While France presents evident challenges for visiteurs handicapés (disabled visitors), particularly those with mobility issues – cobblestones, cafe-lined streets that are a nightmare to navigate in a wheelchair (fauteuil roulant), a lack of kerb ramps, older public facilities and many budget hotels without lifts – don't let that stop you from visiting. Efforts are being made to improve the situation and with a little careful planning, a hassle-free accessible stay is possible.
- Paris' tourist office runs the excellent ‘Tourisme & Handicap’ initiative whereby museums, cultural attractions, hotels and restaurants that provide access or special assistance or facilities for those with physical, mental, visual and/or hearing disabilities display a special logo at their entrances. For a list of qualifying places, go to www.parisinfo.com and click on ‘Practical Paris’.
- Paris metro, most of it built decades ago, is hopeless. Line 14 of the metro was built to be wheelchair-accessible, although in reality it remains extremely challenging to navigate in a wheelchair – unlike Paris buses which are 100% accessible.
- Parisian taxi company Horizon, part of Taxis G7 (www.taxisg7.fr), has cars especially adapted to carry wheelchairs and drivers trained in helping passengers with disabilities.
- Countrywide, many SNCF train carriages are accessible to people with disabilities. A traveller in a wheelchair can travel in both the TGV and in the 1st-class carriage with a 2nd-class ticket on mainline trains provided they make a reservation by phone or at a train station at least a few hours before departure. Details are available in the SNCF booklet Le Mémento du Voyageur Handicapé (Handicapped Traveller Summary) available at all train stations.
Accès Plus The SNCF assistance service for rail travellers with disabilities. Can advise on station accessibility and arrange a fauteuil roulant or help getting on or off a train.
Access Travel Specialised UK-based agency for accessible travel.
Infomobi.com Has comprehensive information on accessible travel in Paris and the surrounding Île de France area.
Mobile en Ville Association that works hard to make independent travel within Paris easier for people in wheelchairs. Among other things it organises some great family randonnées (walks) in and around Paris.
Tourisme et Handicaps Issues the 'Tourisme et Handicap' label to tourist sites, restaurants and hotels that comply with strict accessibility and usability standards. Different symbols indicate the sort of access afforded to people with physical, mental, hearing and/or visual disabilities.
- SNCF's French-language booklet Guide des Voyageurs Handicapés et à Mobilité Réduite, available at train stations, gives details of rail access for people with disabilities.
- Michelin's Guide Rouge uses icons to indicate hotels with lifts (elevators) and facilities that make them at least partly accessible to people with disabilities.
- Jaccede.com (www.jaccede.com) is an excellent interactive accessibility guide; before arrival download the smartphone app to search for accessible hotels, cinemas and so on.
- Gîtes de France (www.gites-de-france-var.fr) can provide details of accessible gîtes ruraux (self-contained holiday cottages) and chambres d'hôte (B&Bs); search the website with the term 'disabled access'.
- The French Government Tourist Office website (www.france.fr) has lots of info for travellers with disabilities.
- Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.