Paris for the Disabled

A 2005 French law requires that public accommodations be accesssible to the disabled within 10 years.  Line 14 of the metro is fully accessible and all buses in Paris are now equipped with ramps and special mechanisms to allow those in wheelchair residents to ride safely and comfortably.   Many crosswalks have sound signals at the crosswalk to indicate to the blind that the light has changed.  And public toilet facilities are also designed for wheelchair accessibility.  But other signs of progress are less obvious.

Since full access still seems to be a long way away, here are a few sites to help negotiate the streets and institutions of Paris.  In addition, we’re told that if you’re planning to have visitors who are disabled, it’s a good idea to do a dry run in advance of major tourist sites.  If you need to rent a wheelchair, check in at your neighborhood pharmacie.

Access in Paris: a guidebook mostly geared for tourists, you can download chapters one at a time.  Includes information on hotels, tourist sites, public transportation, and signage.

Disabled Access in Paris from Sage Traveling:  a helpful online guide with sections on transport, hotels and tourist attractions.  While the site is designed to get you to use the company’s services,  there is quite a bit of information posted here for all comers.

Tourisme et Handicap:  a downloadable brochure on 200 sites (lodging, tourist sites) in Ile de France noting their level of accessibility.

Infomobi:  Information on public transport for the disabled (those in wheelchairs, the blind, deaf, and with mental disabilities) throughout Ile de France (in French).

Les Compagnons du Voyage:  organization providing personalized assistance to elderly and disabled persons travelling on the SNCF and RATP.  There is a fee for this service (in French.)

Medias Sous Titres:  a site focused on closed captioning of television, film, and cultural events for the hearing impaired (in French).

And here’s an article from the Boston Globe (2013) commenting on the experience of a disabled American tourist in Paris.


7 responses to “Paris for the Disabled

  1. Having spent three months in a wheelchair last year, I can speak from experience that Paris is not nearly as handicapped accessible as other first-world cities. Even if a building has a ramp, it will also have 2-3 large granite or marble steps either leading up to the ramp or inside of it, guaranteed. While that is navigable for those on crutches, it is not for anyone wheelchair-confined. And once inside, you will find the lifts far too small for anyone in a wheelchair. The only handicapped people who can use a French-size lift are those who can stand, i.e. those on crutches or those who can get out of their wheelchairs and fold them up for the lift.

    Cinemas? Impossible…all have stairs (many without handrails!). Theaters, the same. Most museums, due to their old infrastructure, have stairs and no lift large enough for a wheelchair. Don’t even try to navigate the metro, of course.

    That said, once I graduated from the wheelchair to crutches, and then to a walking cane, Parisians were extremely helpful and compassionate. People gave up their seats on the bus for me, my groceries were bagged for me, doors held open, etc. It saw a whole new side to this population.

    But I would not advise anyone who is wheelchair confined to think they could enjoy Paris wholly. There are stairs everywhere and very few lifts which accommodate wheelchairs, or which are even in service.

  2. I was with crutches for 2 months in November and December in Paris…it was not fun! The bus was the best bet as there were seats available to the handicapped and elderly. Not that many people got up when I entered nor for the elderly for that matter unless I or someone else said something. This also goes for the wheelchair/stroller areas. People constantly stand in them even though they are designed for wheelchairs/strollers and there is plenty of room to stand or sit! This bothers me.

    Having a small toddler in Paris is nearly impossible. The bus like I said is helpful but it would be nice if the metro’s had elevators or even some escalators (even though you are not supposed to use them with strollers I do going up).

    10 years is a fine goal…but what are they doing right now? I was recently in London and they were working on their TUBE non stop…why isn’t Paris?

    Thanks for the info


  3. Oh I forgot…my mother in law (French) told me when my husband was in a stroller (late 1970’s) the curbs of Paris didn’t even have ramps on them like all or most do now. Could you imagine being in a wheelchair in 1970’s you couldn’t even go to the next block unless someone was helping you and propped you up!

    Even though most of the ramps are shady and my son gets stuck in most of them. I still have to prop him up a bit while going over them anyhow.

  4. Pingback: The Paris Blog: Paris, France Expat Tips & Resources »Blog Archive » Paris Amps up Access

  5. I have a strong memory of carrying a man in a wheelchair up the stairs of the metro when I first studied here. It stuck. I mean, he had no way to get up the stairs, and of course we lifted him, but it was just so blatantly unfair to him.

    It is reassuring to see changes, ever slow as they may be. A little awareness is a good start, so thanks for the post. Here’s to hoping that things will change a bit faster…

  6. When my wife, who is totally dependent on a wheelchair for mobility, and I traveled to Paris a few years ago, we found the degree of accessibility to be quite mixed. While most tourist-frequented sites had made accessible accommodations, many restaurants, bars and theaters were either very difficult to enter or not at all accessible. In our case, I can easily lift my wife up several steps, so we are fortunate. We did see more signs of change and a very helpful attitude on the part of the French, so we are encouraged. Paris does have a ways to go before it is on par with London or New York. Meanwhile, we’ll keep coming to Paris to gauge the progress!

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