A year before the Paralympics, Paris is trying to make the city more accessible for people with disabilities


A year before Paris hosts the Paralympic Games for the first time, the French capital faces a major challenge: the accessibility of its public transport.

With only one of 16 subway lines fully accessible, the city is under pressure to find solutions before the Paralympics begin on August 28, 2024.

And both the organizers of the Games and wheelchair users like tennis gold medalist Michael Jeremiasz see the Paris Paralympics as an opportunity to bring about lasting change.

“We will remember the opening ceremonies, which will be extraordinary, and hopefully all the medals from our French Olympic and Paralympic athletes,” said Jeremiasz, who won gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, on Monday at a press conference marking the one-year Paralympic countdown Games 2024. “We will remember a great celebration. In my opinion this is not enough. … It's great, but it doesn't last long. After that, life and the constraints of everyday life take over.”

Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press that “in the city, we're not just thinking about the games, we're thinking about what the city will be like in the future.”

In April, President Emmanuel Macron announced €1.5 billion in funding to make public spaces more accessible across France. The announcement came days after the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights organization, found that France was violating a European treaty on social and economic rights, noting failures towards people with disabilities.

Since Paris won the rights to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the city has committed €125 million to make itself more accessible. But Paris still has a long way to go for people with disabilities.

For some, it's frustrating that most of Paris' accessibility efforts don't target the metro system, the city's busiest form of public transportation.

“It's also a matter of legislation – that you have to make the whole route accessible – and that's not possible because of the costs,” said Parsons. “But the solution is to invest in the buses and taxis and the on-site system.”

Organizers and authorities have pledged that up to 200 shuttle buses will be wheelchair accessible by the start of the Games, in addition to up to 1,000 accessible taxis.

APF France Handicap, an association that campaigns for the rights of disabled people, said in a statement on Monday that public transport remained a problem as the city is expected to receive 350,000 visitors with disabilities during the 2024 Games.

“Serious disruptions have been observed, whether in reception at the airport, in connections between airports or with inner cities, in the management of wheelchairs or other mobility aids,” the association said in a statement.

The Paralympics in Paris begin 17 days after the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. The Paralympics bring together 4,400 athletes from 180 countries in 549 events and 22 sports. Many sports will take place in locations close to famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Grand Palais.

For the first time, the opening ceremony of the Paralympics will also take place outside of a sports venue, on the Avenue Champs-Élysées and the Place de la Concorde.

But for many, what matters most is the legacy of the games, and that's greater accessibility.

The city aims to sell 2.8 million tickets to break the record 2.7 million tickets for the London 2012 Paralympics. Parsons said half of the tickets will be €25 or less, hoping to attract families and people in groups.

“The more we bring families with their children, the more the changed perception affects not only the parents but also the child,” Parsons said.

Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris Games Organizing Committee, told the AP: “We need to reduce discrimination. We need to find solutions to improve transportation, improve housing, improve access to employment, and improve the daily lives of people with disabilities.”


Jeffrey Schaeffer contributed to this report.

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