bathrooms that are not fully accessible are large enough for a wheelchair.


One design flaw is that almost all the locks for the accessible bathrooms and stalls we’ve seen in Rome (and probably inaccessible ones as well) are small locks that require twisting; we’ve seen very few levers or sliding handles.  Operating this type of lock requires fine motor skills, so, if your hand strength or dexterity are limited, be careful not to lock yourself in the bathroom.  This style of lock is not permitted in the US.


The attention to water, bathrooms and plumbing in Rome and, indeed, in cities throughout Italy is a legacy of ancient Rome, whose hydraulic engineering set the standard for the world until the 20th century, where public baths were a major civic, cultural and social institution, and where abundant fresh water was available to everyone daily.  (Just how much water is the subject of lively and longstanding scholarly debate.  The issue will probably never be resolved definitively but there is a consensus that supplying all one million Roman residents with sufficient high-quality water, albeit only through public fountains and baths in the case of the poor and middle classes, is one of the great achievements of ancient Rome.)


Here are some of the accessible public bathrooms Howard has used:


Hotel Cosmopolita (near Trajan’s Markets). Via Santa Eufemia, 5.  This hotel has a large accessible bathroom on the ground floor.


Galleria Alberto Sordi (near Piazza Colonna). There is a medium size accessible bathroom at this elegant shopping galleria located opposite Piazza Colonna (the piazza where the Column of Marcus Aurelius is located).  The men’s, women’s and accessible bathrooms are through a narrow hallway, so to get to the accessible bathroom one has to go past people waiting in line for the men’s and women’s rooms.  There is an attendant. 

Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina).  The emergency department of Fatebeneratelli Hospital has an accessible bathroom.  The accessible entrance to the emergency department is up a ramp on the side facing the river, toward the rear of the hospital.

Casa della Memoria e della Storia (Trastevere).  This library and resource center for the study of Roman urbanism, located at via S. Francesco di Sales, 5, off via di Lungara in Trastevere, was renovated in 2006.  It has a superb accessible bathroom - large, with a large toilet, plenty of adjacent transfer space, a large sink and an emergency alarm cord.  The employees were very cordial when Howard asked to use the bathroom, proudly pointing out its access features.


Villa Sciarra (Trastevere).  This botanical garden, located at Via Calandrelli, 35, has an inaccessible bathroom near the main entrance, but there is a bathroom a few hundred feet away that lacks grab bars but has a level entrance and is large enough for a wheelchair.  There is an actual accessible bathroom in the garden approximately one kilometer from the entrance. 


Electricity and Charging your Wheelchair


The standard plug in Italy has three prongs in a straight line (one is the ground) and is different from the plug used in most other European countries.  Although you can buy a plug adapter in Italy, they are available at any travel store and you’ll save time if you buy a few at home before your trip.


We strongly recommend gel cell batteries, which are non-spillable, safer and more acceptable to airlines than wet batteries.  Air travel is difficult enough for passengers who use power wheelchairs; wet batteries compound the problems for everyone.


Italy uses 230 volt AC power at 50 hz frequency.  (France, Spain, Israel and many other countries also do.)  If you use a power wheelchair, you’ll need a wheelchair battery charger with a setting for 220/240 volts.  It eliminates the need for a separate voltage converter or transformer, which are heavy and expensive.  A surprisingly small, lightweight and inexpensive charger with dual settings (110 and 220 volts) is available from MK Battery.  Alternatively, you can buy a European charger with 220/240 only.  Also try Lester Electrical. 


Unlike Italy’s 50 Hz, the frequency in the US is 60hz, or 60 cycles per second.  The difference in frequency could have an impact on your battery charger’s performance if it’s not rated for both frequencies.  The symptoms would be overheating and possibly noise.  (Thanks to David Caplan for this explanation.)  The only time Howard had problems with his charger in Italy was in 2003, when it sometimes overheated and tripped the circuit breaker in our hotel room.  He was using a charger with 110/220 settings, but we don’t know what frequency it was rated for.  We were never able to figure out the problem and ended up buying a European charger, which worked fine.  So it may be that some dual voltage chargers aren’t set for quite the right frequency, whereas European-only 220/240 chargers are. 


Wheelchair Repair


If you use a power wheelchair or a scooter, we urge you to contact your dealer or the manufacturer before the trip and ask for a referral for a repair shop in Rome.  In 2005 Howard needed to purchase a new charger in Rome because his charger was stolen at the train station.  In 2009 he needed minor repairs in Bologna.  Both times he called the Italian branch of Sunrise Medical/Quickie for referrals to wheelchair dealers, and they immediately provided excellent referrals.


Medical Equipment Dealer in Rome.  Ortopedia Mancini  Phone:  +39-06-321-3148.  Fax:  +39-06-321-3208.  Address:  via Tacito, 94 (in Prati neighborhood).  Howard purchased a battery charger at the Prati location in 2005.  There is another location at via dei Savorelli, 3.   Phone:  +39-06-637-3302.   Open Monday to Friday 8:00 AM - noon and 2:30 PM - 6:30 PM.  They don’t speak English.


Permobil Italy.  Carlo Woods.  Disabili Abili.  Phone:  +39-340-960-0012 or +39-055 360-562.  Fax:  +39-055-324-6059. or or   


Sunrise Medical/Quickie – Italy.  Main phone:  +39-052-357-3111.  Fax:   +39-052-357-0060.  Address:  via Riva, 20, Montale, Piacenza.  Jonathan Pezzali, the manager, is very helpful and speaks English well; his direct phone is +39-0523-573-146.  Roberto Mandelli, technician; direct phone +39-0523-573-130.  Open Monday to Friday 8:30 AM - 12:30 PM and 1:30 PM - 5:30 PM.


Personal Care


In 2009 Howard hired a personal care assistant.  It worked out very well; the man was extremely dependable, skilled, strong, gentlemanly and friendly.  The price was reasonable.  Although he didn’t speak English and we don’t speak much Italian, communication was easy, and as a bonus, we learned a few more words of Italian.  (He spoke several languages, was a quick learner, and learned more English from us than we learned Italian from him.)  We hired him through the following agency, which also has offices in Bologna, Florence, Naples and throughout Italy:


PrivatAssistenza E-mail address for the Rome branch: Phone:  +39-06-8530-5263.  Fax:  +39-06-8585-6651 (the fax number is different from that shown on the website).  Address: via Reggio Emelia, 93.


Medical Needs


            The United States Embassy in Rome provides referrals to English speaking doctors and dentists.  Howard needed emergency dental work in 2003 and was given a referral to a superb dentist. 


Foundation Santa Lucia – Santa Lucia Rehabilitation Hospital, several miles outside central Rome, offers physical therapy and an accessible swimming pool.  We haven’t been there, so this information is based on correspondence.  A doctor’s letter is required in advance.  Phone:  +39-06-515-011/014/022/023/024.  Fax:  +39-06-503-2097.  Address:  via Ardeatina, 306.





ATAC Paratransit Service


ATAC, the public transportation agency of Rome, provides a paratransit service within Rome, and airport transportation.  (The service used to be called Trambus, but was operated by ATAC.  Don’t confuse it with Trambus Open, which operates open top sightseeing buses.)   We used the ATAC paratransit service on this trip and many times over the years for airport transportation, to and from the train station, and within Rome.  The vehicles are large accessible vans, most with lifts at the side, a few with ramps at the rear.  The vans are spacious, and interior height was never a problem.  The drivers have always been on time (often early), skilled (driving a large van through the complex, crowded, narrow streets of Rome is no mean feat) and courteous.  In 2012 the cost was €23 one-way within Rome and more expensive for airport transportation.  The rates are more than a regular taxi but less than a private accessible transportation service.  Two companions are allowed to travel with the disabled person.  You can pay the driver.  Cash only.


Reservations must be made at least a day in advance.  Although officially reservations must be made from 8 AM to 1 PM, Howard has sometimes been able to call in the afternoon.   Transportation is provided until at least early evening.  We don’t know about weekend availability within Rome.  In 2012 ATAC picked us up at Fiumicino Airport on a Sunday; perhaps they are willing to provide airport transportation on weekends because there are few or no other alternatives.   We were charged a higher rate for Sunday service.  One drawback of the service is that you must call to reconfirm between 6 PM and 8 PM the evening before your transportation. 


Sometimes the lifts were a bit small and rickety; most times they were larger and sturdier.  In 2012 the van that picked us up at the train station when we returned from Naples had an old, small and rickety lift.  The entire van tilted when Howard got on it, so the driver had him get off ASAP.  He called for another van, which took half an hour, waited with us until the new van arrived, and was very helpful.  This was the only time out of six or seven rides that Howard was not able to use the lift.  His Permobil weighs 325 pounds (148 kg).  When reserving transportation it’s a good idea to mention the dimensions and weight of your wheelchair.


Marco Padroni was our initial contact to arrange airport transportation, as in past years. We believe he runs the paratransit service.  He is conscientious and does an excellent job with what undoubtedly are quite limited resources.  He speaks some English.


To reserve, call 800-469-540. Centrale Operativa Diversamente Abili.  Fax:  06-46-95-44-57. 



Direzione Superficie - Servizio Produzioni Speciali - Centrale Operativa Trasporto Diversamente Abili

Reservations:  800-469-540

Office Phone:  +39-06-46-95-38-09.  Fax: +39-06-46-95-44-57.


Other contacts:


ATAC website -   


            Buses and Trams


The buses in Rome are of the low floor design similar to those in Paris and Spain; the low floor makes for a smooth ride.  In 2003 we took buses on several different lines.  We didn’t take the bus in 2005, 2006, 2009 or 2012, so the following description is from 2003.  Many Roman bus lines are accessible, but despite the good schedule frequency, a wheelchair traveler can wait a long time for the bus.  Not all the buses on an “accessible” line are actually accessible; the percentage varies depending on the line.  Wheelchair access is by a retractable under-floor ramp at the rear entrance.  Almost half the accessible buses we tried to use had broken ramps or the drivers were unable to get the ramps to function.  For those that did work, the effective slope was often steep, depending on the sidewalk and street topography at the particular stop.  The drivers were poorly trained on the ramps, sometimes initially deploying the ramp so the bottom edge was on the street too close to the curb for a wheelchair to alight.  The wheelchair securement area in the bus is near the rear entrance, which is good, but it is quite small and often lacks tiedowns; there is typically a short seat belt. 


In 2012 Howard tried to take the bus on one occasion, but the first two buses that came didn’t have access ramps, so we rolled/walked.   We noticed access ramps on some small buses that run frequently from Campo di Fiori/Piazza Farnese to Villa Borghese and Piazza del Popolo, but didn’t try them. 


In 2009 we did take one tram, which was old and not really accessible.  The boarding platforms, which are up a gradually sloped ramp, are level with the floor of the tram, so there was no vertical gap.  There was a horizontal gap of around 8 inches (20 cm); our friend enlisted some passengers to help carry Howard’s wheelchair over it.  This would be possible for manual wheelchairs and lightweight power wheelchairs, but not heavy power wheelchairs such as a Permobil, or scooters.


The bottom line is that one can’t rely on the buses to get anywhere on time.  (Able-bodied Romans say the same thing.)   One can get lucky, but don’t count on it.  But on vacation, one can often afford the extra time - getting places on time on vacation, especially in Rome, is less critical than being on time to work or an appointment.


In 2012 ATAC told us that, as you reach a bus stop, you can call 06-46-95-41-61 and a van will pick you up and take you to your desired stop on the route of the bus you’re waiting for. We have not tried this, and would not hold our breath waiting for the van.  ATAC general information:  Phone: +39-06-57-003.  Information for disabled passengers:  Phone (within Italy):  800-154-451.   Fax:  +39-06-4695-2087.


ATAC webpage (in Italian only) about disability access: 




Rome has a fairly extensive Metro system, consisting of two lines, Line A and Line B.  In 2012 Howard had his first experience with it.  Howard and Jason took the Metro for a tour of EUR with Context Travel (see Walking Tours, below).  We got on Line B at Piramide station and took it to EUR Magliana, the closest of the three Metro stations in EUR.  We strolled the length of EUR and took EUR Fermi, the furthest of the EUR stations, back to the historic center of Rome, exiting at Cavour.  Piramide station has a medium size elevator from street level down to the train level; it worked fine.  The boarding platforms at EUR Magliana, EUR Fermi and Cavour are at street level; no elevator is needed.  Magliana and Cavour have gradually sloped ramps from the station to the street, but at Fermi there is no curb ramp and it was necessary to go all around the piazza to find the lowest curb, which was still several inches high, to access the station.  At Magliana and Fermi the streets around the station are moderately steep, and many of the nearby sidewalks lack curb ramps.


There is no vertical gap between the boarding platforms and the Metro trains, and the horizontal gap is a few inches.  The horizontal gap is a bit wider than at BART in the San Francisco Bay Area, but was not difficult for Howard to traverse with a running start.  His Permobil is front-wheel-drive; getting over the gap would be more difficult for rear-wheel- drive wheelchairs and for scooters.  Most people in manual wheelchairs would need help.  Even so, Metro access was much better than we had expected, and we will use the Metro more on our next trip.


            It’s difficult to find up-to-date information about accessibility of the Metro stations.  According to an e-mail from ATAC, all of the stations on Line B are accessible either by an elevator or a “montascale” (“electric stairs”). A Google image search of montascale reveals a strange, scary looking device that is not a true stair lift or porch lift, let alone a real elevator.  Howard has never seen one, much less tried one, and would be very reluctant to even if his wheelchair fit.  The ATAC website has some pages (in Italian only) about disability access; according to them Colosseum, Circus Maximus and Cavour stations are accessible by a montascale, and all the others on Line B have elevators (“ascensori”). It’s unclear whether ascensori means true elevators or could also include porch lifts or stair lifts.  It’s also unclear how up-to-date the information is; as described above, at Cavour the platform is at street level, so, fortunately and contrary to the website, not only is it unnecessary to use a montascale, one doesn’t even need to use an elevator.


According to an e-mail in 2012, the only stations on Line A with elevators or lifts are Battistini, Cornelia, Baldo degli Ubaldi, Valle Aurelia, Cipro, Manzoni, Re di Roma and  Furio Camillo.  The others are inaccessible.


            As we have sometimes seen in Italy, actual progress on the ground in access outpaces the information available.  The ATAC webpage about Metro access is found at:


Private Accessible Transportation Providers


In 2003 we took several rides with Fausta Trasporti, a company specializing in accessible transportation.  They were reliable and convenient, but expensive.  The driver was friendly, helpful and spoke English fairly well.  The van was clean, large and equipped with a heavy-duty lift.  We have not used a private service since 2003.  Private services are expensive in part because the vans are large enough for several wheelchair passengers, so, in effect, one is paying for unused space if one is alone or with only a single companion.  Prices can be negotiable.


Fausta Trasporti  Phone:  +39-06-503-6040.  Fax:  +39-06-519-684-17.  Contacts are Signora Flavia Pompei or Signor DiFillippi.


Other accessible van services, which we didn’t use, are:


Schiaffini Travel.  Schiaffini is a large company with several locations in Rome. Accessible transportation is only a small part of their business.   Phone:  +39-06-713-0531 or 06-938-7123.  Fax:  +39-06-713-0537.


Simet.  Phone:  +39-0983-520-315.





            Italy has an extensive nationwide system of intercity trains serving major cities, medium-size ones and even small towns.  The coverage is far more extensive than in the United States.  The equipment ranges from sleek, modern, fast Eurostar coaches to clunky, antiquated, slow trains serving regional routes.  Making the system accessible to passengers who use wheelchairs is certainly a complex challenge considering how extensive the system is; how long it had been in place before widespread awareness of the need for wheelchair access; and the complexity, variety and age of the trains and physical infrastructure, especially the fact that the platforms are low while the train doorways are high.


In 2012 we took the train from Rome to Naples, and back from Naples to Rome.  We took the fast train known as the “frecciarossa”; the ride was only an hour and 10 minutes, and was impressively smooth.  We also took trains in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009.  Our train travel has been of two types:  day trips without luggage, where the purpose is sightseeing and the consequences of a glitch are relatively minor; and on each trip to Italy, one or two trips with luggage to get from one city where we stayed to another.  We’ve certainly had more stressful situations and frustrating moments then we wished, but despite them, taking the train is a fast, economical and reliable way to travel from city to city.  However, navigating the train system in a wheelchair takes planning, patience and flexibility.


Wheelchair passengers are required to reserve an accessible space on the train at least 24 hours in advance, which can be done by phone, e-mail or in person at theSale Blu” (Blue Room) (marked with the blue wheelchair logo) at the departure station.  In addition, you must check in at the Blue Room at least 30 minutes before departure, tickets in hand.  An employee will accompany you from there to the tracks.  At small stations the employees aren’t strict about the check-in time and may not even be available that early.  But regardless, always check in before proceeding to the tracks; don’t just wait at the tracks and assume someone will be there to help. 


It’s important to be aware that, for able-bodied and disabled passengers alike, reserving a space on a particular train isn’t the same as purchasing a ticket.  When you check in at the Blue Room, you must have tickets in hand, so you need to arrive at the station more than 30 minutes before departure in order to wait in line at the ticket counter and purchase your tickets.  In some cities passengers in wheelchairs are able to go to the front of the line, but one can’t count on it.  Sometimes in smaller cities we’ve been able to purchase tickets at the Blue Room and didn’t need to go to the ticket counter, and other times a Blue Room employee accompanied us to the ticket counter and helped us buy tickets.  But in Naples and Rome we had to purchase them at the ticket counter. 


On previous trips we have sometimes been able to reserve spaces and purchase tickets on the Trenitalia website, and access information about each train was available online.  But in 2012 we were unable to find access information, reserve an accessible space or purchase tickets online.  The situation seems to be in flux.  But even if it changes in the future and you are able to reserve accessible spaces and purchase tickets online, it will still be a good idea to inform the departure station directly in advance that you use a wheelchair and have reserved an accessible space on a particular train.  Also, travel agencies sell train tickets, so theoretically you can reserve a space and purchase tickets at a travel agency anywhere in Italy, but we have tried this and the travel agencies don’t seem to know how to handle accessible seating.


Reservations are required for passengers in wheelchairs because not all trains have spaces for wheelchairs (over 350 trains do, according to the Trenitalia website), and those that do have only a few.  (The trains that have no wheelchair spaces are mainly the slower regional and local ones.)  This is a major drawback - passengers in wheelchairs have only a subset of train times available to them.  For example, in 2009 we took day trips from Bologna to Ravenna, Ferrara and Parma, and when departing Bologna had to choose between leaving at 9 AM or close to noon.  There were departures between those times, but those trains were not equipped with wheelchair spaces.  These limitations also preclude flexibility and spontaneity - it’s impossible to change plans at the last minute (other than canceling a trip).


Wheelchair passengers are boarded from the platform to the train by a mechanical lift.  Another reason reservations are required is so Trenitalia can ensure availability of the lift and employees to operate it.  In large cities where the station is a terminus, getting on and off the train isn’t rushed, but in small cities the train stops for only two or three minutes and the process is quite harried.  Be sure to organize your luggage. 


The lift is on wheels and the employee moves it along the platform to align it with the door to the train car with the accessible space.  Not all the lifts are the same size.  Some are narrow and the folding ramps at each end are short.  According to the Trenitalia website, wheelchairs up to the following dimensions and loaded weight can be accommodated:  27½ inches (70 cm) wide, 47.2 inches (120 cm) long, and 440 pounds (200 kg) loaded weight.  But some of the lifts we’ve encountered over the years have been narrower and shorter than the stated dimensions.  Often there was almost no room to spare on the sides or lengthwise, and Howard’s footrests had to be shortened to the shortest position. 


In 2012 we were concerned that Howard’s Permobil wouldn’t fit; it is slightly longer than the maximum prescribed length and, including Howard’s weight, heavier than the maximum weight (we won’t say by how much!).  But in the event, weight was not a problem.  When we departed from Rome the lift was adequate size, but when we returned to Rome there was a different lift and Howard’s wheelchair just barely fit with no room to spare on the sides. Both times in Naples the lift was brand-new and wider, and there was plenty of room.  We took several train trips from Bologna in 2009 and lifts of different sizes were used. 


Lift size varies not only from city to city, but within the same station.  Fortunately, our sense is that older lifts are being replaced throughout the system with new, larger ones.  If you have a large wheelchair or scooter, it’s a good idea to mention that fact when reserving an accessible space, although probably not a good idea to state the exact dimensions.  (If the dimensions you state are large, the employee may tell you that your wheelchair won’t fit and try to dissuade you from making a reservation, but if you are vague and just show up, chances are the employees will find a way to make things work.)


In Rome, Naples and some of the other large cities, the main train station (e.g. Roma Termini and Napoli Centrale) is a terminus and all of the tracks can be reached directly from the station lobby without an elevator.  But in some of the smaller cities there is a passageway under the tracks; depending on one’s train, it can be necessary to go through the passageway to reach the particular tracks.  In these stations there are elevators from the main part of the station down to the passageway and throughout the passageway to each set of tracks.  This is one part of the system that’s always worked:  in our experience the elevators have never been broken.  Depending on the station and the time, some elevators are open to the public and others are operated only by Trenitalia employees.  But because wheelchair passengers must check in at the Blue Room and be accompanied to the track by an employee, the elevator will be operated by an employee regardless of what time it is. 


Although we had heard that passengers in electric wheelchairs are required to transfer to a train seat or a manual wheelchair on the train, Howard was never asked to do this, always remaining in his wheelchair.  First class was very spacious; second class, while not quite as large, had ample room for his wheelchair.  Each car that has a wheelchair space has a medium size accessible bathroom nearby.  The rides generally were pleasant, scenic, fast and smooth.  On trains where the only accessible car is in first class, wheelchair passengers are usually charged second class fare.  Seating for one companion is available next to the wheelchair space; when reserving a wheelchair space, you can also reserve a companion space.  The price concession for the wheelchair passenger is also available for the companion.


Procedures vary from one station to another and even from one employee to another.  This is Italy, after all, so actual practice is not necessarily the same as official policy.  Things seem to be in flux, so it is essential to check everything carefully.  Be patient and allow plenty of time.  The bottom line is that while there is disorganization, inconsistency, room for improvement, a lot of hurrying up and waiting, and some frustration, the Trenitalia employees are doing their best and everything works out in the end.


www.trenitalia.comTrenitalia has an English-language website with detailed information for passengers with disabilities; click next to the wheelchair logo at the bottom of the homepage.  From there one can find contact information for disability services for stations throughout Italy.


Trenitalia national helpline for disabled passengers (from within Italy only):  199-30-30-60 General passenger information (from within Italy only):  199-892-021.


Webpage in English for passengers in wheelchairs:


Rome, Lazio and Umbria assistance for disabled passengers:  Phone:  06-488-1726.  


            For lodging, as for real estate, the three most important factors are location, location and location (assuming good wheelchair access).  Strolling through a vibrant, beautiful, interesting neighborhood is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling.  It’s exciting to stay in the heart of the centro storico (historic city center), where one can go by the same building or piazza ten times and discover something new and enriching each time.  Strolling at night is romantic and exhilarating; staying at a central location makes it easier to stay out late.  A central location is also more conducive to an afternoon nap because it’s easy to go out again afterwards.


            Because accessible public transportation is sometimes unreliable, difficult to find and subject to change, staying in a central location is critical unless you are able to transfer easily to an ordinary taxi.  Being within rolling distance of museums, antiquities, monuments, churches, restaurants and shopping saves time, energy, uncertainty, frustration and expense.  Up to a point, we would forego a large room, charming atmosphere and extra amenities for a great location.


            In keeping with the Italian talent for water and bathing, almost all wheelchair accessible hotel rooms we’ve seen in Rome and elsewhere in Italy have roll-in showers, unlike in the US and some other countries where only a minority of “accessible” guest rooms do.  (It is telling that in French a roll-in shower is known as a “douche a l’Italienne” - an Italian shower.) 


            In researching hotels we often start with Trip Advisor and Venere  When inquiring about access, we use the questionnaire attached as Appendix A and ask the hotel to e-mail photos of the bathroom.  In recent years hotels have been increasingly willing to send photos.  When it comes to wheelchair access, a picture really is worth a thousand words.


            Hotels - Where We Stayed


            We enthusiastically recommend Hotel Ponte Sisto.  This trip was our third stay at this elegant, unpretentious, spacious and ideally located hotel.  Besides having at least two wheelchair accessible double rooms, we learned that Hotel Ponte Sisto has two accessible single rooms.  We also recommend Albergo Santa Chiara, where we stayed in 2005 and 2003.  Both are excellent for wheelchair travelers with a companion and for slow walkers.  They would pose difficulties for a solo wheelchair traveler, depending on one’s abilities and reach.  Considering the age of the buildings and the typical Roman constraints, the proprietors have done a very good job providing access. 


Hotel Ponte Sisto Via dei Pettinari, 64.  Phone:  +39-06-686-310.  Fax:  +39-06-683-017-12.  Four star.


            We stayed here in 2012, 2009 and 2006.  It’s very well located: as the name implies, it’s close to the Ponte Sisto (Sixtus bridge) leading to Trastevere, and it’s near Palazzo Spada, via Guilia and Piazza Farnese.  For the heart of Rome, the neighborhood is quiet.  The rooms, courtyard and other common areas are beautiful and well maintained.  There is a large, sunny courtyard enclosed by the building’s orange/red stucco walls, with abundant purple bougainvillea, other lush plants and a fountain; breakfast is served there in good weather and it’s a quiet, bright place to relax after the intensity of a day in the streets of Rome.  When the weather is chilly, breakfast is served in a lovely dining room.  The staff has been helpful and professional, and breakfast has been good. 


The street, via dei Pettinari, has rough Saint Peter’s stones, the typical street pavement in Rome, and no sidewalks or curbs.  There is a threshold step approximately 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) high at the hotel entrance.  The doors are not automatic.  A portable ramp is available, which the doorman will set out when he sees you; if you are entering and the doorman isn’t there, you must find someone and have them ask an employee.


            The courtyard is level with the lobby.  The floor leading to the breakfast room and bar is gradually sloped.  The elevator is fairly large, and plenty wide for Howard’s wheelchair.  Elevator depth is adequate, with several inches to spare lengthwise with Howard’s footrests in a medium-length position.  The elevator is large enough for Howard and two able-bodied people.


            There are at least four accessible rooms (two doubles and two singles), all of which face the courtyard.  On all our visits we’ve stayed in Room 107, which we were told is the largest of the accessible rooms.  (We saw Room 105.  It has a roll-in shower and isn’t as large as 107 but is adequate size.)  The bedroom is large, with a high ceiling and two tall, elegantly shaped and framed windows with bright sunlight and a sweeping view of the courtyard.  The room is well lit and quiet.  The nightstands at either side of the bed are movable and the light switches above them are at an accessible height.  The bed is very comfortable.  The closet is partially accessible – the drawers are at an accessible height but the pole for hangers is too high. 


The marble-tiled bathroom is square and fairly large.  There is a threshold of around ½” to ¾” (1-2 cm) between the bathroom and bedroom.  There is plenty of open space on one side of the toilet for a wheelchair.  However, because the tank is built into the wall, the toilet is shorter than most Italian accessible toilets we’ve seen (“short” meaning “not long”; it isn’t too low to the ground).  There is a vertical floor-to-ceiling grab bar at the wall side of the toilet, but no horizontal bars.  There is a notch in the front of the toilet bowl, and a handheld water hose nearby instead of a bidet.  The sink is large, with plenty of space for toiletries, but it is a bit low.  The hair dryer is inaccessibly high.  There is a medium size roll-in shower with grab bars and a small wall-mounted seat.  There is no threshold between the shower and the rest of the bathroom.  As is typical in Rome, the water pressure and temperature are superb.  The shower controls and soap dish are a bit too high to reach in a wheelchair.  There is an electric towel warmer that is too high to reach in a wheelchair.


            After our visit in 2006, I wrote to the hotel asking them to make a few minor access improvements.  They responded immediately and made the changes.  


            Albergo Santa Chiara Via Santa Chiara, 21.  Phone: +39-066-872-979.  Fax: +39-066-873-144.  Three star.


In 2003 and 2005 we stayed at this gem located near Piazza Minerva, on a quiet street one block behind the Pantheon.  The central location is perfect.  The lobby is much nicer than it appears on the website.  The staff was professional and breakfast was good.  The front entrance is level with the street, with sliding doors that open automatically.  There are three stairs from the lobby to the breakfast room, so we ate breakfast in the lobby.


            The only barrier for us was the elevator – it’s shallow and the control buttons are difficult to reach.  Michele had to remove Howard’s footrests for his wheelchair to fit in the elevator.  (On these visits Howard was using his Quickie power wheelchair with removable footrests; see Introduction, above.) With the footrests removed, both of us fit, but just barely.  According to hotel employees, the elevator door opening is 31½ inches (80 cm) wide; we didn’t measure but this seems accurate.   We don’t know the depth or width of the elevator, and so don’t know whether a larger power wheelchair or a scooter would fit.  Before making a reservation, it’s imperative to inquire about the exact dimensions of the elevator.


            We stayed in the accessible room, Room 120.  (We believe it is the only accessible room.)  It is quiet, large and quite well lit, though without a view or much natural light.  It’s pleasant enough that one doesn’t mind spending time in the room for a break from the hustle-bustle of central Rome.  The bed is good transfer height and firm but not too firm.  The doorways are 35 inches (90 cm) wide.


            The room has two bathrooms, both tiled in travertine.  The able-bodied one is medium size and has a stand-up shower.  The accessible one is extraordinarily large, with a roll-in shower on a gradually sloping floor, a pullout shower nozzle in a large sink and, instead of a bidet, a water hose near the toilet.  The shower has well-placed grab bars and a small wall-mounted seat.  The water is hot whenever desired and very forceful.  Both bathrooms have emergency call cords, electric towel warmers, large mirrors and powerful fans.  The accessible one even has two flush buttons for the toilet, one wall-mounted forward of the toilet and one on the tank. 


            Transfer to the toilet is not ideal but not bad.  There is sufficient transfer space on one side of the toilet, but the water hose, a soap dish and a plumbing fixture protrude several inches from the rear wall, and the section of the rear wall next to the toilet is at a slight angle from the section immediately behind the toilet.  A wheelchair can’t go all the way against the rear wall or completely parallel to the toilet.  A complete side-to side transfer isn’t possible, but a side transfer at a moderate angle is; the angle between toilet and wheelchair is much closer to parallel than to a right angle.  There is a grab bar at the side of the toilet away from the wall; it’s mounted on the rear wall and can be flipped up.


            There are some barriers that are minor for someone traveling with a companion but significant for a solo wheelchair traveler.  The shower hose and controls are too high and the controls lack a temperature indicator.  One of the bathroom light switches is inaccessible.  Though the lower closet shelves are accessible, the pole for hangers is too high and there is no clear path to it.  The dresser is large but the drawer handles are far apart and difficult or impossible for most people to reach from a wheelchair.  The window controls and curtain pulls are too high.


            Hotels - Other Possibilities


The following hotels are worth considering; we visited them but haven’t stayed there. 


Hotel Cosmopolita.  Via di Santa Eufemia, 5.  Phone:  +39-06-997-071.   Fax:  +39-06-997-0707.  Four star.


In 2003 we visited this hotel near Trajan’s Markets in search of an accessible bathroom.  The immediate terrain is somewhat hilly and there is a steep slope at the entrance.  The hotel was renovated in 2002.  There is a large accessible bathroom on the ground floor lobby.  The desk clerk was friendly and helpful when Howard asked to use the bathroom.  He told us the hotel has accessible guest rooms.  We didn’t inspect them but this hotel is worth considering for someone who wants to stay very close to the Imperial Forums.


Hotel Pomezia.  Via dei Chiavari, 13.  Phone/fax:  +39-06-686-1371.  Two star.


We visited this hotel in 2005.  It’s in a great location between Largo Argentina and Campo di Fiori in the heart of the historic center.  It has an accessible guest room on the ground floor with a large, well-designed accessible bathroom including a roll-in shower.  The bedroom is not large but is adequate size.  The hotel and guest room are clean, basic and spartan.  The people at the Pomezia were very gracious and the rate was inexpensive.  There is one medium height stair at the entrance, so assistance is required.


            Hotel Residenza in Farnese.  Via del Mascherone, 59.  Phone: +39-06-682-10980.  Fax: +39-06-803-21049.  Four star.


We visited this hotel in 2006.  It’s well located, across the street from Palazzo Farnese, near via Giulia.  The street is sloped somewhat steeply upward toward the entrance, which has no stairs.  (There is no sidewalk or curb.)  There are automatic doors.  The hotel is located in an ancient monastery and the common areas on the ground floor are a bit dark.  We asked to see an accessible room, but the one accessible room was occupied.  The staff told us the accessible room has a roll-in shower and doesn’t have a view.  The staff was friendly and showed us the common areas on the ground floor.  There is a somewhat steep ramp in the lobby bridging an 8-inch (20 cm) high change in level.  Howard fit in the elevator with his footrests in the shortened position.




Comfy @ Coliseum Roma.  We haven’t visited this flat, located near the Colosseum, which was renovated several years ago to provide wheelchair access. Contact Salvatore Rinaldi at  Phone:  +39-338-505-8661.  To view photos of the flat, visit 


            VIII - MUSEUMS


Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all government-owned museums in Italy and most others, such as the Vatican Museums and the Jewish Museum.  One must still get tickets ticket at the ticket counter, although employees were sometimes willing to let us in without a ticket.  The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, well-crafted images and graphics - another reason why it’s advisable to get tickets.  The date of our most recent visit is indicated for each museum.

Museo dell’ Ara Pacis (“Altar of Peace”) (2012)

Access is very good in this Richard Meier building that was completed in 2006 to house Augustus’s “altar of peace.”  A gradually sloped ramp outside the building leads to the entrance, which is at the south side of the building.  The ramp is behind the stairs and fountain that face via di Ripetta; it’s closer to the river side than to via di Ripetta and is a bit difficult to see from via di Ripetta.  The block of via di Ripetta where the museum is located is closed to vehicles and paved in bumpy stones.  Embedded in the wall along via di Ripetta is the Res Gestae of Augustus, the inscription in which the first Roman emperor recounted his life and achievements. 


Inside, a gradually sloped ramp leads to the room where the altar is located.  The only obstacle is a threshold 3 inches (7-8 cm) high at the entrance to the altar room; this is a narrow threshold, not a stair, and one must go up and then down it to enter the room.  Howard was able to do this in his lightweight power wheelchair in 2009, and many manual wheelchair users would be able to, but Howard did not try it in 2012, when he was using his Permobil.  Understandably, preservation and historical authenticity trumped access in this element of the museum.  Inside the altar room, the passageway around the perimeter between the base of the altar and the walls was wide enough for Howard’s lightweight power wheelchair with several inches to spare on each side.  A visit to this museum is absolutely worthwhile even if the person in a wheelchair cannot go inside the altar room, because one can still see much of the altar and all of the surrounding wall friezes from outside the room. 


A relatively large elevator serves the museum’s ground floor, basement and upper floor terrace.  In the basement a gradually sloped ramp leads down from the level of the elevator to an exhibit gallery.  The bathrooms are in the basement.  There are large accessible stalls in the men’s and women’s bathrooms with a large, high toilet; ample side transfer space, grab bars, a large sink and an emergency alarm cord.




The selection of Richard Meier to create the first entirely new major building in the historic center of Rome in 50 years was controversial because the mayor of Rome selected him instead of holding a competition; because he is American, not Italian; and because he is a modernist.  The work has met with mixed reactions.  The previous Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, had stated his desire to tear down the building, and, reportedly, had been supported in that goal by then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  In 2012 it’s our understanding that the building will not be torn down, but the adjoining travertine wall along the river will be because it blocks the view from the Lungotevere of the churches across the street.


In our opinion, the building is a masterpiece.  It’s modest in scale, the ideal size and shape for the altar.  It’s respectful of the site and the street line, and yet its glass walls have opened up the site, affording an expansive view of the river on one side and providing both a beautiful visual connection and an appropriate symbolic one to the Mausoleum of Augustus on the other.  Pedestrians interact with the building: from the river one can see through the building to the mausoleum; and the museum tantalizes pedestrians with a glimpse of its contents.  Natural light floods in, yet the building protects the altar (and visitors) from the sun’s rays, heat, humidity, pollution and all the other elements that are ravaging so much of Rome’s patrimony (and that harmed the altar when it was housed in the museum’s predecessor, built in the 1930s). 


The building has lots of glass, but not too much; the glass is balanced by travertine and Meier’s signature white-coated steel.  Perhaps one can criticize Meier’s use of the white steel, but the building also has plenty of travertine, a classic Roman stone and completely appropriate in this setting, its rough, unfinished surfaces complementing the smooth, carved marble friezes of the altar.  (Travertine is also historically appropriate:  when installed in the first century B.C.E., the altar faced a piazza paved in travertine.)  One can imagine, however, that if the building were clad only in glass and travertine, its strong, clean lines might be obscured and diminished, and there might not be enough contrast in color between the building and the altar.  Appropriately, the building is all straight lines and right angles; except for the columns inside, there are no curves.  Its rectangular shape echoes that of the altar. 


The small piazza with fountain in front is filled with people, hardly the sign of a failed building or one disrespectful of its surroundings.  In fact, choosing to include a fountain is itself respectful of Roman history and tradition. 


Inside one feels serenity, quiet and the physical and mental space to contemplate the art.  Unlike so many modern museums, the building is subordinate to its contents rather than trying to overshadow them.  Yet, unlike some other modern museums, there is grandeur and a hierarchy of space.  Unlike them, too, a sense of anticipation builds as the visitor proceeds from the entrance to the primary exhibit, the altar.  An inviting path of travel, the right proportion of spaces, and an ideal combination of natural and artificial lighting draw the visitor toward the altar.


The gift shop is small, modest and unaggressive - unlike those in so many museums in the US, the visitor actually has to seek it out rather than being forced into it when exiting an exhibit. 


Certainly, one wouldn’t want many buildings like it in the center of Rome.  But there’s hardly any danger of that, and the argument that this one is but the first step on a slippery slope isn’t convincing given the lack of available sites for new building, the rigor and slow pace of design review, and the archaeological considerations in any building project in the historic center.


Any entirely new building, and any architect, would have been controversial.  Exactly what kind of building do its critics believe would have been appropriate?


Villa Borghese (Museo e Galleria Borghese) (2006) 

The ground floor is accessible through a rear entrance facing the garden.  There is one moderate height stair from the garden that was not difficult in Howard’s lightweight power wheelchair with assistance. Since we have not been here in several years, we advise people in large, heavy wheelchairs and scooters to inquire about the height of the stair and about whether a portable ramp may now be available.  (There was no portable ramp in 2006.)  An attendant-operated stair-climbing device is available to take slow walkers and people who have difficulty climbing stairs up to the first floor, but it can’t accommodate wheelchairs.  Bernini’s stunning Apollo and Daphne, Pluto and Persephone, David and Aeneas, Canova’s sensual Pauline Bonaparte and many other masterpieces are on the ground floor, especially the sculpture collection, so a visit is a must even though the first floor is inaccessible.  There is an accessible bathroom in the basement; the basement is accessed via stair lift from the front of the villa.  Reservations are required, the number of visitors is limited, and visits are limited to two hours.  We strongly recommend morning reservations because the museum, which is small, is likely to be less crowded early in the day.  Reservations can be made online, although it may still be necessary to get to the museum early to pick up the tickets.  Also, guided tours in English are offered at least once a day.  We have taken the tour twice, and it is superb.  As of 2006, the tours were on a first-come first-served basis.


Borromini Perspective at Galleria Spada (2012) 


The perspective is now accessible by a series of semi-permanent ramps.  The main ramp is gradually sloped and has handrails.  The other ramps, each of which traverses one step, are somewhat steeper but still only moderately steep.  The installation of these ramps since our last visit is a major and commendable access improvement.  The picture gallery is not accessible - it is up one floor from the ticket office, there is a tiny elevator far too small for a wheelchair, and Howard was told the gallery is up several stairs from the elevator landing at the first floor.  Borromini’s perspective is the main attraction and the staff is eager to show it to visitors, so a visit is well worthwhile even though the picture gallery is inaccessible.


Capitoline Museums and Capitoline Hill (2012)    


Curb ramp at the Capitoline Museums.

Curb ramp at the Capitoline Museums.

The breathtaking Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, is accessible via a moderately steep, winding, asphalt-paved path to the right of Michelangelo’s Cordonata stairway as you are facing the stairway.  There are two related museums in separate buildings, each of which has a portico two or three stairs up from the piazza.  Access has steadily improved over the years, both physically and in the employees’ knowledge, competence and attitude.


At Palazzo dei Conservatori, the building to the right of the Cordonata, there is an accessible side entrance to the right, along the accessible path by which one reached the top of the hill.  It is locked and one must first get the attention of a museum employee at the main entrance (which faces the piazza); this takes only a few minutes.  There is a permanent curb ramp leading from the path directly into the doorway.  This ramp, which has been added since 2009, is a major improvement.  Inside there is a large elevator that serves all floors.  A light-filled, accessible pavilion was built several years ago to display the original bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (the statue in the piazza is a copy) and the statues of Constantine and Hercules.


To access the portico of Palazzo Nuovo, the building to the left of the Cordonata, there is a gradually sloped, nonskid ramp at the end of the portico closest to the Roman Forum (the end farthest from the Cordonata).  From the portico there are two or three stairs to enter the building, and a moderately steep portable ramp is available.  It’s easy to get the attention of a museum employee to set out the ramp.  From the ground floor to the first floor there is a Plexiglas elevator large enough for a person in a wheelchair and two other people, although it is not very deep.


The Gallery of the Tabularium is down several long flights of stairs from the ground floor of Palazzo Nuovo, and can be accessed by wheelchair users via a series of stair lifts.  We haven’t been there since 2003 and don’t remember their size or weight capacity, but it was complicated and time-consuming to use them.  The museum employees may now be more proficient in operating them.  There is also is an accessible entrance directly to the Gallery on the rear left side of Capitoline Hill, downhill from the piazza along a steep path that continues down toward the Forum of Caesar; this entrance is locked but the museum employee allowed Howard to exit through it.  It may also be possible to access the Gallery from Palazzo dei Conservatori.

Galleria Corsini (2006)
There are no stairs at the entrance.  A moderately sloped ramp on the ground floor leads to two very large, modern, Plexiglas elevators from which one has a nice view of the courtyard.  The gallery is on the first floor and there are no changes in level among the rooms.  A large accessible bathroom is on the second floor, with a large, high toilet; grab bars, a large sink and an emergency alarm cord.  The outer door to the bathroom area is heavy and would be impossible for most wheelchair users to pull open from inside, so assistance is required. 

Galleria Doria Pamphilj (2003) 

There are three or four stairs at the main entrance and a tiny elevator, too small for most wheelchairs, from the lobby up to the gallery floors.  We saw the building in 2003, and in 2012 we received confirmation by e-mail that the access situation had not changed. 


Villa Farnesina (Accademia Nazionale Dei Lincei) (2006)


            During our visit restoration work was underway and the entrance was at the rear of the building, up four or five stairs, and was not accessible.  The museum has a small, portable, attendant-operated evacuation style lift, which Howard didn’t try to use.  It is possible that after the restoration project the front entrance may have become the main entrance and may now be accessible.


            Jewish Museum (2009)


            See Synagogue and Jewish Museum, below.


            MAXXI (2012) 


            Designed by star architect Zaha Hadid and located a few blocks from the Parco della Musica (see below), this museum of contemporary art and architecture was opened in 2010 to much fanfare and acclaim.  It is accessible, although, strangely, all of the entrances have a 2 inch (5 cm) high threshold, and the approaches to many of the entrances are at weird, sharp angles.  This building looks much better and more interesting in photos than it is in real life.


Palazzo Altemps - Museo Nazionale Romano (Roman Sculpture Museum) (2006)


A level accessible entrance is located just a few feet from the main entrance.  A moderately sloped ramp on the ground floor leads to a large, attendant-operated elevator.  The galleries are on the ground floor and first floor.  There are changes in level of several inches among many of the galleries, but there is a ramp at each change in level.  Some ramps are short and fairly steep, which was not a problem in Howard’s power wheelchair, but many manual wheelchair users would need assistance.  We didn’t look at the bathroom.  The staff was extremely helpful.


Palazzo Braschi – Museum of Rome (2006) 

This beautifully restored palazzo at the southern end of Piazza Navona houses a less well-known museum of paintings and art objects showing Roman life from medieval times onward.  The 18th century ceilings are splendid and lack the baroque excess of some earlier palazzi.  A new stair lift brings you up three or four stairs at the entrance; from there a large, modern talking elevator in Italian and English serves all of the other floors.  Howard was in his lightweight power wheelchair when he used the stair lift, but our recollection is that the lift is fairly large and probably can accommodate a heavy power wheelchair such as a Permobil.  The accessible bathroom is large, immaculate and even has a view of the courtyard. 

Palazzo della Cancelleria (2005)  

            Vatican offices are housed in this large palazzo, the first palace in Rome to be built in Renaissance style.  Concerts are held here from time to time.  The splendid arcaded courtyard, which is sometimes open to the public, has relatively level access from the street.  We don’t know about access to the upper floors.  Sometimes the guard has let us in to admire the courtyard; it’s worth trying.


Palazzo Farnese (French Embassy) (2012) 


Michelangelo was the second of three main architects to work on this stunning Renaissance palazzo, widely considered one of the greatest achievements of Renaissance palace architecture.  The proportions of the rooms - length, width and height - the flow from one room to another, and the placement of the windows, are perfect.  The building has rich ceiling frescoes by the Carracci brothers, primarily Annibale Caracci, which in their day (the Baroque period) were considered to rival Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.  The motifs are mythological rather than religious.  The building was meticulously restored in the early 2000’s.


            Palazzo Farnese can be visited only on guided tours conducted by embassy staff.  Spaces are limited and must be reserved far in advance.  Until recently tours were only in French and Italian, but now English language tours are available.  Reservations must be made through Inventer Rome, a French association dedicated to Roman culture.


            We had taken French language tours in the past; on this trip we took our first English language tour and understood much more.  The guide was knowledgeable, proud, charming, witty and welcoming.  The tour lasted an hour.  It was easy to sign up on the website.


The stone paths in the courtyard are a bit bumpy; this was not a problem in Howard’s power wheelchair but manual wheelchair users would encounter a bumpy ride.  A small but adequate attendant-operated elevator serves the piano nobile (first floor), which is the only floor the public can visit and where the magnificent Sala Hercules and the rooms with the Caracci frescoes are located.  Howard’s wheelchair fit in the elevator easily. 


The public bathrooms are on the ground floor and lack accessible stalls.  Legally, an embassy is considered to be located on the soil of the country it represents, not the country where it is physically located.  Interestingly, the lack of an accessible stall in a bathroom that was renovated recently is entirely consistent with our experience in government buildings in France, and not those in Italy, where the bathrooms are far more accessible.  A French bathroom, physically located in Italy but legally in France!


Palazzo Massimo alle Terme - Museo Nazionale Romano (2003)


This museum of ancient Roman sculpture, painting, coins and jewels, one of several branches of the National Museum of Rome, is accessible.  There is an accessible entrance at the side of the building.  A medium-size elevator serves all floors; Howard easily fit in the elevator. It may be necessary for an able-bodied person to go in the front entrance and ask an employee to open the accessible entrance. 


Parco della Musica (Music Auditorium and Park) and Palazzetto dello Sport (2012) 


This music complex was designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2002.  It has three auditoriums of different sizes, arranged around a courtyard and a cavea with bleacher seating for outdoor performances.  At ground level there is a continuous lobby for all three auditoriums, plus a café, bookstore, exhibition gallery and other shops, all of which are accessible.  We went to the café but didn’t go to a concert or see the inside of the auditoriums.  The courtyard is essentially level, with some gradually sloped ramps.  There is a medium-size accessible bathroom in the lobby.  The remains of an ancient Roman farm, discovered during excavations for the project, have been preserved and there is an exhibit about them in the lobby, which is accessible.  When the remains were discovered, Renzo Piano redesigned and reoriented the buildings. 


At the top of the hill there is a terrace with a good view of the Flaminia neighborhood and from where one can see the exteriors of the three auditoriums up close.  From the ground level to the top of the hill there is a steep paved path that Howard was able to climb fairly easily in his power wheelchair.  Manual wheelchair users will need major assistance.  Alternatively, there is a small elevator from the lobby, just large enough for a wheelchair user and one other person.  However, at the landing at the terrace level there is a 4 to 5 inch (10 to 13 cm) step to enter and exit the elevator. 


            A few hundred feet from the Music Auditorium is the Palazzetto dello Sport, an innovative, now iconic thin-shell concrete domed sports stadium designed by engineer/architect Pier Luigi Nervi for the 1960 Olympics.  It is easily reached via an asphalt-paved bike path with curb ramps.  It’s closed to the public unless there is a sporting event but can be viewed at close range from the bike path.


Vatican Museums (2012) and Sistine Chapel (2009)


Disabled visitors are invited to go to the beginning of the entrance line, quite an accommodation considering the typically long lines.  As in previous visits, we were told that the (Gregorian) Etruscan Museum and (Gregorian) Egyptian Museum are not wheelchair accessible.  The magnificent Pinacoteca (picture gallery) is easily accessible.  The Raphael Rooms are accessible by a small elevator from the long gallery that leads from the Papal Palace to the Sistine Chapel(The Hall of Maps is along this gallery.)


We did not visit the Sistine Chapel on this trip, but did on past trips.  It is down a small, crowded stairway from the long gallery.  Howard was just barely able to use the small, rickety old stair lift in his Quickie lightweight power wheelchair.  If the same stair lift is still in use, it is doubtful that it could accommodate the weight of Howard’s Permobil, and perhaps not even its width and length.  The bottom line is that one must measure one’s wheelchair or scooter and inquire about the exact dimensions and weight capacity of the stair lift.  The lift probably could, and if so should, be replaced with a newer, larger one.  However, considering that the Chapel is part of the 15th century Apostolic Palace, has irreplaceable, delicate frescoes on all four sides and the ceiling, and can only be approached internally, via hallways in the palace, there truly is limited potential for renovation.


The English language webpage of the Vatican Museums includes a section on disability access:


For information about Saint Peter’s Basilica, see Churches, below.


Vatican Gardens


We inquired about access and were informed that due to natural and architectural barriers, the Vatican Gardens are not wheelchair accessible.  For those who are able to walk, tours are given on a limited basis and it’s necessary to make reservations far in advance.  Fax: +39-06-6988-5100.


            Vittoriano Museum (Complesso del Vittoriano) (2009)

             This museum is housed in the grandiose, oversized white building located between Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum that everyone loves to hate.  The building, dedicated in 1911 to King Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, houses a permanent museum about the Risorgimento (the Italian unification) and special exhibits such as the wonderful exhibit of the 13th/14th century painter Giotto and his contemporaries that we saw in 2009.


            The entrance is off via dei Fori Imperiali, up a steep hill. A series of moderately steep permanent metal ramps leads to the entrance.  From there, wheelchair access is by a stair lift up several stairs to a landing.  The stair lift is a typical Italian one in size - Howard’s lightweight power wheelchair fit without any room to spare on the sides and with his footrests protruding over the front edge.  We did not visit this museum in 2012.  Larger and heavier power wheelchairs, such as Howard’s Permobil or a large scooter, might not be able to fit on the stair lift.  From the landing there are two very steep permanent ramps leading up to another landing.  When we exited the museum, Howard went down the ramps backwards and Michele held his wheelchair.  The whole procedure was difficult.  From the upper landing there is a medium-sized elevator to the exhibit galleries; Howard fit in the elevator easily; larger and heavier power wheelchairs would also fit in the elevator.


            The building comprises two sections that aren’t connected by level floors, so near the entrance there is another stair lift, identical to the one described above, leading to the other section of the museum.  In order to go from one section to another, you must go back down one stair lift to the entrance, and then up the other stair lift to the other section. 




The date of our most recent visit is indicated for each church.


Gesu (2003)


The front entrance has many stairs.  The rear entrance, around the block, has two stairs, then one more.  The friendly, helpful employees were ready with portable ramps, and Howard was able to enter.


Sant’ Agnese in Agone (2003) 


The front entrance has many stairs and there is no accessible alternate entrance.


Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale (2006)


            Bernini’s elliptical masterpiece is inaccessible.  The only entrance is through the front porch, which is semicircular and has around 10 semicircular, concentric stairs.  Given the number of stairs and the building’s unique and beautiful facade, installing a permanent ramp would be infeasible and would irreparably harm the beauty and integrity of the facade.  A portable ramp should be considered, but it would probably have to be unfeasibly long, given the number of stairs and the small size of the site.  Although it was disappointing not to be able to enter, the façade is so gorgeous that it was worth a visit just to see it.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (2006)
Borromini’s complex, undulating Baroque jewel is inaccessible.  The only entrance is through the front door, which is up three stairs.  Given the small site, the building’s unique and beautiful façade, and the narrow door, there really isn’t enough space to install a permanent ramp and, even if it were possible, it would irreparably harm the building’s beauty and integrity.  However, because there are only three stairs, a portable ramp might be feasible and should be considered.  Although it was disappointing not to be able to enter, the façade is so magnificent that it was worth a visit just to see it.

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (2006)

This basilica is easily accessible.  At the entrance there is a threshold of a few inches at most. 

San Clemente (2012)   


Because of its ancient provenance and multiple underground levels, San Clemente is not accessible.  There are four high stairs, each of which is 12 inches/30 cm in height, down to the main entrance, which is at the highest and most recent level, and many more stairs down to the lower levels.  There are also many stairs down to the courtyard from outside the building.  


San Giovanni dei Fiorenti (2003)


Located at the northern end of the elegant Via Giulia, this is the church of the Florentine community in Rome.  There are many steep stairs up to the entrance, but a steep, semi-permanent metal ramp is in place.  The pavement at the bottom has a tricky cross slope.  A policeman pushed Howard’s wheelchair up the ramp and steadied it on the way down.  This church is less interesting than many, and all wheelchair users will need assistance on the ramp, but it is commendable that the parish has provided access to a building with such a high, steep porch.


SS Giovanni e Paolo (2012)    


This church is on the Celian Hill.  There is a forecourt, paved in bumpy cobblestones, that is somewhat steep and has some cross slopes.  Howard was able to navigate it with moderate difficulty.  Many manual wheelchair users would need assistance.  From the forecourt one can see large parts of the Acqua Claudia aqueduct and other antiquities.  On the day of our visit the gate to the enclosed area to the right of the forecourt was open, and we were able to enter and see the ancient foundation of the Temple of Claudius and buildings from many eras.  However, this area is not always open and it’s difficult to predict when it will be.  The church itself has at least one high step and is inaccessible; our notes don’t have details about the height of the step.  The beauty of the hill and the opportunity to see so many antiquities from a unique, close perspective made a visit worthwhile for Howard even though he could not access the church.


Casa Romane, an ancient Roman house, is underneath the church; see Antiquities and other Sites, below.


Sant’ Ignazio (2012) 


There are two ramps at the entrance:  a moderately sloped, long ramp, and a second, somewhat steep ramp.  Both have handrails.  Howard was able to enter easily.


Sant’ Ivo alla Sapienza (2012)    


Borromini’s masterpiece is only open Sunday mornings, plus some holidays and special occasions.  It’s inside the courtyard of Palazzo della Sapienza (the “Palace of Knowledge,” formerly the University of Rome law school and now the Italian State Archives), the main entrance to which is up several stairs on Corso del Rinascimento.  There’s an accessible entrance to the courtyard on the opposite side, near Piazza Sant’ Eustachio (site of the justly celebrated Café Sant’ Eustachio), via a pathway with a gate operated by a caretaker.  Depending on the day and time, Howard has sometimes been able to access the courtyard by getting the attention of the caretaker and asking him to open the gate.  From the arcade of the courtyard there is one low step down to the interior of the courtyard, and from there two stairs up into the church.  There is no ramp and Howard has not been able to access the church.  Even so, it’s worthwhile being persistent and getting into the courtyard, from where one can admire the white stone façade so beautifully integrated with the arcade, the tower’s sinuous interplay of convex and concave curves, and the surprising, delightful spiral spire.  Sant’ Agnese in Agone and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Borromini’s other great churches, are also inaccessible and can only be appreciated in a wheelchair from outside, but they are in crowded places.  The courtyard of Palazzo della Sapienza is quiet and its scale intimate; it’s the best place to appreciate Borromini’s genius from a wheelchair.


            Saint John in Lateran (2005)


We don’t remember the details and didn’t take good notes, but Howard was able to access this basilica fairly easily.  The basilica and the site on which it’s located are gargantuan, so it took a while to figure out access, but once we did there were no problems.  The 13th century cloister, with its beautiful spiral columns, is down four or five high stairs from the basilica, so it’s inaccessible.  There is an informative, well-organized audio guide available in English.


San Lorenzo in Lucina (2012) 


The piazza in front of the church is flat and is paved in smooth, large stones.  There is a 2 inch (5 cm) step at the entrance to the church, and Howard was able to enter easily.


San Luigi dei Francesi (2012) 


There are three stairs leading up to the entrance.  There is a ramp at the right side with a handrail on the side away from the church.  However, it is extremely steep - it is one of the steepest ramps we’ve seen anywhere (not just in Rome).  Howard was just barely able to go up and down it in his Permobil.  Going down required using the wheelchair’s tilt feature at the maximum angle, and he asked someone nearby to walk alongside him just in case.  Anyone in a power wheelchair without this feature would need major assistance, and manual wheelchair users would need more than one person to push them up and down.  Because the ramp is so steep, most slow walkers would find it impossible to use.  Some slow walkers would be able to walk up the three stairs, perhaps leaning on the ramp’s handrail.  Others would not be able to climb the stairs.  Once inside the church an individual in a wheelchair can easily maneuver and have an unobstructed view of the three Caravaggios in the Contarelli Chapel


Santa Maria Maggiore (2012) 


Santa Maria Maggiore ramp.

Access is excellent.  From the piazza in front of the church to the entrance porch there is a wide, gradual, well-designed multi-sectional ramp with a rubber surface and handrails.  There is a small ramp at the door.  The chapels have one or two high stairs and are not accessible, but they can easily be seen from the aisles.


Santa Maria degli Angeli/Baths of Diocletian (2012)
Michelangelo’s basilica is accessible – the entrance is at ground level and there is no threshold.  The sacristy, which is outside and has an interesting exhibit about the baths and their re-design by Michelangelo as a church, is accessible from the basilica without stairs or a threshold.  At least part of the remainder of the baths complex, which is a branch of the National Museum of Rome, is accessible by a ramp from the street (not directly from the church), but the entrance is hard to find and the baths have always been closed when we’ve tried to visit.


Santa Maria sopra Minerva (2009)


There is a front porch with three or four stairs up to a landing, then another one or two stairs to the entrance.  The rear entrance, which is quite far, is reached via the street to the right of the church.  The rear entrance has one large stair down, then two up.  In 2003 the employees and clergy were unhelpful but some tourists lifted Howard’s wheelchair.  We went here in 2009, the physical barriers were the same and we couldn’t find anyone to help, so Howard couldn’t enter.  There is a convent in the building to the left; Michele rang the doorbell and the employee was not helpful.  On both occasions, the employees were the least friendly of those at any church in Rome.  In fact, they were probably the only unfriendly employees we’ve encountered.


Santa Maria in Trastevere (2003) 


The entrance is completely level; there are no stairs.


Santa Maria della Vittoria/Cornaro Chapel (Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa) (2006)
This church is inaccessible – the only entrance is through the front porch, which has approximately 10 stairs.  Although its façade is similar to that of Santa Susanna (see below), which has a superb ramp, the latter church has fewer stairs.  A ramp appears to be infeasible at Santa Maria della Vittoria.


Saint Peter’s Basilica (2009) 


Access is excellent, there are fully accessible bathrooms and the employees are welcoming.  Visitors in wheelchairs are invited to go to the front of the line.  A medium-size elevator takes disabled visitors to the entrance porch and narthex. 

On one visit we were fortunate to find the elevator out of service.  Why fortunate?  An employee took us into a restricted area, around the left side of the basilica, and let us in through the apse (the entrance to the apse was level with the pavement).  After feeling the heavy presence of so many other tourists in the piazza, we appreciated the emptiness and serenity of the restricted area and felt special to be allowed there.  Besides being able easily to get up close to the extraordinary works of art in and near the apse without having to fight the crowds, on our way inside we were able to pause and admire the exterior of the building - the extraordinary walls of the nave and apse - massive, powerful, yet perfectly contoured and proportioned - designed by Michelangelo.


For a description of access to the Sistine Chapel, see “Museums,” above.


            San Pietro in Vincoli (2009)


This church is located on the Esquiline Hill, and the streets leading up to it are relatively steep.  Wheelchair users must approach it from the streets below because the streets above have stairs.  One of the streets is narrow and there is a blind corner, so beware of vehicular traffic.  There are two relatively steep permanent metal ramps leading up to the entrance.  Howard was able to go up and down both the streets and the ramps without difficulty, but manual wheelchair users will need assistance.  The entrance itself is level, and Michelangelo’s tomb of Julius II, with the statues of Moses and other figures including Rachel and Leah, is easy to access.


SS Quattro Coronati (2012) 


Off the beaten tourist path and situated on a peaceful, quiet and serene site on the Celian Hill, this complex boasts a panoramic view of the Palatine Hill, with its greenery and reddish- brown brick antiquities, that gives one a different perspective of Rome.  Howard enjoyed our visit very much even though he could not access the main church.


To access the site one must go up a steep street; there is no alternative route.  There are sidewalks on both sides, but it was difficult to see whether there are curb ramps, so Howard rolled in the street, which is paved in smooth asphalt.  There is a blind turn, so one must watch out for cars, but traffic is light.


There is one step 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) high into the courtyard.  From the courtyard there is one step 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) high to the monastery where the Chapel of St. Sylvester is located.  It was fairly easy for Howard to get to this point.  The Chapel of St. Sylvester is down one high step from the lobby and Howard was unable to enter, but the chapel is small and he could see most of it from the doorway. 


There is a 10 inch (25 cm) high threshold at the entrance to the main church; it would be impossible to enter for people in heavy power wheelchairs, but those in manual wheelchairs could be lifted without much difficulty.  Once inside the church, it would be easy to access the cloister; there is a step only 2 inches (5 cm) high.


Santa Susanna (2006)
This church, which is near Santa Maria della Vittoria and has a similar façade, is easily accessible via a gradual, permanent ramp at the front entrance.  The sleek modern ramp is made of wood, metal and Plexiglas, with well-designed handrails and inscriptions on the bottom honoring the donors.  This church is the home of American Catholics in Rome, which may at least partially explain the superb ramp.


            Tempietto (2006)


             See Janiculum in Antiquities and Other Sites, below.





The entrance to the Synagogue is accessed via a somewhat steep metal ramp on the right side.  The ramp has railings.  The path to the ramp, which previously had a gravel surface, has been paved in smooth stones.  A security guard is always present to assist. 


            The Jewish Museum and the Spanish Synagogue are in the basement of the Synagogue.  The entrance is on via Catalana (the street away from the river), at the rear of the building.  It is necessary to get the attention of an employee.  There is a stair lift to the basement level, which is a typical Italian one in size, and Howard’s lightweight Quickie power wheelchair fit without much room to spare on the sides and with his footrests protruding over the front edge.  Larger and heavier power wheelchairs, such as a Permobil, and large scooters might not be able to fit.  Be careful when exiting the lift at basement level because the pavement of the walkway is a bit steep.  The entrance to the museum is up a threshold of several inches, but the museum is obtaining a ramp. There is a large, well-designed accessible bathroom. 


            All of the exhibits and the Spanish Synagogue are on a single level.  Admission is free for disabled visitors and one companion.  The museum is fascinating, well organized and well documented, spanning the 2,200 years of the Roman Jewish community and including beautiful ritual objects of silver and textiles, ancient tombstones, and documents from the Ghetto period (1555-1870) through emancipation until the present.  The explanations are in Italian and English.  There is an excellent bookstore with many books in English. 


            The museum director and her staff have been very receptive to recommendations for improving access.






Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all antiquities.  One must still get tickets at the ticket counter, although employees were sometimes willing to let us in without a ticket.  The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, interesting images and graphics - another reason why it’s advisable to get tickets.  The date of our most recent visit is indicated for each site.


Via Appia Antica (the Appian Way) (2009)


We took a fascinating but all too brief tour of some of the first sites along the Appian Way with Katie Parla (see Walking Tours, below). Because we were unsure about the accessibility and dependability of the bus lines, we arranged for paratransit transportation with ATAC (see Transportation in Rome, above).


First we saw the Villa and Circus of Maxentius and the mausoleum he built for his son, all of which are located between the second and third mile of the Appian Way.  The entrance to the site is relatively flat, but there is thick grass throughout.  Howard needed a bit of help, and someone in a manual wheelchair would need significant help. The circus (which is the best preserved Roman circus by far) is downhill around 50 feet (15 meters), and the path is steep and has cross slopes, so Howard remained at the top.  From there one can see some of the structures of the circus, but not most of them.  Next Michele visited the nearby Tomb of Cecilia Metella, which is completely inaccessible.  Across the road are the remains of a medieval church, which Howard was able to access by a relatively flat path.


We continued strolling along the Appian Way another couple hundred feet, but soon the pavement stones were so rutted and uneven as to be completely impassable in a wheelchair, and the shoulder of the road ended.  Many of the sites are located beyond this point, including the remains of ancient bridges, the Acqua Claudia aqueduct, temples and villas, and numerous mausoleums, gravestones and inscriptions.  Because of the pavement and the distances involved, the best (and really the only) way to see the entire area in a wheelchair would be to rent an accessible vehicle for the day and be driven to each site.


None of the catacombs - Jewish, pagan and Christian - is accessible, as they are all underground.  


It’s remarkable how green, serene and pastoral this area has remained considering it’s so close to the center of Rome.  If one didn’t know otherwise, one might think it is deep in the countryside.  Even though most of the monuments are inaccessible, time spent here is enjoyable, insightful and relaxing.  Via Appia Antica is rich in history, and exploring it is well worthwhile despite the access limitations.


Baths of Diocletian (2012)


See Santa Maria degli Angeli/Baths of Diocletian in Churches, above.


            Casa Romane (2012) 


This ancient Roman house is underneath SS Giovanni e Paolo, on a steep street on the Celian Hill.  We were near here but it was after closing time.  The entrance appears to be accessible.  Even if not all of the rooms are accessible, a visit would be worthwhile.  

Castel Sant’Angelo (2003)


We don’t remember the details and didn’t take good notes, but Howard was able to access much of this ancient mausoleum and fortress without difficulty, including the top level.  Understandably, parts of it are inaccessible. 


            Villa Celimontana (2012) 


On the way back from SS Giovanni e Paolo we stumbled upon this lovely park on the Celian Hill.  It is perhaps a five minute stroll from the church.  The paths we saw are wide and moderately sloped; wheelchair access was easy.  Although we explored only part of the park, our impression was that access is good throughout.  We were surprised by how green and quiet this place is.


Colosseum (2012) 


The entrance is on the side facing the Arch of Constantine.  Since our last visit the surrounding piazza has been paved in much smoother stones than previously, making for a mostly smooth ride in a wheelchair.  There is a large, modern Plexiglas elevator from the ground floor to the upper level, and the walkway around the perimeter at that level is completely accessible.  Also, some fascinating, well-designed and well-documented exhibits have been added to the upper level since our last visit, featuring everything from renderings of Nero’s Golden House (Domus Aurea) (Nero’s private lake, which was part of the Golden House complex, occupied the site on which the Colosseum was built), to demonstrations of the rigging for the sails that protected Colosseum spectators from the sun.  Since our last visit restroom access has improved.  In past visits the restrooms were outside the Colosseum; there is now an accessible restroom at ground level near the ticket counter.  Although it is up a somewhat steep ramp and is not as large as many accessible restrooms in Rome, it is adequate. 


Column of Marcus Aurelius (2012)


Unlike that of Trajan’s Column, the base of the Column of Marcus Aurelius is at street level.  The column is in Piazza Colonna, which is gradually sloped.


Forum (Roman Forum) and Imperial Fori (2009)


The paths within the Roman Forum are paved in large, irregular, uneven stones.  Although the streets are relatively flat, there are some slopes.  The terrain is difficult for a wheelchair, but it is possible to go through much of the Roman Forum with a moderate amount of assistance.  Enter from via di Fori Imperiali.


The Forum of Caesar and Forum of Augustus are at least partially accessible; the situation changes depending on the state of the excavations.  Even when it is impossible to go down into the excavation sites, they can be seen from via di Fori Imperiali.


See below for information about Trajan’s Forum, Column and Markets.


Janiculum (Monte Gianicolo) (2006)


            We tried to get to the top of the Janiculum hill by way of via Garibaldi.  Just below Piazza San Pietro in Montorio (where Bramante’s acclaimed Tempietto is located), the street slopes steeply and curves sharply uphill.  A flight of stairs leads up to the Tempietto.  We didn’t continue on via Garibaldi because Howard would have had to remain in the street on extremely uneven terrain and in the face of heavy oncoming automobile traffic.  Drivers would have been unable to see him, and vice versa.


Mamertine - Tullian Prison (2009)


The piazza where the entrance to this notorious ancient Roman dungeon is located is accessed by a short, moderately steep path off via dei Fori Imperiali, past the entrance to the Vittoriano Museum.  The prison and San Giuseppe dei Falegnami, the church above it, are inaccessible - there is a flight of stairs down to the church and another flight from there down to the prison.  The piazza itself is flat and affords a sweeping yet close view of the Roman Forum, including a very close view of the Arch of Septimius Severus.


Pantheon (2012)


There is a moderately sloped semi-permanent ramp with a nonskid surface at the front of the porch, toward the left side.  From the porch, the entrance is level.  Piazza della Rotonda, the piazza in front of the building, is sloped downhill and there are cross slopes at the edges, so it’s best to approach the Pantheon from the center.


Theater of Marcellus and Portico of Octavia (2009)


Restoration work has continued at these evocative, important sites and along via di Portico Ottavia in the Jewish Ghetto, with impressive progress having been made over the years.  There is a flat observation area at the end of via di Portico Ottavia.  There is a relatively gradual permanent ramp, with railings on both sides, leading from via di Portico Ottavia down to the excavations around the Theater of Marcellus.  The ground around the theater is basically flat but remains filled with large stones.  Depending on the conditions at any particular time, it may or may not be possible for people in wheelchairs to go around the excavation site, but one can get a good view of the Theater of Marcellus from street level.


Trajan’s Forum, Column and Markets (2006)


As of 2006 the entrance to both Trajan’s Forum and Trajan’s Markets was on via dei Fori Imperiali, next to Trajan’s Column.  A flight of stairs leads down to the forum, including the remains of the massive Basilica Ulpia, which are below street level. There is an enclosed lift, similar to an elevator but without a complete shaft.  The lift travels straight vertically, not diagonally.  The doorway and interior width were ample for Howard’s lightweight power wheelchair but the interior isn’t deep - Howard fit lengthwise only with his footrests in the completely lowered position, and even then his shoes scraped the edge. For a larger power wheelchair such as a Permobil, or a scooter, the fit would be quite tight.  The lift is operated by an employee and the ticket office is downstairs, so an able-bodied person must go downstairs and ask an employee to operate it. 


The forum is fairly flat but the ground is rocky and bumpy.  Howard was able to navigate it fairly easily in his power wheelchair; a manual wheelchair user would need assistance and would have a bumpy ride.  There is a tunnel with a smooth, flat metal surface leading from the Basilica Ulpia to the entrance to the markets.  The markets are up a long flight of stairs from the forum and are inaccessible, but there’s plenty to see at ground level in the forum. 


The area has been under excavation and reconstruction for many years.  We didn’t get a chance to visit this site in 2009 or 2012.  It’s quite possible that by now the entrance to the markets may be at the other side of the site, at the intersection of via IV November, via Nazionale and Largo Magnanapoli, which is considerably higher than the forum, so the markets may be wheelchair accessible from that level.  Presumably, the entrance to the forum described above remains open, so a complete visit by wheelchair users will include the forum, entered by lift from below, and the markets, entered from above.






            Hadrian’s Villa (2003)


This huge site is in Tivoli, almost an hour’s drive from Rome.  We were unable to find accessible public transportation so we hired an accessible van with a driver.  (We didn’t go to the gardens of nearby Villa d’Este, so can’t report on the state of access there based on first-hand knowledge, but in response to our e-mail inquiry in 2012 we were informed that the gardens are accessible.)  As at Ostia Antica (see below), the setting is beautiful, the ancient remains are architecturally significant and there is a rich history.  The pools are especially spectacular.  The term “villa” is used here with its original meaning, namely a large estate including many separate buildings, not merely a single building surrounded by large yards.  The site appears similar in size to Ostia Antica; it’s enlightening to consider that the villa complex for an emperor, his retinue, servants and soldiers was similar in size to an entire thriving port town.


              Most of the paths are wide and of dirt, not gravel or stone, and therefore easier to navigate than the Decumanus at Ostia Antica However, the site is hillier, and Michele and our driver pushed Howard’s wheelchair in several places.  But many areas are level or only gradually sloped.  As at Ostia Antica, the ground was dry and compacted; the going would have been difficult if not impossible in wet, muddy ground.  The main bathroom, near the pool, is accessible although up a moderately steep hill.  The lock handle inside the bathroom is small and difficult to grasp; be careful not to get locked in if your grip isn’t strong.

Ostia Antica (2003) 


It is possible to reach the extensive archaeological site at Ostia Antica on accessible public transportation from Rome.  Although it isn’t easy, it’s absolutely worthwhile because this ancient Roman port town is well-preserved, well-documented, beautiful, architecturally fascinating and historically important.  Getting there and touring the site are tricky and require an able-bodied companion, patience and a taste for adventure.  Because we visited in 2003, it’s imperative to check transportation and site access before attempting a visit.  Transportation may have improved since that time.  Getting there was the most difficult part; access at the excavation site was reasonably good considering the terrain, size and conditions.


Go to Porta San Paolo train station, which is near Piramide Metro line B station in Testaccio.  It is a long but doable stroll from the center of Rome.  Or take a local Roman bus or the Metro, depending on where you’re coming from.  The train station is next to the Metro station, across the street from the ancient Pyramid of Caius Cestius


Take the train (not the Metro) outbound toward Ostia.  Trains depart every 15 or 20 minutes.  Be careful - the doors on the newer trains are level with the platform and have only a small gap but those on the older ones are a couple inches higher and have a larger gap. 


As of 2003 the only egress from the outbound platform at Ostia Antica was down a long flight of stairs to a tunnel under the platform, and from there to the outside.  We learned this the hard way: ATAC told us incorrect information, both on the phone and at the Rome station.  We exited at Ostia Antica, saw that there was no accessible path of travel from the platform to outside the station, and waited for the next outbound train.  We got off one stop past Ostia Antica, at Ostia Lido Nord.  (There are two Lido stops - Lido Nord is the one immediately after Ostia Antica; Lido Centro is the next one.)   Lido Nord station, renovated around 2003, has a large, modern elevator; we took it up to the walkway above the tracks, crossed the elevated walkway and took another elevator down to the Rome-bound platform.  (Lido Nord also has a textured surface for blind people along the platform.)  We then took the train back toward Rome one stop, exiting at Ostia Antica.  The platform on this side of the tracks leads directly to the station exit.  However, there was a medium height stair down to the parking lot. 


As you enter the parking lot, on the far left toward the middle of the left edge of the parking lot there is a walkway adjacent to a small divided highway (not an Autostrada, but busier and faster than a regular street).   The walkway is narrow but paved, with signposts narrowing it even more in a few spots, but Howard was able to pass through with a few inches to spare.  After several hundred feet there are two complex intersections where the divided highway meets some smaller streets.  You must cross the intersections to get to the town of Ostia; the town is small and the correct direction will be obvious as you approach.  Fortunately, a traffic policeman was there both in late morning and on our return in late afternoon, and he helped us cross.  There is one large step from the pathway into the street, which Howard was able to navigate in his lightweight power wheelchair with help from Michele.  Be careful.  Once you’ve navigated that intersection, which would have been difficult without the policeman even with a companion and very dangerous for a solo wheelchair user without the policeman, you are in town a few blocks from the antiquities park entrance.  Shortly after the intersection, on the way into town is a bustling bakery, Il Forno, with delectable take-out pizza. 


We didn’t try to visit the Castle of Julius II, which is before the entrance to the antiquities, so we don’t know whether it is accessible.


At the antiquities site there is a level, asphalt service road parallel to the Decumanus (the ancient main street, which is paved in large, irregular stones) going from the main park entrance all the way to the museum and café.  The service road is above the Decumanus and affords a view of much of the antiquities below, but is not in them. 


The bathrooms at the café are accessible; those at the park entrance are not.  The café and outdoor terrace are accessible.  The museum was closed when we were there; there are a few stairs but there may be a portable ramp or accessible alternate entrance. 


Closer to the park entrance than to the café/museum, a well-paved, gently sloping accessible walkway connects the service road with the ancient theater.  It passes the Forum of the Corporations, which has remarkably well-preserved floor mosaics installed by traders and merchants to advertise their specialties, merchandise and trading regions.  The walkway ends at a flat area at the bottom of the theater.  After exploring the theater we were able to go all the way west past the museum to the apartments in Via di Diana and the large Capitolium Temple in the Forum.  Howard proceeded along the Decumanus, rolling on its large, uneven stones that are similar to those in the Roman Forum.  (Via di Diana and the surrounding area are inaccessible from the museum area because they are down a flight of stairs from the front of the museum.)  There are large gaps between the stones.  The stones peter out occasionally and the Decumanus becomes dirt and gravel.  The ride was bumpy and Michele pushed Howard’s wheelchair in many places.  But most of the site is fairly flat and there was no real danger of falling or losing control.  The ground was dry; the going would have been impossible if it were wet. 


We were at the site over four hours and didn’t see everything.  There wasn’t time to explore much of the area east of the theater (between the theater and the park entrance) and it was quite hot (we were there in May).  At a few places there are unpaved paths connecting the service road to the Decumanus; these are moderately steep but would have been accessible with assistance.  Also, we didn’t go further west (toward the coast) than the Capitolium Temple.  The site continues a good bit in that direction and includes the ancient synagogue, but the service road ends before that area and the Decumanus gets bumpier and more uneven, essentially becoming impassable in a wheelchair. 


Allow a full day to see this evocative, beautiful site.  Bring plenty of water, extra tire tubes just in case and your imagination.  Official website of the Roman archaeological superintendent; includes information about many archaeological sites in and around Rome.  Scroll down to the bottom of the English language homepage for information about Ostia Antica.  Useful information in English.   




A good guide can enrich and enliven travel anywhere, but this is especially true in Rome because of its complexity, multiplicity of physical and historical layers, vast temporal scale, extraordinary richness and sometimes nearly overwhelming density.  There is a lot to absorb.  The walking tours we took with Context Travel and Katie Parla have been among the highlights of our trips.  


Context Travel 


Context operates in-depth small group (six people maximum) and private walking tours (Context prefers the term “itineraries”) of three to four hours led by English-speaking docents who live in Rome and have advanced degrees in art history, architecture, archaeology, history or urban planning.  The docents aren’t conventional, full-time tour guides - they are specialists sharing their expertise and passion for their subjects while also practicing their professions.  The tours are thematic.  Context began in Rome and now operates in other major cities in Italy, Europe and the United States. 


Over the years we’ve taken many Context tours in Rome.  Fascinating, in-depth and interactive, these walks have added a rich new dimension to our knowledge and appreciation of Rome.  We’ve also taken Context tours in Paris and Naples, which likewise were superb.  The docents’ knowledge and insights were deep and broad, their passion for their subjects energizing and the pacing perfect.  They were historically imaginative in evoking the times.  They welcomed questions, and our fellow travelers asked well-informed ones.  We enthusiastically recommend Context walking tours.


Context views wheelchair access as a challenge and a learning opportunity, not a burden.  Several times the docents rearranged our tour to make it more accessible.  In recent years Context has developed its Mobility Program, in which it aims to identify the degree of accessibility of its itineraries for wheelchair users and slow walkers, to design accessible itineraries, and to systematize the information.  Howard is proud to be part of an advisory panel that helps Context with this program.  On our 2012 trip to Rome and Naples, we took several Context tours and helped survey their degree of accessibility and suggested ways to improve access.  Context offers a large variety of itineraries with varying degrees of access.  Given the age, terrain and site conditions in Rome, it is unavoidable and understandable that not all of the itineraries are accessible and some are only partially accessible, but Context is trying to do as much as is feasible. When signing up, provide detailed information about your mobility limitations and capabilities.


Katie Parla 


Katie Parla, formerly a docent for Context, gives private tours of Rome and southern Italy and writes passionately and insightfully about Italian art, antiquities, architecture, food and wine.  In 2009 she took us on a superb tour of Via Appia Antica (the Appian Way) that was one of the highlights of our trip.  Her knowledge of Rome is broad and deep, her enthusiasm infectious.  She’s very aware of and conscientious about disability access.  Her food blog is Parla Food.   




The Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company) produces lectures on a variety of subjects by award-winning college professors. We’ve enjoyed the following series, which are fascinating, well produced and have added immeasurably to our knowledge and appreciation of Rome and Italy.


Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity’s Greatest Empire by Professor    Steven Tuck

Famous Romans by Professor Rufus Fears

Genius of Michelangelo by Professor William Wallace

Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance by Professor William Kloss

Great Battles of the Ancient World by Professor Garrett Fagan

Greece and Rome:   An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean by Professor Robert Garland

History of Ancient Rome by Professor Garrett Fagan

Italian Renaissance by Professor Kenneth Bartlett

Pompeii:  Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City by Professor Steven Tuck

Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures:  Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity by Professor Stephen Ressler





About Access in Rome


Handy Turismo is the official accessible tourism website of the Comune of Rome.  Some pages are now in English. The website is a bit clunky, but it’s a useful starting point.  The tourism office answers inquiries about access in Rome from Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and by e-mail.  Their information isn’t always up to date, so it’s advisable to confirm information with the source to which they refer you.


Comune of Rome - Disability Services (Ufficio Mobilita Disabili del V Dipartmento).  Phone: +39-06-6710-5387 or +39-06-6710-5393 or, only when calling from Italy, 800-015-510.  Address:  viale Manzoni, 16.


Presidio del Lazio.  Lazio is the region where Rome is located.  The regional government operates an information service for disabled people.  Toll free phone number from within Italy:  800-271-027.



About Accessible Travel in General


Global Access News - Disabled Travel Network, operated by the extremely knowledgeable and always helpful Marti Gacioch, has terrific general information about traveling in a wheelchair, and articles and links about travel to a variety of destinations.  Marti also publishes a superb, free monthly e-zine with informative and useful tidbits and links to accessible hotels, apartments, transportation, museums and tour operators.  To sign up, go to the website.


Access-Able Travel Source has a database of articles and links about accessible travel to a variety of destinations.  The woman who operated this website died several years ago; her husband maintains the website but has not added to it.


Emerging Horizons Accessible Travel News  publishes a magazine available online and in print by subscription only, and its author, Candy Harrington, has written several books on accessible travel that are available on the website


Mobility International USA (MIUSA) focuses primarily on exchange, work/study and community service programs for disabled students but can also provide useful accessible travel information.  They have been helpful to us.


Slow Travel is a website loaded with information about traveling more slowly than typical tourists. It isn’t specifically about wheelchair access, but it has some trip reports about wheelchair access to various destinations. 




            The organizations listed below include disease-specific medical nonprofits, disability rights groups and independent living organizations.  In addition to advocacy and medical research, some Italian disease-specific nonprofits provide services such as transportation, referrals to service providers and other services that are often provided by independent living centers in the US.  Many of these organizations have semi-autonomous local branches, some of which maintain their own websites.  The local branches are more likely to provide assistance to disabled travelers than the national organizations.  To find the websites of local branches, go to the parent organization website. 


AISM - Associazione Italiana Sclerosi Multipla 


ANIEP - Associazione Nazionale per la Promozione e la Difesa dei Diritti Civili e Sociali degli Handicappati      


ANMIC - Associazione Nazionale Mutilati ed Invalidi Civili      


AP - Associazione Paraplegici di Roma e del Lazio – Onlus


AVI - Agenzia per la Vita Indipendente  Independent living organization based in Rome.


Cittadinanzattiva Onlus  Disability rights organization focusing on barrier removal in Rome.


CO.IN - Cooperative Integrate Onlus  Roman disability rights organization that has some accessible tourism projects.


DPI Italia - Disabled Persons International Italia      


FAIP - Federazione Associazioni Italiane Para-tetraplegici  


UILDM - Unione Italiana Lotta alla Distrofia Muscolare  



Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire 


Dear Sir/Madam:


My wife and I will arrive in [         ] on [            ] and depart on [           ]. We will stay for [       ] nights.


I use an electric wheelchair that is [[  ] centimeters ([  ] inches)] wide.  I am unable to walk at all.   My wife is not disabled.  We would like a non-smoking room with one large bed.  We have the following questions about your hotel:


1.      Do you have any specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms?  If not, please disregard the other questions.  Thank you and we would appreciate a recommendation of hotel in the area that does have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms.


If you do have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms, we have the following questions.  Please answer even if you are fully booked for the requested time, because we are interested in your hotel for the future.


1.      Is it necessary to go up or down any stairs in order to get from the street entrance to the guest room?  Does the building have an elevator?  If so, how wide is the elevator door and what are the interior dimensions of the elevator? 

2.      In the bathroom, is there space for a [   ] cm wide wheelchair on one side of the toilet? What is the width of the doorway into the bathroom?  What is the height of the toilet?  What is the size of the shower?  Can a wheelchair roll into the shower?  Are there grab bars near the toilet and shower?

3.      Are all the doorways in the room at least 75 cm wide?

4.      What is the size of the room?  Does this include the bathroom?

5.      Was the building renovated recently?


Also, could you e-mail some photos of the bathroom.


Please quote a rate. 


            Thank you very much.  We really appreciate any help you can provide.


Very Truly Yours



 Metric Conversion Guide 


One inch = 2.54 centimeters. 

One centimeter = 0.3937 inches


One meter = 39.4 inches

One square meter = 10.76 square feet


One kilometer = 0.62 miles

One mile = 1.61 kilometers


One kilogram = 2.2 pounds

One hundred grams = just under ¼ pound (3 ½ ounces)

One pound = 0.454 kilograms (454 grams)


One liter = 0.264 gallons = 1.056 quarts

One gallon = 3.785 liters  





English-To-Italian Dictionary Of Disability Access Words And Phrases

© Barrier Free Travel 2003, 2006

(Included by permission of, and with thanks to, Cornelia Danielson

 of Barrier Free Travel)







“I use a wheelchair” – SONO IN CARROZZINA

“I use an electric wheelchair” - USO UNA CARROZZINA ELETTRICA

“wheel” - RUOTA

“battery” – BATTERIA

“tire” – GOMMA

“tire tube” – CAMERA D’ARIA

“my wheelchair needs to be repaired” –  LA MIA CARROZZINA HA BISOGNO DI ESSERE RIPARATA

“I am unable to walk” – NON CAMMINO

“ramp” –RAMPA  or   SCIVOLO  or   PEDANA

“is there a ramp?” -  C’E’ UNA RAMPA?

“stairs” –SCALE

“are there stairs?” CI SONO DELLE SCALE?
“how many steps are there?” -  QUANTI GRADINI SONO?
“elevator” -  ASCENSORE

“is there an elevator?” – C’E’ UN ASCENSORE?

“is it necessary to climb any steps to get to the elevator?” – CI SONO DEI GRADINI PER ARRIVARE ALL’ASCENSORE?
 “what are the elevator’s dimensions?”- QUALI SONO LE DIMENSIONI DELL’ASCENSORE ?

“what is the width of the doorway?” –  QUAL’ E’  LA LARGEZZA DELLA PORTA?

“what is the height of the bed?” -  QUAL’E’ L’ALTEZZA DEL LETTO?
  ”up” -  SU
 “down” - GIU’
 “roll-in shower” - DOCCIA A PAVIMENTO


“grab bars” – MANIGLIONI   or  CORRIMANI   (hand rails)

“is the bathroom wheelchair accessible?” –  IL BAGNO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“does the bathroom have a roll-in shower?” –  IL BAGNO E’ CON DOCCIA  A PAVIMENTO?

“are there grab bars in the bathroom?” –  CI SONO DEI MANIGLIONI NEL BAGNO?

“is the bus wheelchair accessible?” –  L’AUTOBUS E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“is the train wheelchair accessible?” –  IL TRENO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“is the van/minivan wheelchair accessible?” –  IL PULMINO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“does the van/minivan have a ramp?” –  IL PULMINO HA UNA RAMPA?

“does the van/minivan have a lift?” – IL PULMINO HA UN SOLLEVATORE ?

“the elevator/ramp/lift is broken” – L’ASCENSORE/ LA RAMPA/ IL SOLLEVATORE E’ ROTTO (or “ROTTA” depending on the gender of the noun)

“how far is it from [    ] to [    ]?” -  QUANTO DISTA DA [   ] A [   ] ?

“blind” –  NON VEDENTE  or CIECO


“Braille” –  same word is used, pronounced “brile” (with a long “i” and silent “e” like “bile”)

“guide dog” –CANE GUIDA

“deaf” – NON UDENTE  or   SORDO


“hearing impaired” – IPOUDENTE

“I am hearing impaired” – SONO QUASI SORDO




Pronunciation Guide


Every letter (vowel and consonant) is pronounced in Italian. There is no silent “e” for example as there is in English
A is always a short “a” (as in “adopt”)
E sounds like a long “a” (as in “ate”)
I  sounds like a long “e” (as in “eat”)
O sounds like a long “o” (as in “oats”)
U sounds like “ou” (as in “you”)
C has a hard sound like “k” before “o” and “a”  (carrozzina) BUT BEFORE
OTHER VOWELS it sounds like the “ch” in “chair” (doccia)


Editor's note: Don't miss the following access reports by Howard & Michele Chabner. Just click on the title.


Europe 2007: Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Rental



Paris Passerelles - Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Paris 2003

Paris Appendices: Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire, Metric Conversion & Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey Results) 

Paris Passerelles Supplement 2005

Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) and Paris 2007


Paris, Burgundy, Provence & Languedoc-Roussillon 2010


Paris Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey 2010


Italy: Rome,  Florence, Vicenza &  Naples 2003-2006

Vicenza, Florence & Rome 2005

2006 Navigating Naples 2006


Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Bologna, Ferrara, Parma & Ravenna 2009


Spain 2004



Cordoba & Seville

Toledo, Madrid, Segovia

Additional Information & Appendices A, B & C


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