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Costa Rica for the Physically Limited

by Carolyn Underwood

Physically impaired take heart. Wheelchair-bound, or otherwise physically restricted, access to such adventures as traveling into a rain forest or up to the edge of a volcano are now within your grasp.

Interest in the world around us and in learning and experiencing new things doesn't stop because we have suffered a serious injury or because we have grown into the "older adult" generation.

Take traveling, for example. Those of us who move about freely hardly notice the widths of doors or accessibility of entries into public places. Seldom do we think twice about boarding a plane to fly off to some exotic destination. Not so for the person with restricted movement.

Imagine you are a person with physical restrictions traveling outside your familiar space--those areas you have mastered after much hard work and long, hard-fought battles. How about traveling to a foreign country where the native language is not your own? Exciting enough without the added inconvenience of trying to access the physically inaccessible.

Physically impaired take heart. Wheelchair-bound, or otherwise physically restricted, access to such adventures as traveling into a rain forest or up to the edge of a volcano are now within your grasp. Some folks who find themselves in this situation are making the best of it by developing their own accessibility to the world. In Costa Rica they are involved in making your visit a remarkable one, full of adventure and joy.

Kosta Roda, the Costa Rican affiliate of Kéroul from Canada, has a board of directors in Costa Rica that is "walking its talk"--the members know from personal experience what it is like to be limited in physical capabilities, and have vowed to make Costa Rica accessible for persons with restricted physical movement. Serving in an advisory capacity to the Board are Lawrence Poole and Suzy Ethier of Canada's successful Kéroul. Monique Chabot, also of Canada, is living in Costa Rica and serving as General Manager for the non-profit organization.

Kéroul is providing leadership, counseling and guidance for members of the Kosta Roda Board of Directors. As a result of their inspiring efforts, board members here have set about traveling throughout the countryside offering advice and suggestions to those involved in the tourism industry on how to improve or adapt existing facilities for guests and residents of Costa Rica.

Kosta Roda has published a set of guidelines on improving access for persons with limited physical movement, complete with drawn-to-scale models and advice. In the book, they emphasize service through easily made adaptations. In other words, making the experience of having visited and stayed in a hotel or B&B, or eating in a restaurant, a more pleasant event simply by making the facilities accessible. As a guide, the Kosta Roda publication "Building Design and Hospitality . . . To Better Serve Your Client," available in both English and Spanish, is top notch and one which all hotels and tour companies would do well to secure and follow. Many are, and the results are paying off for the traveler as well as the business owner.

In downtown San José, there are wheelchair ramps at many intersections--a direct result of 25 years of work by another group of Costa Ricans involved in improving life for people with physical disabilities. This group has made Kosta Roda's work easier. With each group working separately to accomplish similar goals, doorways are being widened and bathroom facility accesses are being improved in hotels, public buildings, national parks and other tourist spots around the country. Transportation is also being made available, although this change has been slower to evolve.

Kosta Roda personnel are also involved in educating tour guides on how to help people with restricted abilities experience all that rain forests and tropical sea shores have to offer, like using acutely developed senses of sight, smell, taste and hearing. As a matter of fact, touring with a member of Kosta Roda will very likely heighten your awareness of things taken for granted, like the exquisite blue morpho butterfly or the sweet smells of the rain forest.

Another aspect of improving travel is Kosta Roda's emphasis on the aging of the world's population. Post-war baby-boomers are getting older, and youthful agility is becoming harder to hold on to. Kosta Roda is actively encouraging tourism folks to incorporate facilities for the older traveler who has money and time to spend experiencing life at a gentler pace.

Why Costa Rica?

According to Kosta Roda's premier supporter, Lawrence J. E. Poole, it was because Costa Rica captured his heart on his first visit here. In his delight and enthusiasm for this lovely land and its hospitable citizenry, he wanted to be a part of opening doors for travelers with limited physical abilities. Poole, the president of Kéroul, uses the term "Temporarily Abled" in referring to people who are not physically challenged as he is. I like that, because it awakens one to the fact that most of us who can now move about freely have some form of physical restrictions to look forward to--whether by injury or the process of aging, our time is coming. Doesn't it make sense then, that we should be involved in making our world more accessible for those who need it now? If for no other reason than we, too, will be there someday.

Kosta Roda has compiled a list of hotels, B&Bs, museums, miradores (scenic lookouts), shopping centers, restaurants, national parks and other tourist activities in Costa Rica which are currently accessible to the physically limited tourist. Monique Chabot indicated that Kosta Roda is happy to make that list available to anyone requesting it.

I don't know about you, but being able to travel and experience all life has to offer appeals greatly to me. I would not want to loose the opportunity to do so just because my legs couldn't carry me any longer. I thank the people with foresight who are already making those opportunities available for all of us.

Bien viaje. "Happy journey!"

For more information on Kosta Roda and traveling in Costa Rica for people with limited physical abilities, contact Monique Chabot at Tel/fax (506) 771-7482 or Sergio Estrada at (506) 297-2481, or write to P.O. Box 217-8000, San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica.

Copyright © 1996 by Carolyn Underwood. All rights reserved.

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Updated on June 15, 1996 by M.L. Smith