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One year before Paralympics, Paris trying to make city more accessible to those with disabilities

PARIS (AP) — With one year to go before Paris hosts the Paralympic Games for the first time, the French capital is faced with a significant challenge: The accessibility of its public transit.

With only one subway line totally accessible out of 16, the city is under pressure to find solutions before the Paralympics start on Aug. 28, 2024.

And both the Games’ organizers and wheelchair users such as tennis gold medalist Michael Jeremiasz see the Paris Paralympics as an opportunity to bring about durable change.

“We will remember the opening ceremonies that will be extraordinary and hopefully all the medals of our French Olympic and Paralympic athletes,” Jérémiasz, who won gold in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, said Monday at a news conference marking the one-year countdown to the 2024 Paralympics. “We will remember a big celebration. In my opinion, that’s not enough. … It’s great but it doesn’t last. Afterwards, life and the constraints of daily life take over.”

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press that “we don’t do anything in the city thinking only about the Games operations, but also about how the city will look like in the future.”

In April, President Emmanuel Macron announced 1.5 billion euros in funding to make public spaces across France more accessible. The announcement came days after the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights body, found France in violation of a European treaty on social and economic rights, stating failures toward people with disabilities.

Since Paris was awarded hosting rights for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics, the city has committed 125 million euros to make itself more accessible. But for people with disabilities, Paris still has a long way to go.

Frustratingly for some, most of the accessibility efforts in Paris will not target the metro system, the city’s most frequented public transport.

“It’s a legislation issue as well — that you have to make the whole line accessible — and this is not possible due to the cost,” Parsons said. ‘’But the solution is to invest on the buses and the taxis and on the on-the-ground system.”

Organizers and authorities pledged that up to 200 shuttle buses will be accessible to people who use wheelchairs, in addition to up to 1,000 accessible taxis by the time the games start.

APF France Handicap, an association advocating for disabled rights, said in a statement Monday that public transit remains problematic as the city is expected to receive 350,000 visitors with disabilities during the 2024 Games.

“Whether during reception at the airport, connections between airports or with city centers, the management of wheelchairs or any other mobility aids, serious malfunctions have been observed,” the association said in the statement.

The Paris Paralympics begin 17 days after the Olympics’ closing ceremony. The Paralympics bring together 4,400 athletes from 180 countries in 549 events and 22 sports. Many sports will take place in venues near iconic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, and the Grand Palais.

For the first time, the Paralympics’ opening ceremony will also be held outside of a sports venue, on the Champs-Elysées avenue and Place de la Concorde.

But for many, the legacy of the Games is what’s most relevant, and that’s greater accessibility.

The city aims to sell 2.8 million tickets to break London’s 2012 Paralympics’ record of 2.7 million tickets. Parsons said half of the tickets will cost 25 euros or less, with the hopes of drawing families and people in groups.

“The more we bring families with their kids, the more the change in perception affects not only the parent but also the kid,” Parsons said.

Tony Estanguet, the Paris Games organizing committee president, told the AP: “We need to reduce discrimination. We need to find solutions to improve transport, to improve accommodation, to improve access to employment, to improve the daily lives of people with disabilities.”

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Jeffrey Schaeffer contributed to this report.

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AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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