Paris: an accessible destination for everyone

Paris: an accessible destination for everyone

Ever thought of travelling but not known whether it would possible because of your disability? Wheelchair user Derry Felton is proof that you can explore the world. Here, he shares the story of one of his first travelling experiences, this time to Paris, a city full of stunning architecture and unique delicacies.

My name is Derry Felton and I am a keen traveller despite having a spinal cord injury from C2/C3 level. Due to my injury, I cannot move anything below my neck and require the use of a ventilator for the majority of the day. I have not let this hold me back, especially when it comes to travelling.

I have been to numerous places in Europe. I have been to France (three times), Sweden (twice, both times sit skiing), Holland, Spain and Belgium. In November 2018, I went to Vienna in Austria and Bratislava in Slovakia, as a combined trip. 

Paris was one of my first trips, and I loved every minute of it. Read on to find out all you need to know about the accessible hotel we stayed at, wheelchair-accessible transport and attractions. This article was first published in the Spinal Injuries Association‘s magazine, which offers support for people like me with spinal cord injuries.

Travelling to Paris

I woke up at 3.30am on 4 December, got into my wheelchair and set off to Luton Airport. I was heading to Paris for three nights with four members of my care team. This was my third independent trip, after having travelled to Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Check-in was quick and easy and we had a few hours to spare before departing. Boarding the plane as a wheelchair user can be very interesting, especially for someone with a high-level injury. Wheelchairs must go into the hold on a flight, so I had to be physically lifted by two airport staff from my chair into a very bog-standard chair. I was then wheeled from the transporter and onto the plane.

Once on the plane, I was positioned in my row and lifted from the wheelchair to my seat. This wasn’t easy as I’m 5’11” and 11 stone in dead weight! But we managed it, and we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport at about 11am.

The transfer process was repeated and carried out more successfully than at Luton. However, I did have to wait for 30 minutes for my wheelchair to be taken off the plane because it is heavy and the airport staff did not know how to drive it!

Our accessible hotel in Paris

I eventually left the airport and got into a wheelchair-accessible minibus, which took us from the airport to the Empire Hotel. Our journey was a great introduction to Paris as we drove around the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs Elysees. As we got further into the city we could see the Eiffel Tower.

I was greeted by an extremely friendly hotel concierge, who then showed us to our rooms. They were on the ground floor and were absolutely superb. There was a comfortable double bed in the centre of the room, nicely decorated walls and an en-suite bathroom.

Accessible transport in Paris

After a drink at the hotel, we went exploring. Our first location was the Moulin Rouge. The concierge recommended taking the bus, so we walked to the bus stop and waited for a few minutes. When the bus arrived I was extremely impressed with how accessible it was.

On the outside of the bus is a button that you press to alert the driver that you need assistance. An electronic ramp then comes out from the bottom of the bus and the doors open. Once inside you position yourself against the window and you set off. This was the only form of transport that I used for the rest of the holiday.

Accessible Paris attractions

The outside of the Moulin Rouge is amazing. But we didn’t go in as it’s rather pricey when holidaying on a budget.

Next, we went to Sacré-Cœur, which is a basilica on the highest hill in Paris and provides an excellent view of the entire city. To get to it as a wheelchair user you have to walk up a long and winding hill and down back alleys. Once outside it, I wasn’t sure how to get in due to the many steps – a wheelchair user’s worst nightmare.

So, we walked around the back and noticed some armed soldiers. In my most basic French, I asked how to get in. A soldier disappeared momentarily and he later ushered us inside. We were able to use a lift that is mainly used by staff and the nuns who actually live in the basilica. Once inside we walked around and looked at the brightly coloured stained glass windows and amazing architecture.

That evening we went for dinner at Café Beaubourg. It’s a lovely little restaurant serving excellent food, conveniently all on one level.

Day two in Paris

On my second day in Paris, I woke up early and travelled to the bus stop. The paths and roads in Paris are very uneven and cobbly, which doesn’t bother me, but might not be great for others. I took the bus to the Parc des Princes stadium, home of Paris Saint-Germain F.C. We walked around the outside looking at the many pictures on display. I was hoping to go on a tour of the stadium, but I was disappointed to find out that there were no tours until February.

Wheelchair user Derry Felton in front of the Arc de Triomph

Next, we headed over to the Arc de Triomphe. It is a really amazing landmark. It’s crazy to think about how people drive around it. Leading off the Arc de Triomphe is the Champs-Élysées. So, we walked down it and looked at the many shops and restaurants. We even stopped to have some snails! If you like seafood I think you’ll like snails.

That evening we went to the Eiffel Tower. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It is extremely tall and beautiful. As we went at night we saw it lit up. I eagerly went over and paid for my tickets. Entrance costs €14 for non-disabled visitors and €4 for disabled people.

Once at the base, you enter a lift that takes you to the first and second floors. It is an incredible sight to look down at the city below and see all the lights from cars and buildings. It’s an experience I would recommend to everyone.

Wheelchair user Derry Felton in front of the Eiffel Tower

Day three in Paris

On my third day, I woke up early again and went to Notre-Dame Cathedral. It was smaller than I anticipated, but nevertheless a really magnificent church with many stained glass windows. After we left, we walked around the outside and the bells began to ring, which was pretty incredible.

From there we walked to Sainte-Chapelle, which is a royal chapel. Admission is €10 and carers can enter for free. It is connected to the courts of Paris, which is also worth a look around due to its impressive architecture. We went back to the hotel for a short rest and then headed back out.

Our next location was the Louvre Museum. It costs €14 (carers go free) and you can stay there for as long as you like. It is really accessible for wheelchair users. Everything is at a good height and there are lots of lifts to help you get around.

I saw The Last Supper and the main attraction, the Mona Lisa. One of the museum’s employees opened the barrier that separates the visitors from the picture and let me go up really close. I sat there for a good 10 minutes, taking it all in.

Wheelchair user Derry Felton in the Louvre

That evening I went for a nice prawn stir fry and a couple of glasses of wine near the hotel to top off a great couple of days.

On my last day, we walked to Bastille, which is a district in Paris that was once a barracks during the French Revolution. The July Column, which stands in the centre, was having work done to its base, so that was unfortunate. However, it was still great to see.

We came across some difficult kerbs along the roads. Sometimes there would be a drop kerb on one side of the road but not on the other, so that was interesting!

Later that day we were taken back to the airport. Our flight was delayed by an hour and a half, but this did not take the shine off a brilliant holiday. My overall verdict? You might have to rough it sometimes, but in general, Paris is a beautiful and really accessible city.

By Derry Felton

Share your travel experiences with our community by leaving your comments below, messaging us on Facebook or tweeting us @DHorizons.

More on Disability Horizons…