On A Scale Of 1 To 10, Brazil Gets A Zero For Disability Access : Goats and Soda Brazil is hosting not just the Olympics in 2016 but also the Paralympics. And activists for the disabled say Rio de Janeiro has a long and potholed road ahead of it to get ready for the games.
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On A Scale Of 1 To 10, Brazil Gets A Zero For Disability Access

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On A Scale Of 1 To 10, Brazil Gets A Zero For Disability Access

On A Scale Of 1 To 10, Brazil Gets A Zero For Disability Access

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/398123572/398342061" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. There's been a lot of hype as Brazil counts down to the games. But there are worries about another event that Rio's hosting next year, the Paralympics. More than 4,300 disabled athletes from 176 countries will be coming to the city by the sea. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has been talking with activists and disabled residents, and many of them cast doubt on how ready Rio will be to receive guests with special needs.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: For most disabled residents of Rio, every day is an Olympian struggle.

LILIA MARTINS: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Take this sidewalk just outside Rio's Catholic University. Lilia Martins, who uses an electric wheelchair, explains it's on a main road near where she works. This is relevant because Martins does advocacy for disabled people in Rio. Even here, we only managed to get a short way from where we started.

It's like an obstacle course.

MARTINS: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, "and when you get to the other side, you certainly don't get a prize."

So we've been able to go on the sidewalk for maybe a few hundred feet. And now we're stopped because the sidewalk is completely cracked and broken. A tree and its roots have sort of popped up over it, and there's just literally no way that a wheelchair can get through it.

Martins is in her 70s. She had polio as a toddler and spent the rest of her life wheelchair-bound in Rio de Janeiro. She says her group, the Center for an Independent Life, has basically fought street-by-street to make Rio more accessible. She speaks with pride of the one road in Copacabana that allows wheelchair access to the beach. But even that didn't last.

MARTINS: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Now they're filled with holes," she tells me. "Other works have been done, and it's turned into something that has nothing to do with accessibility. The streets have been paved over so many times," she says, "that the manhole covers are at the bottom of these deep craters that are a nightmare for people with disabilities. There is no maintenance."

I asked Teresa Costa d'Amaral, from one of the main disability advocacy organizations, IBDD, to give Rio de Janeiro a grade from 1 to 10 on how accessible the city is.

TERESA COSTA D'AMARAL: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Zero," she tells me, "zero." "Brazil has some of the best legislation on the issue in the world," she says, "but laws don't mean enforcement." She says Rio only has one functioning road crossing for the blind. Her group actually has a number of lawsuits against the city to make certain sections of the public transport more accessible. They've won them all. Still... "There's a saying here," she says, "We won, but we didn't get it done because nothing has changed," she says. The organizers of Rio's games say their venues will be ready and up to scratch, but as for the city...

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MAYOR EDUARDO PAES: They are completely right, I mean, on the fact that the city has lots of challenges for people that have disabilities.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Rio's Mayor Eduardo Paes in an interview with NPR. The plan right now, which has only just been released and has yet to be implemented, will see only some tourist sites become fully accessible. Leila Scaf Rodriguez is an architect. Around four years ago, she lost her hands and feet to a bacterial infection. She says the Rio she knew and loved all her life has become a different city to her now.

LEILA SCAF RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "This isn't a city you want to live in if you have a disability," she says. She actually works now helping to make public buildings accessible.

RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Which is ironic," she says, because before when she would design buildings, she never gave much thought to, for example, "whether the ramps were well done without holes," she says. She isn't sure, practically speaking, how much the city will actually improve because the Paralympics are coming to Brazil. But she says that almost doesn't matter.

RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "It will change the culture here, I hope," she says. "Brazilians will see people with disabilities on the street," she says, "see them doing amazing things. And we will learn finally to live together." Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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