It's easy to get a hold of Helsinki.
"If a place is not accessible, it cannot develop a community feeling. I like Helsinki's 'design for all' thinking: the idea that environments are designed for everyone."
Sanna Kalmari is an accessible travel expert. She spent her youth in Espoo. For Kalmari and her friends, Helsinki was a city where you went on excursions. "It was a city of diverse possibilities, and I dreamed of moving there. My first home in Helsinki was on Katajanokka."
Kalmari has moved back to Espoo, but visits Helsinki frequently. She is attracted by the compact size of the city. "Helsinki is big but also small. I like that it is so easy to move around and to get a grip on the city. I love the maritime feeling most of all."
Helsinki has always been a place where Kalmari meets up with friends. The city fosters a strong community feeling, for which accessibility is a prerequisite. "Accessibility is needed in all customer categories – from families with children to luxury travellers."
"Services should be highlighted more"
Kalmari writes the popular blog Palmuasema on accessible travel (in Finnish). "Many people have told me that there is no other place that offers a similar wealth of information on accessibility, which is also a troubling fact. People appreciate that I have personally tested a certain place and, for example, filmed a video clip of a hotel room with me moving around in an electric wheelchair." Some readers have told Kalmari that they visited the same exact places on their holidays as on her blog to ensure that they are truly accessible.
Kalmari wishes that companies would share more information about accessibility on their websites. A picture of the main entrance and bathroom facilities would be very helpful to persons with restricted mobility. A person with vision impairment will need information in a textual form that can be picked up by their reading device. "There are, of course, many accessible restaurants and services in Helsinki. This should be more proudly marketed, because there are a lot of people who require accessible services. One shouldn't be afraid of saying the wrong thing. There are accessibility experts who can also advise on producing information."
Accessibility benefits everyone. For persons with disabilities, accessibility is a prerequisite to participation as well as a human right. "Helsinki is not yet ready in terms of accessibility, but it is heading in a good direction. As for myself, I experience a sense of freedom when I can spontaneously move around within Helsinki. The best examples of accessible services are found on the metro and in shopping centers."
Kalmari does not wish for special arrangements for herself – she just wants access to the same places as everyone else. "That's why I like cities. I can be one of many, a part of the crowd. I love that."
Lives in: Espoo
Profession: Accessible travel expert
What you didn't know about me: "I'm excited if I can climb atop some rocks. The best thing is if there is a view that opens up. My favourite spot is at the open rocks of Meilahti. There is a gently sloping top of a rock that you can reach with an electric wheelchair. That's exceptional."
I have a special relationship with the Katajanokka district, which is located right next to the city center. I remember all the wonderful summer evenings and below-zero winters when I would make my way home along the shore from the bustle of the city. When I lived there, I would always move around on my electric wheelchair and spent many evenings watching the departing passenger ships. Katajanokka is one of my favourites for its maritime feeling, peacefulness and beauty.
Last summer I went to visit Vallisaari for the first time. It's a lovely summer destination. I was surprised about how well I could move around, even with some hills. Vallisaari is an oasis of nature in the middle of Helsinki. Almost the whole island is accessible.
I'm a warmth-loving person and I enjoy the tropics. The Winter Garden is a lovely get-away especially in the wintertime when it is cold and dark. You get a wonderful dosage of warmth here.
I spent a wonderful mini-vacation at Tripla in March. There was a horrible sleet storm at the time. I thought that Tripla is just the right place for a winter holiday. There is a hotel, cinema, various restaurants and the Surf House, where you can stay warm. A compact package. Especially with the new shopping centres, accessibility is top-notch. Shopping centres are good places to set up meetings, especially in winter.
The island was fixed up some years ago. Now there are accessible duckboards, which is a great example of design for all. Many people consider Lammassaari a favourite spot. It is beautiful yet also accessible.
I have lived in Lauttasaari, so perhaps that's why I also see it as a very special place. You can pretty much circle the whole island by walking along the shore. The Kasinonranta beach hosts many services nowadays, including cafés and restaurants. I enjoy the atmosphere on this island.
I try to visit the Rhododendron Park in Haaga every summer. The blooming flowers are a magnificent sight in their beauty. The paths are good there.
Quite a lovely picnic spot, and such a beautiful one. I've visited the park with friends who live nearby. It's not one of the most popular parks in the city, so it's very calm there. You also hardly see any seagulls at the Manor Park, which is good because I'm afraid of birds.