If you're wondering whether Paris is truly accessible, we have a two-part response: the bad news, and the good.
We may as well start off with the bad news: Paris doesn't exactly have a stellar record where accessibility is concerned. Wheelchair-intolerant cobblestone streets and thin strips of sidewalk to match; out-of-order or nonexistent metro elevators; cafe bathrooms in basements accessible only by narrow spiral staircases-- you name it. For visitors with disabilities or limited mobility, Paris can seem like a genuine obstacle course.
The good news? A series of recent measures has made it considerably easier for visitors with limited mobility or disabilities to get around. There's still a long way to go, but the city is continually improving its track record. It has the ambition to become far more accessible, especially in the run-up to the 2024 Summer Olympics which will be held in the capital.
Public Transportation: Getting Around the City
The French capital's public transport infrastructures are becoming far more accessible than they once were, but have a long way to go-- and require users to carefully plan their trips. Here's the lowdown:
Metro and RER (commuter train system)
- On the whole, the Paris metro offers poor accessibility to limited-mobility and disabled travelers. For the time being, only Metro line 14 is fully-equipped with elevators and ramps, with selected stations on other lines providing adequate accessibility. Roughly two-thirds of Paris metro stations have escalators.
- Suburban express trains (RER) are generally much better-equipped for passengers with limited mobility. All four RER lines are accessible to passengers with wheelchairs from most major stations.
Visit this page to download a map (PDF format) of accessible Metro and RER stations.
- Travelers with wheelchairs should keep in mind that only manual wheelchairs can be used comfortably in the metro and RER at the current time, due to the gap between the platform and the train.
- For passengers with sight disabilities, the Metro and RER are insufficiently accessible. Some stations are equipped with raised warning studs along the edge of train platforms. In addition, Metro line 14 and selected trains on line 3 have automatic vocal announcements indicating each stop. Efforts are underway to include vocal announcements on all lines.
- For hearing-impaired passengers, at least one ticketing and information booth in every Metro or RER station is equipped with magnetic inductive loops permitting passengers with hearing-aids to communicate easily with Metro and RER staff. Passengers simply place their hearing aid on the "T" telephone icon at the booth.
Buses and Tramways: All Equipped With Ramps; Many With Other Features
Thanks to major efforts to create or renew existing surface transport networks, Paris buses and tramways are far more accessible to passengers with limited mobility and sight or hearing disabilities.
According to the RATP (Metro) website, the city of Paris has purchased 400 new, fully-accessible buses every year since 1998. As a result, all Paris bus lines are now are equipped with ramps, and around 96-97% additionally offer lowering devices, special seats for limited-mobility passengers, and a vocal announcement system. Line 38, which runs North to South through the center of the city, also has screens located throughout the bus that indicate current location, next stops, and transfer points.
Read related: How to Use Paris City Buses
Paris' main tramway lines, T1, T2, and T3a and T3b, are also fully wheelchair-accessible. As such, learning to use them can be a great way to get around the city's outer edges.
Airports and Accessibility
ADP (Airports of Paris) offers a straightforward guide for limited-mobility and disabled passengers on how to get to and from Paris airports. You can download PDF files from the site giving detailed information on services available to Paris airport passengers with special needs.
Sights, Attractions, and Lodging: The "Tourisme et Handicape" Label
In 2001, the French Ministry of Tourism defined an official set of criteria for accessibility, the "Tourism and Handicap" label. Hundreds of Paris establishments have been accredited with the label, making it easy for passengers with particular needs to quickly identify accessible Paris attractions, restaurants, or hotels.
Click here for a list of accessible Paris sights, attractions, and accommodation
What About Renting a Car?
If you're interested in driving in the French capital, read the pros and cons of renting a car in Paris. As I explain, it can be a good option for visitors with extremely limited mobility, but comes attached with some disadvantages, as well.
More Information for Travelers With Disabilities Or Limited Mobility
This page from Sage Traveling, written by a travel writer who is in a wheelchair, is a clear and very thorough resource describing how to get around and enjoy Paris.