During communist times there were no facilities or access for handicapped people, a situation which pretty much persisted until recent years. But thanks to the city’s participation in a project called Disabled Access it has now opened its doors to disabled visitors who will discover the same facilities here as in many other EU cities.
Attractions with disabled access
One of the symbols of the Czech capital is its towers. At many of these you can now climb to the top using special entrances and lifts for the disabled and see for yourself that Prague is truly a city of a hundred spires, as is often said.
– Visit Prague’s tallest tower – the Žižkov TV Tower. A lift with disabled access takes you up to the glass-fronted viewing gallery 100m above the ground. From there the whole of Prague spreads out below you. There is also a café and restaurant.
– On the uppermost floors of the Jindřišská Tower there is a pleasant restaurant and viewing gallery.
– From the top of the Old Town Hall Tower in the very heart of the city there are breathtaking views of the Old Town Square.
Some fine examples of architecture, including the famous Cathedral of St Vitus, can be found at Prague Castle. Most of the places of interest there have disabled access, meaning that physically handicapped visitors can admire the superb Story of Prague Castle Exhibition, located in several castle buildings. This includes interactive features, computer generated models, video screens and a 40-minute documentary film.
The botanical gardens and zoo at Troja form an oasis of peace which caters for handicapped visitors in every way possible. The gardens have special pathways designed for the disabled, as well as entrances to the individual pavilions. For the visually impaired there are regular exhibitions where the exhibits can be appreciated by touch. Naturally there are also explanations in Braille.
Many of the new multi-screen cinemas in Prague and other cities across the country offer a high standard of facilities, including access for disabled persons.
Concert halls and theatres
The biggest international music festivals take place in Prague in the wonderful surroundings of the architectural treasures such as the Rudolfinum and the Municipal House. When these venues were being renovated, the necessary facilities for physically handicapped music fans were installed (special parking bays, disabled access and amenities, special places for wheelchairs in the halls), which means that the disabled can now attend concerts in the Prague Spring, Prague Autumn and the Strings of Autumn events. Festival organisers also cater for handicapped visitors at these festivals. Apart from the above there are also large discounts for disabled members of the audience.
Popular Czech musicals, which are now being exported to other countries, can be seen at Prague’s Kalich Theatre which also caters for the disabled. Two places are reserved for wheelchairs at every performance. Younger visitors to Prague will appreciate the disabled facilities at the Akropolis Palace, an alternative music club, which offers a hugely varied programme throughout the year, and at the Archa Theatre, which also hosts varied acts from around the world.
Those with hearing disabilities should definitely not miss the International Mime Festival for the Deaf, which takes place every November in Brno. This festival, the only regular international competition of its kind in the world, attracts the best deaf mime artists in Europe, and, not surprisingly, features the best that deaf theatre has to offer.
Museums and galleries with barrier-free access
Museums and galleries are opening their doors to disabled visitors to an ever greater extent. Buildings are being altered to give access to wheelchairs, and exhibitions now have special touch sections for the blind, who can learn something about selected exhibits in this way. By touching copies of the exhibits they can perceive the shape and distinctive character of the object and create an impression in their mind of individual artistic styles. There are special touch tours for blind children enabling them to appreciate important works of art by Czech and international sculptors and woodcarvers.
The majority of exhibits like these can be found at the National Gallery in Prague. At the Convent of St Agnes there is also a special touch exhibition made up of casts of medieval Czech sculpture; at the Convent of St George an exhibition called A Touch of Baroque features sculptural works from the 17th and 18th centuries; and Zbraslav Chateau has a touch exhibition of Japanese sculpture.
Sport facilities for disabled persons
Physically handicapped visitors to the Czech capital will certainly be pleased to learn about disabled access to the swimming pool at the modern Squashcentre in the city’s Strahov District. The fact that this is the training venue for the Czech paralympic team and many other top sportspeople guarantees that the staff will be suitably trained, that the necessary technical facilities are in place (disabled access, special amenities, showers etc) and that the water will be of a pleasant temperature (around 2ºC higher than usual) and clean.
If you are a fan of monoskiing, you should get yourself to the Krkonoše and Jizerské Mountains this winter where regular weekend and week-long courses for the disabled are held. The local ski resorts have the necessary facilities such as special disabled accommodation and catering, trained instructors and skiing equipment hire.
You can also test your fitness at a Terry Fox Run, held from spring until autumn in many places across the country. The routes are designed with the disabled very much in mind. Anyone who supports the main idea behind them – to express solidarity with those less fortunate – can take part in these events. The courses can be completed using any means possible – running, walking, in a wheelchair, with a dog … A list of places around the Czech Republic where runs take place, including dates, can be found on the Terry Fox Runs website.
Excursions friendly cities close to Prague
The castle in Český Krumlov (UNESCO) along with other local places of interest, museums and galleries can be visited in September when they hold their Handicapped day. Thanks to certain facilities (ramps, stair lifts, temporary lifts), an information and assistant service (assistants for wheelchair users, guides for the blind, sign language interpreters for the deaf and dumb) and huge discounts on ticket prices, the disabled can reach places they wouldn’t be able to under normal circumstances. There are also countless events happening, including special tours for the blind (at the International Art Studio, the Regional Museum, the Fairytale House and the town itself), and raft rides on the River Vltava, an unforgettable experience.