Begin the Béquilles: A Guide to Accessible Paris

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Begin the Béquilles: A Guide to Accessible Paris
At first glance, Paris does not seem to embrace the needs of those with reduced mobility or impairments. The cobblestone streets and traditional architecture (tiny rooms and lots of stairs) are charming, but are the bane of those who need more accessible accommodations. The ubiquitous narrow spiral to the “en bas” toilettes. © Meredith Mullins Even if you make it into a street level café or restaurant, the bathroom is almost always down or up a narrow flight of stairs. Is there hope on the horizon? Walk a mile in my shoes See what I see, Hear what I hear, Feel what I feel … Then maybe you’ll understand Why my life is what it is A year ago, I was a typical Paris flâneuse, wandering freely to discover all the treasures that Paris has to offer. Then a ruptured achilles tendon invaded my life. I braved surgery, survived two months confined to a wheelchair, graduated to rehab (rééducation in French), and then moved into months on crutches (béquilles in French). My life changed dramatically. My life with crutches (béquilles). Photo © Meredith Mullins I couldn’t help thinking about the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). In my new world of reduced mobility, these stages were ringing true, although slightly redefined. There was, of course, denial and anger. Why me? Why now? Why such a long recovery period? Will my taxi/UBER budget hold out? Will I find things to do while wheelchair bound other than watching the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial? Then came humility. I was not my old self. I had to do things differently. I had to ask for help. And I had to open myself to the kindness of strangers. The profound reward of this stage was how humanity rose to the challenge. Everyone was kind. Help arrived in surprising ways. I found a community of unheralded advocates who stepped forward to help when needed. Help arrived . . . in many ways. © Meredith Mullins When I first hobbled over to a taxi line after a concert and went to the back of the line, several French women stepped forward and insisted that I move to the front of the line. I was reluctant, but appreciative. Many times after this, these unhesitating advocates (usually French women) were there to make things easier . . . to find a seat for me on the bus or to send me to the front of the line. The next stage was acceptance/adaptation. I began to learn how to adapt to my new reduced mobility. I learned that Paris buses were much easier to navigate than metros.

Lead photo credit : Guide provided by Paris Tourism.

More in disability, Paris accessibility, Paris on crutches, reduced mobility, wheelchair, wheelchair accessible, wheelchair travel

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Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." (If you’re in Paris, a few rare, signed copies are available at Shakespeare and Company and Red Wheelbarrow.) She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.


  • Eileen Hirst
    2023-03-30 07:46:57
    Eileen Hirst
    We have been traveling to Paris once or twice a year for twenty years. If there is one piece of advice I would give people with disabilities, it is to plan ahead. Perhaps because I come from a city where every restaurant, transit station, bus, public restroom, bank, museum, store and park is required to be accessible, I think Paris still has a way to go before it can claim to be accessible. My husband, who uses a walker and, at times, a wheelchair, arrived at the Natural History Museum for a blockbuster exhibit to find that the only entrance requires climbing two sets of steep stairs. The restroom was at the far end of the building, in the basement, and there was no elevator to it. After a visit to the Louvre, we stopped for lunch at Cafe Marly and discovered that it has no accessible entrance. Yes, but buses are great, but the stops often do not have seating for people who cannot stand for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. You are correct when you say a disabled person visiting Paris relies on the kindness of strangers, and that kindness is abundant. More times than I can count, people have come to our rescue. They cross the street to help us navigate difficult sidewalks; they send us to the head of the line; they are exceptionally kind and respectful when helping my husband into a taxi or to a restaurant table; and they have even carried him up the stairs of inaccessible sites. But it shouldn't be that way. It is great that people want to be helpful, but it is humiliating to constantly have to ask. Planning ahead is absolutely essential. I have learned to visit museums and monuments the day before we plan to go so I can figure out how to navigate through exhibits and avoid disappointing surprises. The newer museums, like the museum devoted to the Resistance, are beautifully designed for access, as is the Bourse. Older, retrofitted museums may be technically accessible, but finding the accessible entrance and elevators can be challenging and exhausting for the disabled person and the person trying to get him where he wants to go. Many museums are very well-designed on the inside but very difficult to get to. Whoever designed the access path to the Pompidou Center, for example, has never tried to navigate cobblestones with a walker. Signage at many major sites is well-hidden or non-existent. All that said, a trip to Paris can be delightful and fulfilling and the vacation of your dreams. But, I'll say it again, you have to plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead. Thanks.


  • Pamela Spurdon
    2023-03-24 06:14:45
    Pamela Spurdon
    How could an article on this topic be so entertaining? Impressive research and coverage of the topic...and bravo for the clever photos. Delighted to learn that Parisian authorities have done so much for those with reduced mobility. But I remember when I first lived here in the 50s, the reserved seating in buses and metros were already standard and pregnant women--like my mother at one point--were always invited by everyone to go straight to the head of the line. Except when she had to renew her Carte de Séjour at the Préfecture, where there was a line of foreigners.


  • Michael Wilson
    2023-03-23 11:49:15
    Michael Wilson
    Thank you for this article on mobility accessibility in Paris. We are hoping to take our son who uses a wheelchair to France after the Olympics. I know the streets and sidewalks are challenging. In addition to the information in this article, I am searching for information on being able to hire a local person who could help with some of the care needs of our son. I know you are not a travel service but any web site, etc. would be helpful. Merci beaucoup,


  •  Hazel Smith
    2023-03-23 05:50:10
    Hazel Smith
    Thanks for this article. On my last visit I opted for taxi to CDG to avoid all the steps at Chatelet with my luggage. The real reason Parisian women stay slim!


    •  Meredith
      2023-03-24 12:50:08
      Thank you for the comment, Hazel. And now that the taxis are regulated in price to CDG, they are an excellent option. With that said, we do walk lots of steps in a normal day. Good for health and longevity.