Bermuda for the mobility-impaired visitor

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Last week I discovered how difficult Bermuda can be for visitors with any degree of impaired mobility – my mother-in-law came to stay. We actually had a lovely week but not without some problems and disappointments relating to accessibility.

Although Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory it is not covered by any of the British discrimination acts (Equality Act, 2010) and the island has no protective equivalent to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). It seems that if not compulsory then many businesses are slow to make provision for the disabled and this includes tourist attractions.

Arrival
But first a word of praise: The staff of both British Airways and Bermuda Airport were excellent.
We pre-booked a wheelchair for both ends, wondering if it might be a bit over-the-top since in normal day-to-day UK life she only occasionally uses a stick, but of course sometimes the distances and obstacles one encounters at an airport would challenge even a triathlete. The “with-wheelchair” status was as good as a “beat-the-queues” ticket at Disney World and we were prioritised at immigration and offered help retrieving our luggage. The Bermudian welcome was outstanding.

Now that stick that I mentioned – well in case it “wasn’t permitted” as hand luggage it had not made its way into the packing and so one of the first things we had to do was to find a stick. It isn’t as easy as one might hope but the pharmacy in St George’s offered a small choice and the one I purchased was collapsible, adjustable and right-handed – perfect.

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Hamilton
For those who don’t know, Hamilton is on a hill and the only flat street is probably Front Street. I learned that
HILL + HEAT + HUMIDITY = NO-WAY
The slope up from City Hall to the Cathedral is deceptive, it is a good job that churches tend to be cool inside. If you then want to walk down to the harbour, Burnaby Street is steep – Queen Street is more gentle, but even that on the way up is hard-going. We did find a lift in the Wellington Centre which delivers you to three steps up from the Reid Street level which can be achieved with the wheelchair lift beside the steps. Many of the shops, however, could not be easily navigated, the old buildings have multiple levels and steps in all sorts of places, only some of those steps with hand rails.

St George’s
I volunteer for Bermuda National Trust and would like to say nice things but neither of their museums in St George’s are accessible to the mobility-impaired visitor. Tucker House has several steps at the entrance with more inside and The Globe Rogues and Runners displays are all on the upper level. Even more disappointing was St Peter’s Church – a long steep flight of steps at the front with no handrails and although they have a rear entrance through the graveyard, the road behind, Church Lane, is resident-parking only, and I could hardly leave my Mother-in-law balancing on her stick or perched on a gravestone while I parked ¼ mile away. Water Street and Kings Square are accessible, but elsewhere in the town take care with uneven surfaces, lack of pavements and narrow roads.

Dockyard
This visit was a success until we reached the Commissioner’s House – or, more accurately, didn’t reach it. There are two slopes up – one narrow but steep, the other wide … but steep. Having been there before I did know this but was disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned as we paid our steep (!) entrance fees – after all the entrance is for the Museum of Bermuda and most of that museum is IN the Commissioner’s House.

I shall simplify things and give you a list, since I guess some of you reading this will have landed here considering a trip to Bermuda with a mobility impaired traveller:

Not accessible:
Crystal Caves – probably obvious that there are no elevators in old caves!
Fort St Catherine – on three levels with lots of stairs, possible entrance to one level by wheelchair
Alexandra Battery – view from ground level only
St David’s Lighthouse – again probably obvious, some views from outside.
Admiralty House Park – steep slope and steps
Commissioner’s House
Sea Glass Beach
Most of South Shore beaches
Spittal Pond – uneven and hilly
Warwick Pond
Abbot’s Cliff – too steep, no path
Ferry Point Park and Martello Tower – ground too uneven

Manageable with help:
Ferry Point Park – rough uneven ground
Paget Marsh – boardwalk slippery after rain and no clear path across the grass to the start
John Smith’s Bay – parking and ramp down to sand
Elbow Beach – if accessed via hotel grounds; public access by steps only
Botanical Gardens – some parts accessible on level ground; wheelchair with “pusher”
Some parts of Railway Trail – but parking a problem
Fort Hamilton – steps to access views of city, cannot access moat path
City Hall
Sessions House
Verdmont – ground floor only
Shelly Bay
Blue Hole Park – first part only
Bermuda Historical Society Museum – ground floor only
Good access:
Spanish Point Park – gentle walk, wheelchair suitable; view the Floating Dry Dock
Gibb’s Lighthouse – at least good for ground level, great views, can park close by
Masterworks – ramp down to entrance, lift inside, toilets on ground floor
Front Street
Aquarium and Zoo
The best place we visited was the Aquarium and Zoo where the paths were well kept and easy to navigate, the ground generally level and wash rooms accessible. Masterworks might have come a close second but they were closed for changing the exhibit, and rather frustratingly did not inform the “Nothing to do in Bermuda” website which is where most attractions and activities are listed.

Transport is an issue if you are not staying with residents who have a car –
Buses do not have wheelchair ramps and because there are few pavements in most instances you will have to mount 1-2 steps to get on the bus
Taxis are often mini-vans requiring a step up
Ferries – not all are suitable for disabled passengers
There is no car rental permitted on the island
Mobility scooters are not permitted on the roads
Pavements are random, will disappear or change sides frequently
Roads are narrow, windy and hilly, not very suitable for pedestrians

So if you are considering Bermuda for a mobility-impaired visitor it will need some careful planning and you may not be able to experience some of the attractions.

Once we understood the issues we had a good time, we thought ahead and did a lot of “drive-by” sightseeing. Clearly a success as planning a second visit next year.IMG_0623

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