How disabled visitors are failing Paris ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics

Many of the events at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris will be held at existing monuments, including the Invalides complex on the Left Bank, built under the reign of Louis XIV as a place to house injured veterans – but also keep them separate. from the rest of the population. The attitude the name conveys should be a nod to the past, but as the Games draw closer, some argue that the city still has a way to go in its marathon for inclusiveness.

When Paris bid for the Games in 2017, the city set out its plan for a “sport-driven journey towards a society where no one is left behind”. The Games would be leveraged as an opportunity to improve the capital’s historically lacking accessibility credentials for people with disabilities.

Organizers expect around 350,000 disabled visitors to attend this summer and thanks in part to pop-up venues and temporary infrastructure such as shuttle buses, all sites are reported to be accessible, in terms of physical infrastructure to their minimum.

3 percent of Paris underground stations do not have step-free access

Line 14 is the only fully accessible Metro line for those with reduced mobility – connecting the Olympic Village to the city center – Getty

However, some campaigners are concerned about the legacy after the Games. Nicolas Mérille is national consultant for universal accessibility at the prominent charity APF France Handicap [the word “handicapé” is still used in France to mean disabled]. “In preparation for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, there has been a concerted effort to recognize the right, but these measures will only last for the duration of the Games,” he says.

Around 1,000 accessible taxis have been added to the city’s offer of 250, some of which are restored London cabs. In the last three years more than 1,750 bus stops have been renovated, so that all but two of the more than 60 routes that cross Paris have the possibility of step-free access. The buses themselves have ramps that the driver must deploy on demand.

However, Mérille still thinks the French capital is not falling behind compared to London in 2012, citing the percentage of underground stations with step-free access in London – 18 per cent at the time of the London Olympics and around a third part now – compared to. the equivalent figure in Paris, which puts APF at just 3 percent.

Christophe Decloux, head of Visit Paris Region, insists that accessibility for people with special needs – including those who are pregnant, older, traveling with pushchairs etc, as well as disabled people – is a top priority. “Since 2016 we’ve put a lot of effort into making this destination more accessible and we have a team dedicated to accessibility,” he says.

The new driverless Line 14 of the Metro will connect the site of the Olympic Village in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis with the city center and will be the only line fully accessible to people with reduced mobility. Across the wider network, Lines 1, 4 and 14 have audible announcements to help visually impaired people, while Lines 1,2, 3 and 13 visually indicate where the Metro stops for those with hearing impairments.

According to the prominent charity APF France Handicap, only 3 percent of Paris metro stations have step-free accessAccording to the prominent charity APF France Handicap, only 3 percent of Paris metro stations have step-free access

Only 3 percent of Paris Metro stations have step-free access, according to prominent charity APF France Handicap – Getty

According to Decloux, the Metro is inherently limited by the density of Paris and the historic quarries beneath the city. “Everyone is working so that Paris is accessible to all – but today all the Metro stations that were previously modifiable have already been modified: it is not a lack of ambition or will.”

Annette Masson, president of the non-profit organization Tourisme et Handicap, which aims to help tourism professionals make their offers accessible to all, describes a lack of awareness, and sometimes consideration, in the general population. “Bus stops are accessible but drivers park their cars in the bus stops,” she says.

There is already legislation in place that codifies accessibility on public sites. The first bill was passed in 1975 and followed in 2002, then in 2005, when the French state passed the bill “for equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of people with disabilities”.

For many working in this space, the barrier is the gap between the word of the law and the practice of implementation. Masson suggests that there is a need for more education among the general public as well as more sanctions from the Government when people do not respect the rules.

It is an assessment that Nicolas Mérille agrees with, going further to accuse the situation of failing people with disabilities by not adequately enforcing laws. Although all new buildings must comply with the regulations, there is significant leniency for existing structures. “The laws are still not being implemented,” says Mérille, adding: “We have laws but we let them die a slow death.”

While all new buildings in the French capital must comply with the regulations, there is leniency for existing structuresWhile all new buildings in the French capital must comply with the regulations, there is leniency for existing structures

While all new buildings in the French capital must comply with the regulations, existing structures are being shown leniency – Shutterstock

When it comes to hotels and restaurants, Masson also sees an education gap. “Often [hotel and restaurant owners] think only about adding the facilities, not the experience of using them. For example, maybe they add a shower seat, but not in the right place,” she says.

In 2023, President Macron announced a fund of €300 million to finance accessible renovation for small businesses, with initial priority given to areas that welcome Olympic events. But campaigners such as Mérille argue that not enough has been done to advertise the opportunity.

Tourisme et Handicap also aims to raise awareness among tourism industry providers of the full spectrum of access needs, not just reduced mobility. The organization has partnered with the French tourism authority Atout France and has developed a verification and certification system for hotels, restaurants and other attractions.

While accessibility for locals and visitors to Paris may still have a way to go, there is reason for hope (see below). In the Aquatic Center in Saint-Denis, the only facility built entirely for the Games, accessibility credentials are reported to be excellent. The housing built for the nearby Athletes’ Village is also accessible and will form part of the local housing stock after the events. “We hope that these Games will create an electric shock for French society,” says Mérille.


For more information visit:

Accesslibre (Atout France; French tourist board)

Visiting Paris with a disability (Paris tourist board)

Inclusivity and accessibility at the Games (Paris tourism board)

The Paralympic Games torch relay route

‘A little planning goes a long way’: What it’s like to visit Paris as a wheelchair user

By Lucy Webster

Journalist Lucy Webster in Paris ahead of the Paralympics and the OlympicsJournalist Lucy Webster in Paris ahead of the Paralympics and the Olympics

Journalist Lucy Webster in Paris ahead of the Paralympics and the Olympics

Paris, like all ancient European cities, is not necessarily the most accessible place you might think of for a cycling holiday, or indeed for hosting the Paralympics. But in my experience, a little planning goes a long way and exploring the city is much easier than it might first appear. I’ve been to Paris several times, using a manual and electric wheelchair, and I’ve always managed to see, do and, most importantly, eat everything I wanted to.

As in other cities such as London and New York, the Metro is a no-go zone, except for the new Line 14, which is fully accessible. There are other accessible Metro stations on different lines, but I didn’t think there were. even the stress of navigating the system when I was only home for a long weekend. One frustration was how difficult it was, especially compared to London, to find an accessible taxi; they had to be booked ahead of time or a long wait. So I was pleased to hear about the proposed increase of 1,000 accessible taxis, of which only 250 will be available in 2022. It is a shame that the city did not take the opportunity and, perhaps, the pressure of the Paralympics, to improve further on public transport. system.

But, to me, the lack of accessible transport in Paris was less important than it is in London because of the triumph of the French capital in terms of access: how easy it is to walk or roll between the main streets or just through the beautiful streets of the city. You see a lot more places this way and create more excuses to sample a patisserie along the way. I love cities where I don’t have to worry about getting from A to B, and Paris’ compact center and sunken curbs make for easy sightseeing.

The sights themselves are very accessible and almost all have discounted tickets for disabled people and a companion. The elevator down into the pyramid at the Louvre is an experience in itself, and on both occasions I went to see the Mona Lisa a kind guard helped me to the front of the crowd so I could see properly. Be careful, even if an elevator is located next to a staircase in the sprawling palace, it does not necessarily mean that they will end up in the same place! But it really feels that, at the main tourist centers, every effort has been made – I was delighted to find that there was a lift to avoid the scary spiral staircase at Sainte-Chapelle, which is well worth a visit call him Most of the time, it’s worth skipping the queue.

Museums are also great places to use the loo, as, just like in London, even restaurants and bars don’t have to have accessible toilets without steps. As always, I had to pee and drink strategically. Accessible hotel rooms are also hard to come by; Although they are at large chain hotels, we had to let go of any hope of staying in a charming B&B in Paris. Luckily we were hardly in the hotel, so we chose convenience over environment and stayed at the centrally located Novotel Les Halles. The access isn’t perfect, it never is, but it’s still delightful to roll along the Seine in the sunshine.

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