Paris Promised the Olympics Would Be Accessible. The Clock Is Ticking.

Paris put inclusivity and accessibility at the center of its bid to host the Summer Games, and the city has come a long way. For example, the newly built 128 acre Olympic and Paralympic Village, hailed by organizers and advocacy groups as a shining example of universal design, offers accessible buildings, multi-sensory signage, and areas for assistance dogs. The city plans to have 1,000 wheelchair-accessible taxis by the time the Games start (it only had 250 in 2022), and Uber will increase its fleet of accessible vehicles from 40 to 170.

Despite this progress, advocacy groups such as APF France Handicap are concerned that the city is still not prepared to receive visitors with disabilities. For example, according to Pascale Ribes, president of the group, it is necessary to notify railway and airline companies in advance to allow passengers in wheelchairs.

And even that isn’t always enough, explained Ribes, who uses a wheelchair: Recently, he said, employees at a Paris airport refused to take his personal wheelchair onto the runway after a domestic flight. On another occasion he almost missed his connecting flight while waiting for promised assistance.

France’s first law requiring accessibility in public spaces dates back to 1975, but its effective implementation has been a challenge. The Olympic and Paralympic Games have given new urgency to the issue. “It’s not just about accessibility for people with reduced mobility,” Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, said in an interview last month. These are all disabilities, including sensory ones. “This will be a very important legacy of the Games,” she added.

Lamia El Aaraje, deputy mayor responsible for universal accessibility and people with disabilities, has worked to make shops, schools, public services, cultural and sports facilities, as well as buses and trams accessible throughout the city. In the last 10 months, at least 1,750 bus shelters have been renovated to be compatible with wheelchair ramps.

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