The Best Passports For Travel Access

US Passport
Clappstar, Flickr

Applying for visas and dealing with travel-related bureaucracy can be a tedious, irritating process, but the good news is that U.S. passport holders have fairly unrestricted access when it comes to foreign travel.

The Henley & Partners Visa Restriction Index ranked countries around the world based on how freely their citizens could travel with just a passport. The United States came in 2nd place, tying with Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg. American citizens can enter 172 countries without having to worry about red tape, according to the study.So what is the best passport to have? A British, Swedish or Finnish passport is as good as it gets, giving passport holders access to 173 foreign destinations visa-free. In general, being a member of an EU country helps a lot if you want to travel spontaneously, with nine out of 10 of the top countries all part of the European Union.

Some countries however, are not so lucky, with citizens in Lebanon, Nepal and Pakistan finding themselves towards the bottom of the list. Iraqis, unsurprisingly, are expected to jump through a lot of hoops to travel abroad, and have access to just 31 countries visa-free. And the country with the most restrictions? Afghanistan, whose people have passport-only entry to 28 nations around the world.

Seniors to lose camping discounts with US Forest Service proposal

Wasn’t this supposed to be one of life’s fair trades? After you spend decades working hard, the US government treats you to a senior’s half-off discount at US Forest Service parks during your retirement.

Well, now the Forest Service is rethinking that.

Last week, it proposed cutting back the discounts for Senior, Access (permanent disability), Golden Age, and Golden Access to 10%, instead of the current 50% — a discount that has been in place since the mid-60s.

These changes would go into effect at the campgrounds operated by private concessioners, which make up 50% of National Forest camping capacity and 82% of reservable campsites.

Among the reasons for the change are (to quote the Forest Service) “application of the 50 percent discount to holders of Senior and Access Passes is unreasonable in view of the growing number of senior citizens in the United States.” Also, “the 50 percent discount requires concessioners to raise camping fees to compensate for the loss in revenue, thus increasing prices for non-seniors and discouraging a future generation of campers.”

Thankfully, the new policy is not set in stone quite yet. The public has until February 1, 2010 to dispute the proposal.

Those who wish to can submit comments via the website www.regulations.gov, or via mail to U.S. Forest Service, Attn: Carolyn Holbrook, Recreation and Heritage Resources Staff, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Stop 1125, Washington, DC 20250–1125.

A Canadian in Beijing: Accessibility? If You Roll When You Stroll, 麻

[???? ? Troublesome, Inconvenient, Bother!]

I’ve been here for almost three months now (well, eleven weeks to be precise!) and I’ve been collecting images and information about accessibility in Beijing throughout my time. By this, I mean I’ve been looking around at the wheelchair access or lack thereof here.

I shouldn’t suggest that there’s no access here in Beijing. There are a few noticeable efforts that have been made. But, overall, I’d say that there’s lots more to be done to make this city more open to chairs and the people who occupy them.

If you walk on wheels, Beijing will be a tough place for you.

The sidewalks are bevelled. These kinds of designs in the sidewalk are for the blind, I am told. It enables blind people to feel the sidewalk’s center and to follow the subway corridors or the outdoor sidewalks more easily. For someone in a chair, however, these kinds of raised parts of the walkways would get tiring fast. Tiring and annoying, I’m sure.

What’s more, the steps in all the subways have a raised lip on each individual stair. Not that you’d enjoy going down sometimes more than fifty steps at one time (not all entrances and exits have escalators but most do), but if you had to descend even a few stairs in your chair, you’ll be met with a speed bump each time. I’m imagining that this would also become annoying.

But, once you get into main part of the subway, each car has a wheelchair section where there are no seats. I have never seen a chair here, just people standing. I’m wondering if this is because it’s so treacherous and steep to get down the steps and many winding corridors into the subway itself. Still, at least it exists.

Should we credit partial solutions for being part-way to complete, at least? Or, is “partial solution” an oxymoron?

Otherwise, I have seen the occasional ramp, especially at more tourist-friendly places. Here at the Summer Palace, there’s a ramp into most of the courtyards. Traditional Chinese courtyards generally have the kind of doorways that require one to step over a threshold. Sometimes these thresholds are more than a foot high! That doesn’t work too well for wheels and so these ramps enable all visitors to enter.

At the Summer Palace, I also noticed this sign before entering one of the park areas. It wasn’t clear which way was really ideal for the rolling stroll, but when I followed one of those arrows, it led to this steep climb that included occasional steps as well. So, if you were in a chair, your arms wil be mighty tired here and you’ll have only climbed half-way up the hill!

I have also seen a few ramps recently on sidewalks or outside of restaurants. This one appeared outside the Beijing Art Gallery near the parking lot.

This one is a new addition to a local restaurant in the Gu Lou area near Hou Hai.

Finally, there is almost no option for chairs on sidewalks, especially when there’s any construction going on, which, as you may recall in this post, seems to be happening at every turn. The obstruction of sidewalks in that process is rarely a concern here, forcing pedestrians onto the roadways quite reguilarly. As a result, I have seen several wheelchairs being pushed along the street, which becomes the only option. This series of images shows a woman pushing a chair in the same zone as the bikes and taxis. All have wheels, of course, but I think I’d prefer not to compete for space with a cab driver looking for side-of-the-road fares!

Here is a bike swerving around them:

Here they are being passed by a taxi.

Here they are about to swerve around a parked car. Yikes!

Anyway, the best wheelchairs that I’ve seen here are the motorbike chairs. I mean, if you’ve been forced into the same travel spaces as the motorized vehicles, why not motorize your chair, right? If you can’t beat ’em, join em! These are really cool looking with seating in front (the main driver) and then room for someone to sit comfortably behind as well. When I saw one, I thought it would be cool to ride on it. (Pictured at the top of the blog and here is a view of its backside.)

I think it’s rather sexy, myself.

All in all, I’m hoping they’re building in more accessibility into this city as a result of the coming Olympics and resulting increased tourism. As it stands, the city could use it. The attitude towards disability issues or, more appropriately, differently abled issues is rather slack and/or absentee. Some of my Chinese friends just shrugged when I mentioned it, like it was really something they hadn’t thought of before and/or didn’t feel the need to spend much time thinking about.

I have heard that traditional China kept those with disabilities separated from those without. I don’t know much more than that, but this was said in passing once and it stuck with me. Maybe in North America, we have become more accustomed to integrating everyone, regardless of what their walking legs look like, into a full society. I think China is coming along on these points recently, but it needs a push from behind.

It needs a little nudging around the parked attitudes of the past and into the diverse traffic of the future.

And hopefully this future will include sidewalks that will accommodate wheels and feet at the same time!

Smooth surfaces whether you stroll or roll.