Paris 2024: two years from the Paralympic Games, what are the challenges to be met regarding accessibility?

In 732 days, Paris will become, for the first time in its history, the theater of the Paralympic Summer Games. Thousands of athletes have an appointment, from August 28 to September 8, 2024, in the capital for the biggest world event dedicated to parasport.

With more than 3.4 million tickets on sale – a record for an edition of the Paralympic Games – the Organizing Committee (Cojo) hopes highlight the 23 disciplines included in the official program. But at the same time, at D-2 years, it must also guarantee the best reception conditions for all audiences, including people with disabilities. While the issue of accessibility is central, it intersects with several challenges that Paris 2024 and its partners must meet.

Solve the thorny issue of public transport

You might as well specify it right away: no, all the lines of the Paris metro will not be accessible to people with disabilities within two years. Emmanuel Macron in person had indicated it in The Team end of July. “It is not a question of money but of technical infeasibility to respect the safety criteria”specifies Île-de-France Mobilités, which organizes the regional transport network.

While the new lines of the Grand Paris Express (15 to 18) will open after the Games, line 14 will therefore be the only one 100% accessible. Extension work is underway as far as Saint-Denis-Pleyel to the north, and to Orly airport to the south. However, the entire intra-Paris bus network is accessible to people with reduced mobility. The same will be the case by 2024 for towns in the inner suburbs and for more than 500 lines in the outer suburbs, and also for 13 tram lines throughout the region.

On the train side, several stations are under construction to make them accessible and allow all those with disabilities (blind or visually impaired, hard of hearing or deaf…) and who do not live in the capital to be able to move around . The RER lines are already accessible. It remains, upstream, to assess the number of users.

Because the flow of spectators in wheelchairs promises to be significant, well beyond the usual daily transport. “We know that it will be complicated to transport these people on the train lines which will be very busy”, announces Laurence Debrincat, director of forecasts and studies for Île-de-France Mobilités. Messages inviting teleworking will be deployed to employers and economic players, in particular during the start of the school year in September 2024, which will coincide with the continuation and end of the Paralympic Games.

Find alternative mobility solutions

One of the solutions, in addition to public transport, should be shuttle buses which will be made available to spectators near stations in order to serve certain more distant competition sites, such as horse riding (Château de Versailles) or canoeing and rowing (Vaires-sur-Marne). For accredited – athletes, staff, media… – if a call for tenders was launched at the end of July to determine the type of transport, it should be vehicles (buses, coaches) adapted and accessible.

Lanes will be reserved on the motorways and other measures are being defined with the road managers, outside the national motorway network, to guarantee the clearest possible access to the training and competition sites.

“Also, spectators who have their own adapted vehicle and wish to use it to get to the sites will be able to reserve their parking spaces, open only to people with UFR tickets (wheelchair users)”adds Laurence Debrincat.

Increase the fleet of adapted taxis

At the end of May, the government formalized the entry into force of a financial assistance for the purchase or rental of adapted vehicles for taxi operators. The objective is concrete: to have 1,000 Parisian taxis equipped with access ramps, useful for transporting sometimes very heavy electric wheelchairs, by the start of the Paralympic Games in 2024.

To promote its “Access” service for people with reduced mobility, the Parisian taxi company G7 has signed a partnership with wheelchair tennis player Charlotte Fairbank. “The ambition is to support it, of course, but also that it helps us to develop this public utility service, so that a person with a disability can order his race normally, without having to take it 2- 3 days in advance”explains Yann Ricordel, deputy director of G7 taxis. “For a driver, being trained to fold a wheelchair, to carry out a transfer, to ask the right questions, this can change everything”specifies the 29th player in the world.

Make sites universally accessible

Centerpieces of the next Paralympic Games, the competition and training sites, as well as the athletes’ village, are the subject of specific reflection on universal accessibility, i.e. “access to everything, for everyone”.

In this logic, the Olympic facilities delivery company (Solideo), a public state institution supervising the construction of all permanent sites, works in collaboration with several project owners. Parisian swimming pools, gymnasiums in Seine-Saint-Denis and in the capital, Arena Porte de la Chapelle, renovation of the Stade de France… In all, more than sixty books and development operations are concerned. The Athletes’ Village, with in particular inclusive multisensory signage, is the main emblem.

“This question of universal accessibility is crucial in the transformation of our way of making the city, of constructing the buildings, the public spaces of tomorrow”says Antoine du Souich, director of strategy and innovation at Solideo. “We want to take advantage of the Paralympic Games to advance the social and societal consideration of issues related to disability.” And also leave a methodological legacy that can be duplicated for other projects.

Bring Parasport to Clubs

“Accessibility is not only going to an event, it is also access to a social bond for the person with a disability and this involves sports practice. The first barrier is the concern of the club which does not know how to do it, how to welcome them.”

In charge of Paralympic integration at Paris 2024, Ludivine Munos follows this issue very closely. Expert in consultation with the Cojo, the former swimmer with 12 Paralympic medals accompanied the financing of a para-welcoming training implemented by the French Paralympic and Sports Committee (CPSF), in partnership with the Disabled Sports Federation (FFH) and Adapted Sports Federation (FFSA). After a request formalized by the interested local authorities, the objective is to allow each voluntary club, whether Paralympic or not, to be accompanied on a better understanding of the handicap and the assumption of responsibility for its equipment, according to the disciplines.

This training, as well as the Paris 2024 endowment fund – which aims to support projects of general interest using sport in particular as a means of inclusion – must allow the multiplication of para-sport sections on the territory. As a reminder, according to a 2018 sport handicap study48% of people with disabilities do not practice physical activity and sports.

Promoting inclusion in the city

Neighborhoods with universal accessibility, in the heart of Paris. The promise is big. Challenged by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in 2018, the City has targeted at least 17 neighborhoods – one per administrative district (after grouping the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th) – which will benefit from special development by 2024 . The goal: to allow everyone to access everyday services (accommodation, shops, sports, schools, health, culture) in an adapted public space.

The town hall of Paris wants to make accessible "augmented" 17 districts, one per district, in the capital by 2024. (City of Paris)

An interactive map must also be deployed to determine which facilities are accessible to people with disabilities wishing to visit these neighborhoods. Precise signage and wider sidewalks will be part of these developments.

At the same time, Paris intends to further stimulate the ecosystem around disability. Paris&Co, the economic development and innovation agency of the city and the metropolis, launched in 2019 an accelerator of innovative projects intended to make life easier for people with disabilities. Among the start-ups selected, we find in particular Omni, the grand prize winner of the Lépine competition, which offers a mobility system combining an electric scooter and a wheelchair. The company will accompany the city during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Take advantage of full-scale tests

If there are two years left in Paris 2024 to keep the promise of accessibility, the capital will be able to count on several events to revise its ranges. The World Para-Athletics Championships – the second biggest parasport event after the Paralympic Games – are expected at the Charléty stadium from July 8 to 17, 2023. A few weeks later, it will be rugby’s turn to host, at the same time as the World Cup (September 8 to October 28, 2023), the Rugby World Cup in the capital.

Two good opportunities for the city to test its fan-zones planned for the Games, in particular the largest at La Villette. “This will allow us to work in real situations on these accessibility issues, with a certain number of shared activities for people with disabilities”specifies Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sport.

For the volunteers too, these general rehearsals are of particular importance in order to work out the role of each one as well as possible. Last summer on the site of celebration of tricolor athletes at the Trocadero, 10 (out of 60) of them were disabled. “There will be many more in 2024”we promise on the side of the Cojo and the city of Paris.

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