When you think of a remote island country in the Eastern Caribbean, you may not immediately associate it with wheelchair accessibility. While Barbados still has many challenges to overcome when it comes to offerings for wheelchair users, I found it to be an extremely welcoming country that’s working hard through it’s 2012 Fully Accessible Barbados (FAB) initiative. A consortium of government agencies is offering incentives to investors who wish to build or refurbish a property or product for use in tourism, and “recognizes the importance of accessibility in order to achieve the truly inclusive society which is part of [their] vision.”
I chose Barbados as a travel destination because of the FAB program, and while I knew I would have to work harder to get around, I also knew I would have some help and a positive attitude from the people of Barbados. With the invaluable assistance of Blessed Rentals in Bridgetown, my good friend Azure and I were able to see the following places and compile this list of incredible places to see while exploring Barbados in your wheelchair.
1, Harrison’s Cave. The last time I explored an underground cave was Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and that was ten years ago while I was still walking. I was a bit dubious when our guide Ricardo said he was taking us to Harrison’s Cave, but Azure and I were thrilled to find out the tram tour has a car that accommodates wheelchair users! You do have to call a day ahead of your visit to ensure they have that special car attached to the tour tram in anticipation of your visit. The cave itself, while relatively small, has stunning views of stalactites and stalagmites, flowstone, drapes, and reflecting pools. Be prepared to get wet, as the 100% humidity assures you will get “rained on”! The bathrooms in the visitor center are large and fully accessible, and the vendors outside are happy to bring out anything you want to see from inside their huts.
2. The George Washington House. I never knew about any of the historical connections Barbados had with the United States, but the home George Washington lived in while in Bridgetown before the American Revolution was one of the more interesting ones. The building has been well-preserved, and the tour guide offered a fascinating narrative of the first president’s and his brother’s time there. The ground level is wheelchair accessible, with only a one-inch lip to overcome (I was able to get over it easily with my electric scooter). The kitchen has one step up, but I was able to see the whole room from the doorway. There is a museum that is not accessible on the second floor of the historic building, but one of the tour guides will be happy to take photos with your phone or camera of the displays and informational placards for your reading and viewing pleasure later.
3. The Barbados Parliament and Museum. This beautiful set of buildings that houses the country’s government is in downtown Bridgetown, and welcomes visitors of all abilities. The Parliament of Barbados is the third oldest legislature in the Americas (behind The Virginia House of Burgesses, and Bermuda House of Assembly), and is among the oldest in the Commonwealth of Nations. Much of the Parliament Museum and government buildings are viewable from a wheelchair, and users are given a 50% discount off the entry fee. Afterwards, you can roll over to National Heroes Square, Independence Square, and the Chamberlain Bridge to watch the bustle of locals and tourists downtown.
4. St. John Parish Church. We visited the historic St. John Church during our circle tour of the island. According to the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, worship has been conducted on this spot since 1645. The first building, a wooden structure, was destroyed by fire in 1676 and replaced by a stone structure. Following the hurricanes of 1780 and 1831, the current building was constructed in 1836. Among the many interesting features are the Chancel, the Pulpit, the Font, Staircase, Westmacott Sculpture and Sundial. The church itself has a flat entry, and the grounds and cemetery behind the church are fully accessible. The views of Barbados’ east coast from the grounds are absolutely incredible.
5. The Barbados Museum. The Barbados Museum and Historical Society is housed in historic buildings which were originally used as the military prison at St. Ann’s Garrison. The Museum began as a historic society founded by Mr. Eustace Maxwell Shilstone. At that time, the mandate of the historic society was to “to study and put on permanent record the history of the Island, its leading families and public men, old buildings and other matters of interest to antiquarians in Barbados and overseas.” The ground floor galleries are roughly 90 percent wheelchair friendly and the museum has a wheelchair accessible toilet. One ramp that leads to a wing of the museum is very steep, but the staff will help if necessary. The Warmington, Cunard, and Military Galleries are not easily accessed by wheelchair. While the Shilstone Memorial Library is not wheelchair accessible, an appointment may be pre-arranged to meet with the Librarian in an accessible space.
6. Hastings Beach Boardwalk. Azure and I discovered this boardwalk by accident, as she surprised me with lunch at a restaurant called Tapas that sat right on it. It is the first Barbados Boardwalk by the sea, complete with panoramas, seats and retreats. It runs roughly from Rockley Beach for approximately one kilometer towards Bridgetown. The boardwalk starts just below Accra Beach Hotel, running parallel to Hastings Main Road, stopping just short of Coconut Court. It has also been complimented with strategically planned view points and landscaped gardens, to let visitors enjoy the views of the South Coast and the incredible sunsets.