Campaigners warn Paris 2024 could highlight France’s poor service to disabled people
The French president has invited disabled rights campaigners to a conference tomorrow, Wednesday 26 March, at Elysee Palace in Paris. But the building is half a mile from the closest wheelchair-accessible Metrolink.
For people like Pascale Ribes the journey has turned into an ordeal, the president of APF France Handicap has had no option but to travel by taxi.
Ribes is attending the event to share her views that France is failing to provide equal rights for disabled people when she meets President Emmanuel Macron.
Paris is hosting the 2024 Olympics, but Ribes warns if her country does not improve services for disabled people its lack of commitment will be highlighted across the world.
“We really want the games to be a success,” Ribes told Associated Press, but added her concern that France must “press on the accelerator" because “a catastrophic scenario is in the offing if we don't.”
France has been criticised by the arm of the Council of Europe, a significant human rights body, for not providing suitable facilities for disabled people.
Despite the negative press Paris Olympic organisers have promised all guests will have an “ inclusive, trailblazing and unique experience ” with the capital providing “the best possible conditions for para-athletes and visitors with disabilities.”
Organisers are working towards “an obstacle-free experience for all,” with every venue being fully accessible to “avoid users feeling that they have any kind of disability.”
Responding to Ribes concerns, government ministers for the Olympics, transport and people with disabilities wrote a collective letter with input from Paris Games organiser Tony Estanguet saying they will provide 150 - 200 shuttle buses for people in wheelchairs and have set a target to increase the number of Paris’ accessible taxis from 200 to 1,000 in time for the Games.
Until changes are put into place disabled people in France only have one out of the 309 subway systems which is fully accessible.
“It’s shameful,” said Ribes. “The image of France is at stake. The impression we have is one of great inertia.”
Paris public transport operator RATP stressed making the Metro accessible “is complex because of numerous technical obstacles” because the space above and below ground is at its premium. But promised 32 stations will be accessible before the Games and 86% of bus lines are wheelchair accessible as well as Paris's tram line and two of the city's major crosstown rail lines.
But Ribes highlighted the difficulty travelling around Paris by bus if you are in a wheelchair because “sometimes you have to wait for the second or the third bus to be able to get on board, because the buses are packed.”
As for taking the Metro Ribes said it’s “impossible for me” because the service is not accessible.
“It's too dangerous," she said. "It's not at all seen as a right."
[ Emmanuel Macron became the youngest president in French history at the age of 39. ]