By Paula Manoli-Gray
I read some lovely news about Larnaca last week.
It transpires that Larnaca Airport took top place among 500 other airports for being the most accessible for disabled persons, as announced by the ACI (Airports Council International) Europe.
The ACI stated that Larnaca Airport deserved the ‘Accessible Airport Award’ for its ‘remarkable accessible friendly initiatives’.
A big well done to the airport operator, which has gone to much effort to offer more than the standard disabled facilities; indeed it’s a credit to the town.
But whilst I do not doubt that our airport has rightly earned this title, there can’t be many people in Larnaca who were not surprised to hear the words ‘accessible friendly initiatives’ and ‘Larnaca’ in the same breath!
If we are to be completely honest, as a town, we do not fare so well when it comes to disabled accessibility.
You only have to take a trip to the town centre with a wheelchair (or a buggy for that matter) to discover first-hand just how much of an obstacle course the place is, mostly due to very narrow pavements.
Residents and visitors have long complained that this factor forces many of them to give the town centre a wide berth, and it is often cited as a reason why people would like to see a mall in the town (for ease of movement).
And although several Larnaca region beaches offer partial disabled access, they still lag behind other regions regarding autonomous sea access.
These comments – and more – are justified. But that said, it is not completely down to a lack of trying.
In this day and age, new developments and facilities (generally) automatically come with the consideration of disabled access, and Larnaca is no exception in ensuring that both municipal and other new projects are designed with this in mind.
It’s the existing infrastructure that is harder to tackle.
I recall a meeting with a former mayor some years ago, where the issue of the town centre’s narrow pavements was brought up.
He explained that it was not feasible for those old pavements to suddenly be widened and changed, given the layout of the town centre.
My personal view is that a very simple, alternative solution could make the town centre more disability, buggy and pedestrian friendly…
Close the roads to traffic a couple of days a week. Opening the roads only to pedestrians would make the world of difference to shoppers, and also create a nice atmosphere.
When it comes to beaches, it is indeed true that Larnaca does not have the Seatrac device found in other regions.
This device allows the disabled autonomous access to the sea through a chair on a track that takes them directly into the water.
The reason Larnaca doesn’t have this device is only because our waters are too shallow! A Seatrac device requires specific sea depths and conditions to operate!
The good news is that the mayor stated in a press breakfast recently that the municipality is attempting to remedy this with an alternative device.
Unfortunately, the device will not allow autonomous use, and assistance will be required by lifeguards or other persons.
But it is at least an effort for a more inclusive Larnaca, and I am sure that, in future, we will hear more positive news about Larnaca and accessibility.