“Of all the aspects of my life in Madrid, family visits are my favorite part of it.” I have the whole tourist route mapped out by now. Walks in Retiro, vermouth in Plaza Mayor, and caracoles in La Latina. I decide which of the Art Triangle museums to go to depending on my audience (the Reina Sofia will always be my favorite though, any chance to give a Guernica monologue I will take).
I have been lucky enough to host my parents, cousins, brother, aunts, and friends. My parents joke that I know more about Madrid’s history than I do about my own true hometown. I beam with pride showing off “my” city of Madrid.
That was until this past visit.
My aunt and cousin visited me this past week for 4 days. Although they are from the Netherlands, it was their first time here in Spain. I was to meet them at their hotel after they took the metro from the airport. My aunt texted me that they had a bit of a detour and it added 25 minutes to their commute, but what should be a straight shot on public transportation. The reason? The metro stop was not wheelchair accessible.
I could not believe that the metro wouldn’t have an elevator in this day and age. As I waited at the hotel, I googled what metro stops we should avoid on the trip, as this one stop must just be a rarity. It was at that moment that I discovered that only 70% of Metro stops are wheelchair accessible. It wasn’t just a fluke- this was the theme of the otherwise great family weekend.
The Metro of Madrid website reads, “One of the main objectives of Metro de Madrid is to facilitate the integral autonomy of persons with disabilities such that all residents of Madrid can travel under equal conditions.” By 2028, the city has a plan to increase this number to 84%. But even that percentage doesn’t sit right with me. The stops that are deemed accessible now are not always. An elevator-equipped stop does not instantly grant access to everyone. The Sol metro stop, for example, has a gap so large that it is impossible to get off alone, as the wheels would fall into the gap. Any guise of autonomy is gone, and this is the case in a listed accessible stop.
The issue doesn’t stop at urban planning. I made reservations at a cafe very popular amongst IE students for brunch on their last day. Being jaded, I reserved our table with a comment asking for an accessible table. The perfectionist (with Karen-like tendencies) in me also called that morning to confirm that the table would be accessible. We arrived and already saw the issue ahead of us: absurdly small revolving doors. I headed in and asked about the table. The hostess assured me that she could open up the doors, but even that did not allow for the wheelchair to fit. She insisted all would be fine, as there was a second entrance that had wide- enough doors. We headed over to the side of the restaurant and just about laughed: although the doors were large, there was a step-up as tall as a small toddler. The restaurant’s employees quickly found us a table on the terrace, clearly embarrassed that they assumed their seemingly accessible restaurant was anything but.
I do not write this with a holier-than-thou attitude, the opposite in fact. I am complacent in accessibility not being a second thought until it affects me personally. If I was working at that restaurant, I would have offered the same solutions, as I do not keep the wheelchair dimensions in my mind. Actually, I did the same thing the night beforehand.
A friend of mine was having drinks at her house, so my cousin and I headed over. I ran the route through my head, remembering that there was a ramp in the entrance and an elevator to take us up to the third-floor apartment. Until we get there and see just how small the elevator is and that the chair could not fit the narrow frame. The night ended up being even more fun at a nearby restaurant that was wonderfully accommodating, but I went to bed that night reflecting that even the places that boast are accessible aren’t always.
I caught myself apologizing incessantly on behalf of the city I brag so much about. My family brushed it off, as they explained this is their everyday and to constantly fight is tiring and ultimately unsustainable. Maybe I am naive, but I don’t want to accept this reality. Just four days spent with my cousin has completely changed my perspective on my surroundings. It is a new facet of Madrid that I have never experienced, but now want to take it upon myself to be more aware and educate myself on how to create a more inclusive Madrid for anyone and everyone. I still hold the belief that Madrid is the best city to live in, but with the understanding that it has a long road ahead to reach its potential to be liveable for all.
Featured image retrieved from https://www.tododisca.com/metro-madrid-apuesta-accesibilidad-instala-41-ascensores/