How handicap-accessible is Rio de Janeiro?

One of my life goals is to attend an Olympics, and my BFF and I have been throwing around the idea of going to the 2016 games in Rio. While it’s years in the future, we think that gives us plenty of time to save up and plan.

What I just thought of today is possible difficulties depending on how handicap-accessible Rio might or might not be. See, my BFF was born with like the mildest case of cerebal palsy ever. It mostly affects one of her legs; she can’t run and she can climb stairs with great difficulty, and then only a few steps. Now, I don’t know how flat Rio is or if someone with this kind of physical challenge can navigate the city easily. For instance, when I was in Istanbul I remember thinking about how impossible it would be to live there if you were in a wheelchair, with all the steep hills, steps, lack of ramps, etc. Now, my friend’s not in a wheelchair, but she still probably couldn’t get around Istanbul on foot.

So, for those in the know, could my friend walk around Rio with minimal difficulty? Or would she be confined mostly to her hotel and whatever Olympic stadium we’re in? Would we need to use a cab to go everywhere?

One of the things I have learned by hanging out in the handicapped forum on Cruise Critics is that essentially Central and South America suck for handicapped access. They still do not have much incentive to become US ADA compliant. Stuff like steps, curb cutouts, ramps are not particularly present. Several threds have specifically mentioned that the area is hilly, and that several people describe Brazil as the least accessible country in south america.

It has been 20 years, OK 30 years, since I was there, but my memory of Rio is that it is either flat or very steep. The city is built on terrain that consists of flat land and many steep hills. Think giant molehills in a lawn. As long as you are in the flat areas, your BFF wouldn’t have many problems. The bad news is that many of the interesting sights are on the hills. I think you would have a good time, but you wouldn’t be able to go everywhere you wanted to. Check out Google Maps. you can see what I mean. You will enjoy yourself on Copacabana. You won’t be walking across the city in any event, but the hills do cut the city up into sections.

I’m in love with Brazilian people, with Brazil, and I’ve been to Brazil three times (twice in Rio). I haven’t been to any other South American countries, so I can’t give you a comparison there.

My opinion of Brazil in general is that it’s a country that’s only a few steps behind the U.S. in how modern it is, and in some areas this makes a big difference.

Modern places like shopping malls do have handicapped parking spaces, elevators, curb cuts, and so forth. Sadly, compliance and respect for these parking spaces isn’t quite what it is in the U.S.

In the smaller towns out of the city, or in the more rural states, I really didn’t see any concessions anywhere for the handicapped. I did occasionally see people in wheelchairs in the middle of other groups, so it would at least seem that the people accept the handicapped, just that the facilities for them aren’t present.

In Brazil in general, the infrastructure just isn’t as good, or as well-maintained as in the U.S. Expect to find poorly-maintained sidewalks, roads with potholes, malfunctioning street lamps, and so forth.

However, like anyplace in the world, I would imagine they’d make some big improvements in and around the area where the Olympic games will be held.

As far as flat and hilly ares, Rio de Janeiro has both. The hills contain some scenic things such as Cristo Redentor (the large Christ the Redeemer statue). The hills also have the favelas, which is where the then-recently-freed slaves made their shantytowns.

You mentioned taxis. Taxis in Brazil are probably not as expensive as you might think. Also, keep in mind that tipping taxi drivers is not customary in Brazil. (Although, if the driver helped you in some special way, you might still want to tip for that.)

If you can work it into your budget, you might consider just hiring a private car and driver to serve you during your stay. When someone I know was in Rio for about four days, I think the cost was $R500, which is just under $300 U.S.

You might pay even more for a driver who speaks English, and/or during the Olympics. But, the driver would not only serve as your source of transportation, he could also help you choose where to eat, what tourist sites to visit, and so forth. Brazilian cars are often smaller than ours. You did mention that your friend doesn’t use a wheelchair, but I thought I would mention that even a folding wheelchair might not fit in the trunk of all Brazilian sedans. If a wheelchair will be involved, be sure to advise the driver, so you can find an appropriate car.

Other things that may be of use to you: Site for Americans who like and/or live in Brazil. They have a message board there as well; maybe you could find some more information. Here you’ll find a short passage about hiring a private driver. You can check the current exchange rate to see how many Reais you can get for a dollar.

P.S. Although I don’t know much of anything about the Olympics, studying and learning about Brazil has become a big hobby of mine. If I can help you in any way, feel free to PM me.

I’ve been to Rio multiple times and my folks lived there for several years. Rio is not a handicapped friendly city. The parts of the city where the tourists go like Copacabana were built up in the 30s through the 60s. The sidewalks aren’t particularly smooth and the beach sidewalks are like this. I don’t recall if there were a lot of curb cuts but I wasn’t paying attention for it. Since your friend isn’t in a wheelchair, she can get around. Most buildings have an elevator although they may be old.

Most of the city is relatively flat. With the exception of the Pao de Acucar and Cristo Redentor, there aren’t that many tourist attractions that would lead you to the hills. For the most part, the hills are where the favelas are since most Brazilians with money prefer to live close to the beach.

Taxis are cheap and good method of getting around. There is a subway, but it is extremely limited. The buses are a little iffy and seem to be avoided by the tourists.