Saturday, July 20, 2024
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With a Wheelchair Through Berlin

Back in 2009 I often passed the Turmstraße underground station on my way home from school when I had missed the direct bus connection, climbing up two sets of stairs. Sometimes helping a woman to carry her stroller up the stairs, before making my way down the street.

A year later, in the summer of 2010, the public transport company of Berlin (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe – BVG) built an elevator in the station. This was part of a citywide campaign to make public transport more accessible to all residents of Berlin.

Running the public transport of Berlin for about a century, the BVG has started off with streetcars and expanded upon buses and underground trains. It even has ferries in its repertoire nowadays. The BVG has had a difficult mission in connecting the city, dealing with the aftermath of two world wars and the East-West separation of Berlin during the Cold War. After the turn of the 21st century, public debate made a turn towards making vehicles more wheelchair accessible. Much needed, as I grew up with bus drivers regularly folding out the ramps to allow disabled passengers to board. I have also seen small wheelchair lifts, with train conductors or other personnel helping wheelchair users onto trains, where the platform and trains were not on the same height. Or I felt the braille on the stop buttons in busses.

When looking further into the inclusivity campaign of the BVG, it shows that their measures go beyond my scope. Over 70% of the subway stations have a guidance system for the blind, with the last 30% being tackled by the end of 2022. There are constantly new ideas for the accessibility of all vehicles, such as adjusting the height of bus stops and train cars, to avoid the necessity of ramps and small lifts altogether. In addition, there are info points with audio information in most train stations and big readable maps.

Making public transport more accessible is crucial in giving people their autonomy back. Having to rely on other people helping to complete the simple act of boarding a streetcar or bus can be exhausting. Not being able to use all vehicles or stops in Berlin limits one’s activity space and can make traveling longer and more complicated. 

More public spaces in Berlin are under development, to allow for all people to roam freely or at least to make it possible to get there. On my last visit to Berlin in 2021, I passed the Turmstraße station again. An old woman with a walker, a father with a stroller, two travellers with heavy suitcases, and a youngster on crutches. They all could comfortably get to the platform now, while I still used the two flights of stairs, passing a woman with a guidance dog, barely realising how much had changed.



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