How wheelchair accessible are Japanese cities

Barrier-free travel: around the world in a wheelchair

Raul Krauthausen has vitreous bone disease - and travels the world in a wheelchair. He collects accessible places for himself and others on wheelmap.org. In an interview he says what the travel industry should improve for wheelchair users

GEO: You started wheelmap.org. What is the concept?

Raul Krauthausen: There are 1.6 million wheelchair users in Germany, everyone knows cafes, clubs or restaurants that are barrier-free. So all we need is one place on the internet where we can share this expertise. This is how the website wheelmap.org was born. We have collected 450,000 places worldwide within four years, even brothels or the famous Berlin club "Berghain" are listed.

GEO: How did you get into traveling?

Raul Krauthausen: I grew up in South America. My parents were very pragmatic, the handicap was never a criterion, so I had been on the road since early childhood. Sometimes the wheelchair broke or things didn't go as planned, but we were always confident that we would have a good time.

GEO: What was your most unusual trip?

Raul Krauthausen: As a child, I traveled to Bahía Solano with my family. We flew over the jungle with a small propeller plane and landed on a pebble beach. We went on to the harbor in an overcrowded jeep and then with a nutshell from the boat to an island. That was a real adventure. My trip to Machu Picchu was also great. We simply put the wheelchair under, a helper carried me to the place of worship in a child carrier. I also like to do travel experiments: For example, I left platform 13 on the regional express at 1:13 p.m. and got off at the 13th station - somewhere in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The only person I met was a Nazi, with whom I had a brief chat, then I drove back. Very entertaining.

GEO: How do they react to you in other countries?

Raul Krauthausen: In South America or China, of course, a white person in a modern wheelchair is more noticeable than in Europe. It was completely different in Japan. The polite culture does not allow staring at people. I was very fascinated by Tokyo because technology apparently overcomes all barriers there. At some point I had fun and actively looked for obstacles. I found a subway station without an elevator, but the station master set the escalator so that the four steps became a platform on which I could ride - madness. The escalator came from Thyssen-Krupp, only nobody uses it in Europe. In Japan they do it simply because technology allows them to.

GEO: And where were the most barriers?

Raul Krauthausen: In Venice. My companion worked up a sweat all the way up the stairs.

GEO: You were recently in Bangladesh, not a classic travel destination either. How come?

Raul Krauthausen: I was an ambassador for the Christoffel Mission for the Blind in Bangladesh. We sometimes looked at up to four projects a day. It was my role to see whether and how the donations were used on site. As a result, I traveled very privileged, namely with my own car, otherwise it would not have been possible for me to travel to Bangladesh.

GEO: How did the people there react to you?

Raul Krauthausen: The local people were incredibly interested, some of them came from the villages to see us. Whether it was because of my handicap or the fact that we were just ten white men in a convoy is hard to find out. Most of the time I was asked if I was married. Certainly because it is an important topic for the Bangladeshis, but the hidden question behind it was much more: Can people with disabilities get married at all?

GEO: What do you want from the travel industry?

Raul Krauthausen: When I'm looking for barrier-free travel, I often come across spa hotels or rehabilitation trips. But that's not my lifestyle. I am interested in whether it is possible to fly with an electric wheelchair or a wheelchair accessible hostel. Unfortunately, they usually lack a barrier-free bed. I am currently planning a family vacation with my girlfriend and her children. This makes it really difficult to find something affordable and normal. In general, I would like the organizers to perceive wheelchair users as normal guests, but there is still no offer. I don't want to meet people primarily because I'm in a wheelchair, but because of other things they have in common.

GEO: What would your travel tip be for people in wheelchairs?

Raul Krauthausen: Make it easy! What is the worst that can happen? The fact that the vacation goes differently than planned, but that is exactly what makes traveling, whether with a wheelchair or without.

Information on Raul Krauthausen

All of Raul's projects as well as information on his book "I didn't want to become a roofer anyway" as well as reading dates

Over 450,000 barrier-free places worldwide are already listed here - and the trend is rising.