I got an email this morning from a woman in the UK who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, and who is trying to jam in as many trips as possible to her "favourite place on earth" before the disease no longer makes this possible. She'll go for the third time this year in November.
I wrote her the response below, but would love any other thoughts you might have on how to make Venice more accessible to those disabilities. Have any tips? Ideas? Resources? Stories? Do you know someone who is handicapped and has negotiated the bridges and skinny calles? Write me or comment.
My sister has had MS for some 25 years ... doing rather well with it, considering.
Because of her, because of all the elderly, minimally ambulatory Venetians, and because, a few years ago, I lost the feeling on the bottoms of my feet, I began to think about what it might mean to lose access to the city I also love more than anywhere else on earth. (My foot problem, it turns out, is not MS or anything massively pernicious, but merely the result of a pesky spinal nerve compression ... an annoyance, nothing more).
I hope you never decide that it just isn't practical. I hope you always have Venice. As someone who lived there, I know that practically anything in Venice is inconvenient, it's just a matter of degree. Imagine what it means to bring home, say, a new bookshellf, or a piano. Or a Christmas tree. Or to take your boat to a restaurant.
To be clear, I'm not putting these logistical challenges in the same category as a trying to negotiate Venice with the kind of weaknesses MS can present. No question, it's a city that wants feet. But if you obsess on logistics (which can actually be kind of fun ... but then, I'm an obsessive puzzle solver), I know you can hammer Impracticality into Possible. Game it out. ID every bridge with handicap access (there's an office in the Venice city government with this and other info you'll need ... see http://www.comune.venezia.it/handicap/nuovo/index.asp ... in Italian ... but it will still be useful). Trade tips with others who have disabilities. ID hotels or apartments with elevators that are located in zones with bridgeless (or handicap accessible bridge) access to vaporettos.
Your sphere will shrink if your mobility wanes, for sure. But don't fret. Venice is equally delicious eaten whole or in tiny slices. Some of my favorite days were spent simply sitting in miraculous, everyday campos beyond the tourist crush, debating the relative worthiness of different gelato flavors, watching kids play soccer, tracing the outline of a gothic window, and observing the parade of ordinary Venetian life.
In Venice, the "pedestrian" is anything but pedestian, even if you are not a pedestrian.
Good luck and let me know how things go.