*and now there are strikes (t’s 3/24/2023). Right now (with a couple days to go) we intend to go anyway. Hoping that we are able to still get around and enjoy Paris! If it gets too bad we’ll get on a train and go elsewhere.
Get and Bring Proof of Disability
Many, many places in Paris (the Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, Versailles, etc.) will let you and a companion jump the line and get in free with proof of disability. It is not clear that simply being in a wheelchair is enough (it is not enough for Paris Disneyland). If you are American, the easiest thing is the America The Beautiful Access Card. Get one well before your trip. If you can’t get one, your handicapped placard and the paperwork that goes with it will do (but more of a pain to carry). If you are from another country use whatever official document you can get to prove you are disabled.
Carry Passports at all times
This is the law in France. I recommend something you can wear under a layer of clothing to hold your passports in.
Paris’s Official Disability Info Site
Make sure the chair is in top shape. Make sure all the screws and things are tightened on your wheelchair. Bring extra parts of anything that tends to break. If it has not been serviced recently, get it serviced before you leave.
Make sure your charger has the correct converter built in. If it does not, you must buy a converter in addition to a plug adapter. If you have just the plug adapter and the conversion isn’t taken care of you could fry your chair! I asked the manufacture of my wheelchair (Permobile) if the charger I had would work for Paris. Thankfully mine does (and it tells you the conversion on the side).
Consider compression socks/compression wear for at least the plane if you don’t already wear them daily. It can help avoid certain medical problems (like deep vein thrombosis) that wheelchair users are more prone to.
Pack clothes to look like less of a tourist. This will make you less of a target for pickpockets and give you more respect (and some places like nice restaurants won’t let you in otherwise). Parisians dress up. No sportswear (leggings, hiking jackets, shorts, sweat clothes, etc.). Elevate your look. If you wear traditionally male clothing, pack slacks, a suit and a pair of shoes that will pass as dress shoes (my husband found some with rubber soles that are more walkable from Fluevog, but I hear Clarks and some others are good for that). If you wear traditionally female clothing, bring some nice dresses.
We already know that you tend to get treated less well when in a wheelchair, but I have found (in the US) that dressing up makes a real difference in helping people see the person and not the wheelchair and treat you better. In Paris it seems, that is already a thing with Americans, and must go double in the chair, so I am preparing to be dressed up the whole time.
Go over all your health essentials: for me this is hat, sunglasses, earplugs, hot water bottle, compression-wear. Not only bring your meds, but make a list of all of them and dosages and bring the prescription bottles. If you just have pill-cases with no labels, customs can throw out medications you can’t prove are legally prescribed to you! Also if you have to go to a hospital, you will need them as well. You can bring your pill-cases and fill them later.
If rain is expected (like if you are going in spring) and you use a power chair, get a controller cover and a chair-parka.
Make sure you have the correct charger for your chair. My charger has a built-in voltage adapter (I checked with Permobile on the specific model of charger) and it just needs a plug adapter, but you many need a voltage adapter, so make sure you have the right one before you go! If you don’t you may burn out your chair!
Bring a money belt or other secure place to keep your money and passport.
Being Less of a Pickpocket Target (prep ahead)
There are lots of pickpockets in Paris and they go after tourists most. So:
1. Dress up a bit to look like less of a tourist
2. Never put anything valuable in the back bag of your wheelchair! I reserve that space for my cane, my hat, my hot water bottle, my blanket and my first aid kit. Maybe umbrellas.
3. Make sure that your passports and wallet are in a secure place (like a money belt).
Booking my flight
I managed to get a nonstop flight from San Francisco with lay-flat seats. Having the least amount of stops possible is the safest thing for your wheelchair (the more flights, the more chances they have to break it). If you must have connections, avoid small planes wherever possible. Allow an two hour or longer layover.
I have to get a lay-flat seat because I can’t hold my body upright for more than 2 hours on my best day (much less on a bad day). Getting a milage credit card and using miles is really helpful in paying for the upgrade. This way about every other trip is paid in miles, and I pay full fare the other half. I have gotten “gold” status which has some helpful perks. I fly United because it has the best miles program and is one of the better rated ones for not breaking chairs as often. Sticking to the same airline and racking up points really helps you afford the “disability tax” of having to get business class seats.
Prepping the Wheelchair for Flight (steps ahead of leaving the house)
I went to United.com and searched “wheelchair” and got to this page. I answered the questions for the wheelchair form and printed two copies (one for return). I added my own instructions on the chair and translated my instructions into French with this very good online translator ap. I also made sure that United knows I am traveling with my chair (you can call and make sure it is in your reservation). Other airlines have similar procedures- search their websites.
In my own print out (in French and English) I include my phone number and pleas to the handlers “Please Take Care of this Highly specialized and hard to rent/replace wheelchair it gives me my life back” as well as photos of where the on/off switch and brakes are with big red arrows pointing at them in the picture. This site does great translations.
When I board the plane I will do my usual precautions (which include bringing a roll of packing tape to secure the controls to the inside of the arm and the feet up) for traveling with my chair.
Booking a Hotel
I booked through Wheel the World. You set up a profile and it offers hotels… but watch out! I put “wheelchair” in my profile and “no steps” and it offered me hotels with steps either into the room or from outside. It does at least show you this in the hotel profile though. When you pick your hotel, you then get an email exchange with an agent to help you book. She was able to call the hotel and confirm details with me.
I needed to have a tub, and the normal ADA rooms only have showers. This meant checking the door measurements on the regular rooms. The outside door of the room was wide enough, the bathroom door was not, but for me this was ok. The agent from WheeltheWorld asked them all the questions for me and confirmed everything.
Room Size We are traveling with our daughter and that meant the king room with the rollaway option was what we wanted… but then there was not room for the chair. Paris rooms are very small, even in the nicest hotels. We had to get a suite to make sure the chair would fit.
Location I spent the extra money to be as close as I could get to the majority of the things I wanted to see so as to minimize cab rides or bus rides (the buses are accessible, but the metro is generally not). I figure given that, the price difference might even out a little. Everyone will tell you not to stay right next to a tourist attraction, especially the Eiffel tower. I’m staying by the Opera, which is more expensive, but almost everything I want to see is within a 30 min walk/roll so that saves on transport.
This is a way you can get into the city. Most stations are accessible, but not all, and apparently the accessibility map is not correct. You need to check in at the ticket counter with a person. They will have someone come with you with a ramp to help you onto the train and will tell you if your station on the other end is accessible and when you get to the other end there will be another person with a ramp waiting for you.
G7 Taxi has an app for your phone and you can select accessible vehicles and book in advance. I recommend booking ahead for the airport to and from.
I also found this page very helpful for information on arrival in the airport and travel into Paris.
I booked a room ahead at a Disneyland hotel. It comes with park tickets and reservations for the day of arrival through the day of departure. If you book the hotel you get to book restaurants in the parks months in advance (before non-hotel guests, who can book two months out). Accessible rooms are not listed online. I booked a regular room and then called to change it. There is a US phone number (407-828-4554) on their site you can call with any questions, but it is only open in the morning (until 10ish?) to stay on Paris time.
If you want to go for the day, or stay in a non Disneyland hotel you need to get park tickets and reservations for the specific day ahead of time.
You will need to get a disability access card. There are several tiers of cards and they determine what you need with the information you provide.
You will need to provide one of these documents both scanned and sent in advance and bring them in person (no photos, only originals) along with your passport:
- Disability card issued by the US Department of Veterans Affairs
- Parking Card for Disabled People
- Other official disability documents issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- VA Disability Compensation Benefits
- Parking Badge; permanent or temporary (with paperwork)
- Access pass : America The Beautiful
I am using my disabled parking permit paper proof of permit (the one you are supposed to put in your glove box if you have a placard or license plate) and the parking placard that goes with it AND bringing my America the Beautiful card. This is enough.
If you do not have one of these things you need a doctor’s note. There is a list of accepted chronic diseases. The person I spoke with on the phone says the doctor’s note should say “my patient _______ has number 9. disability “Severe neurological and muscular disorders”, but should not go into any more detail.
My understanding is that the placard + paperwork will work alone but the more paper/proof the better, so I’m bringing my placard with paperwork, my America the Beautiful Card AND the note, but I won’t show the note unless there is a problem with the other items. You can apply up to 30 days before your visit. You must bring the physical paperwork with you as well, no photos.
There are different “tiers” of disability for Disneyland:
If you have Grey, Blue or Orange you cannot ride Peter Pan or Crush’s Coaster, but can go right up to the ride in Star Tours (Crush, Autopia and Star Tours are the only rides that make you walk up to the ride if you have a Purple Card). If you Have Purple (which happens if you swear you are able to climb ladders to evacuate) you can ride Peter Pan and Crush. You have to walk down and up some stairs to get to Crush. You would also have to walk quite a ways for Star Tours. Otherwise Purple, Orange, Blue and Grey are the same and you go right up to the rides. You also have access to special viewing areas for fireworks and parades (arrive 30 min early at least), and can sign up ahead (beginning of day) for character meet-n-greets.
If you are staying at a Disneyland Hotel you can pick up your access card at check in. Otherwise you need to go to guest services inside the parks (which involves long lines).
Hotel at Disneyland: I opted for one of the Disneyland hotels with a 15 min walk/roll to the park. This means no relying on local transport or shuttles which may not be accessible (I have heard they aren’t). Also Disney tends to be very good at accessibility and this way you can get a package with your tickets included. It also means you can pick up the disability pass from the hotel when you check in.
Getting to Disneyland form Paris: The RER train goes directly there and is accessible (though apparently some stations are not even if they are labeled accessible so you need to ask at the attendant’s desk). The Disneyland Station definitely is though. Alternately, you can take a G7 accessible cab.
Getting BACK from Disneyland: So I changed my plans after learning more. Originally I thought I’d take the RER train or a G7 taxi back into Paris after the last day of Disney. Then I heard on the Disneyland Paris- Special Needs of Disabilities facebook group and the regular DP Facebook group what a riot the leaving time is! It sounds insane. One person on the disabilities group said someone put their child in their lap on the wheelchair without asking! Another said people on the train tried to move their wheelchair! If you do have to leave at the end of the day after the fireworks, the recommendation is to hang back in the park, let everyone go ahead of you, go to the shops, take pictures, etc. until the madness dies down a bit.
My solve was to change my hotel plans an book one more night in the Disneyland Hotel (I had to switch from the Newport Bay hotel to the Art of Marvel because Newport had no vacancies). BUT this way we avoid the madness. In switching hotels instead of adding a last day onto our package I was able to get the last night with no park tickets or meal package, and so that made it slightly less expensive (though these hotels are very expensive).
If you want to go it is wheelchair accessible but you must to email them ahead to let them know what day you are coming and provide reservation information. You need to get tickets first and then email with your confirmation number. Their wheelchair lift has a maximum weight of 200 Kilos. That is slightly heavier than me plus my chair, but I think I’ll be able to transfer- have the chair go in the lift separately from me.
As it turns out, most restaurants need you to book ahead. So… I have booked at least one meal every day ahead. A lot of very nice restaurants have lunch bookings, so I did that for two of the days. On days we would be out in a certain area (like by San Chapel, which is open and accessible to wheelchairs) I booked a restaurant nearby for lunch.
Accessibility of Parisian Tourist Sites (by my research) and reservations
*when making reservations for sites- open up ALL the calendars for available tickets for all sites next to your travel calendar when making reservations! Most museums have at least one day they are closed. I discovered the Louvre was booked the day I planed to go, but was able to switch with the Musée de l’Orangerie because I was looking at both calendars while I was booking.
–Eiffel Tower is accessible, but I heard you can only get to the second level (not the top). This is confusing because I see an elevator ticket option on the official website that says it goes to the top. We shall see. Also- I was looking 2 months ahead and advance tickets were fully booked. Apparently you can get tickets the day of though.
–Louvre is but apparently it is confusing- a maze of elevators. Book tickets months ahead. Disabled and one companion are free, and kids under 18 are free, but even with free tickets you need to reserve ahead.
–Versailles: Booking in advance is recommended. Disabled people and one companion are free, kids under 18 are free, but you still need to book the free tickets ahead. I attempted to book a Versailles tour labeled “wheelchair accessible”, but it was very clearly not. The tour started at a Metro station that was not accessible- be careful!
So what I did was get a reservation for lunch at the Versailles restaurant (you can get it with tickets in a package, but with disability you get in free so I am getting the basic reservation). Then we can see it at our own pace. I am told the fountains are not to be missed, which are on from 10AM-7PM every 15 minutes. I am also told the gardens are mainly gravel, which is hard on many wheelchairs, but that the palace building is accessible (though the elevator is apparently quite small).
–Muse D’Orsay is accessible Free admission and priority access to disabled person and one companion. Also free admission to under 18 year olds. No tickets or reservations required if no one in your party needs to pay. For us that’s me (disabled), my husband (adult disabled person companion) and my daughter (under 18)
–Musée de l’Orangerie is accessible. Free admission and priority access to disabled person and one companion. Also free admission to under 18 year olds. You still should reserve (free) tickets ahead though.
–San Chapel is accessible. The is an elevator. Get tickets a month ahead even though you’ll have a free ticket. No free companion ticket. 18 and under are free.
-Army Museum is accessible
-Catacombs are not accessible
-Napoleon Tomb is not accessible
Returning Home (getting to the airport)
After noting that we will need to be at the airport at 6:30AM, I realized that we may not be able to book any wheelchair accessible transit at 5:30AM to get to the airport. This means staying the last night at the airport hotel.
Step 1: call the airline and figure out what terminal you are leaving from (United is Terminal 1).
Step 2: figure out how to get from ANY of the airport hotels to the Terminal. It looks like the only hotel actually in a terminal is the Sheraton (in Terminal 2). It also looks like the CDGVAL airport transport is wheelchair accessible according to this. In which case I will stay at the Sheraton and take it to terminal 2 in the morning.
*There is also a bus that operates from the Paris Opera (outside the Metro station) every 30 minutes from 5AM-midnight 7 days a week including holidays. It has no other stops. The buses in Paris are wheelchair accessible so I assume this would be too? Have not confirmed. It is about 13 euros a person and you can get a ticket on the bus. It takes 60-90 minutes.
Things of Note:
I have heard this from many sources: ALWAYS say “Bonjour!” to everyone (especially in hotels, restaurants and transit) before saying anything else. You will get much better treatment as not doing so is considered inexcusably rude.
Bathrooms: Public bathrooms are nasty. Always go before leaving the hotel/restaurant/cafe/museum, etc. BUT often bathrooms in cafes and restaurants are down stairs, so this is harder. One tip I got is that McDonalds (which seem to be everywhere) have accessible bathrooms you can use as a customer or if they are being nice and you ask nicely (kind of like Starbucks in the US).