Seeing differently: car-free Paris in the autumn (with added wheels): Part 1- accessibility

The events in Paris on Friday were truly ghastly, and we all know that it could have been anywhere and happened to any of us or those dear to us.  Similar events happen even more frequently in other parts of the world – I think too of Nigeria, of Afghanistan, of Syria, of Lebanon, and of all the people there touched by horror.

With the events of Friday particularly in my mind, I am posting a series of three pieces I have been in the process of drafting following a recent trip we made to Paris to meet up with our Danish and our French friends.

Much of what I wrote feels banal in the face of Friday’s atrocities, and yet I believe it is crucial that we continue with our everyday life and don’t give way to our natural fear and dread, which is what acts such as these seek to achieve.


This the first of three ‘seeing differently in Paris’ posts.  We visited Paris over the last weekend of September, to meet up with friends.  The three posts each deal with a different aspect of our visit.

  • despite being the very end of September, the weather made it feel more like the height of summer – blue skies, warm sun
  • we had inadvertently arranged to visit Paris on it’s first ‘car free’ day
  • this was the first time we had visited Paris with a friend who is a wheelchair user, and experienced the city as he experiences places  – I’m doing this one first, because it kind of feels the most personal and immediate to me right now

Let me just start by saying that it was a lovely stay, and we had a great time.  We walked / wheeled miles and miles every day, visiting parks, gardens, famous streets and buildings, cafes, and restaurants.  We met up with long-time friends who live close to Paris, introducing two sets of good friends and enjoying them enjoying each other – always a pleasure!

However.  There was a downside.

  • The adjustments to planned visits that had to be made when ‘accessible’ places turned out to be anything but, because lifts were out of order or non-existent.
  • The apartment shower room that was described as accessible, but in reality wasn’t – because the owner didn’t really understand what was required.
  • The occasions when the rest of us could go to the toilet in cafes and restaurant, but the wheelchair user had to wait until we found somewhere else.
  • The shallow option for the bridge which we couldn’t get to because the lift was broken.
2015-09-26 12.31.10

Lift – out of order…..

2015-09-26 12.30.29

……so we had to go over the steep part of the bridge, instead of the shallower accessible option – usually he gets around independently of anyone else, and certainly doesn’t need help pushing!

But along the way we saw something truly remarkable, in Notre Dame – a beautiful, invisible moving platform to enable people unable to tackle stairs to access the back half of the cathedral along with everyone else.  It was designed, built and installed by a Danish company our wheelchair-using friend, who is himself Danish and a disability rights activist, has close connections with.

So we were privileged to meet up with the Director General of the French part of the company for a guided tour of the access platform.  He is (rightly) very proud of it, and proud to have been associated with something so unusual in such a historically sensitive site.  He described how he now feels himself to be a small link in the very long chain of workers who through the years have created this magnificent building.


The steps collapse to form a platform, then the platform rises up to provide access to the top level

You may think that this is a small thing.  But if so, look around you tomorrow as you go about your daily business, and notice each time you go up or down just two or three small steps, and consider what a massive barrier something so small would be if you were unable to negotiate them.

Because if it can be done (beautifully and elegantly) in Notre Dame in Paris, surely it can be done pretty much anywhere?  And if it isn’t being done, we have to be asking why not? and demanding and insisting on better.

About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
This entry was posted in Community, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized, Walking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Seeing differently: car-free Paris in the autumn (with added wheels): Part 1- accessibility

  1. Sam says:

    We do have to keep going on as we are; you’re right Deborah. I love Paris and have had very happy times there, including a fabulous night at a concert at the Bataclan. Friday’s events were heinous. We have to believe that the haters won’t ever win.
    It must have been an eye-opener, travelling around with your wheel-chair-bound friend. You get a very small idea of what it must be like when you have babies in buggies, but it must be incredibly frustrating and limiting to have so many places where you can’t do what you should be able to (especially going to the loo!). There should be much more thought given to access.


  2. What a lovely piece. So many of us have our own first hand experience of Paris, which makes Friday’s events even more poignant. Your experience of Paris with a wheelchair user is really enlightening and shows how challenging and frustrating it can be when things that are designed to be accessible aren’t. But what a lovely surprise to cone across Notre Dame – if they can provide wheelchair access in an historic building anyone can!


    • Thanks Kathryn. Yes, many of us bring our own experiences of Paris to this horrible news. And I found it even more shocking to see the photos and read about the lives of some of those who died on Friday, many of whom are similar ages to my own sons.


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