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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
A wheelchair tale of two cities
By Charis Dunn-Chan

Louvre entrance
The Louvre boasts good toilets: Some call it the "Loovre"
Holidays for people with reduced mobility need excellent planning.

Handbags can become dangerous weapons if owners swing past unexpectedly when you are in a wheelchair.

So my mother Joan's spring holiday in Paris was sometimes less about art, cafes and cherry blossom, and more about avoiding the handbags.

I've found that it's best to use a travel agent and pre-book wheelchair access and help for your journey than just booking the trip online.

Eurostar provides excellent help for disabled people, so these trains are an ideal way to travel. Previously, a flight from London to Nice had been exhausting for my disabled mother.

The careful planning continues when you get to Paris, as restaurant and opera critic Stephen Mudge points out.

"Public transport remains difficult, with very few customers taking advantage of the wheelchair-accessible buses, which are not easy to use," he says.

Taxi lottery

The metro has only a few wheelchair-friendly stations, he notes, so taxis are often the only option.

Disabled parking space
Wheelchair users praise disability policy in London
"But we have suffered with taxis literally driving past rather than being bothered with a wheelchair," he complains.

Unlike London, in Paris there are no easily hailed disability-adapted cabs, so you just have to look out for spacious taxis.

That said, the taxi drivers we met were unfailingly helpful in lifting the wheelchair in and out of their cars.

Parisian buildings present a mixed picture for disabled people.

There are strict rules on providing disabled access to all newly-built venues. But older buildings are not required to make adjustments for wheelchair users.

Alison Culliford, author of the guide book Night and Day Paris, says that often the rules are meant to preserve the original state of buildings - meaning that lifts cannot be installed.

But my mother had only praise for the modernised Louvre and Musee d'Orsay in their accessibility and hospitality.

Modern comforts

Disabled visitors and their carers are given free access and immediate entry to exhibitions in Paris.

The London negatives are decreasing rapidly, especially with the Olympics coming
Jonathan Rhodes
Wheelchair user

As we enjoyed a close-up view of the Mona Lisa, avoiding a large queue, my mother remarked: "I think my disability has become a huge asset in Paris".

The Louvre has another advantage, as wheelchair user Jonathan Rhodes, a retired theatre producer and regular traveller to Paris, points out.

"Finding a loo for the disabled is almost impossible and one has to use big department stores or the ones in the Louvre."

We faced more challenges outside. The Left Bank pavements were a nightmare - narrow and choked by badly parked cars.

But the main boulevards and parks were fine for bowling along in a chaise roulante (wheelchair).

London's advantages

Back in London we found the taxi situation to be better than in Paris, with a fleet of adapted taxis easily available throughout the day.

In the UK there are also more rigorous guidelines on older buildings being adapted to wheelchair access.

Museums in London also offer great help to those arriving in wheelchairs and the Royal Academy has free disabled parking in its courtyard, provided you book in advance.

Unlike in Paris galleries, disabled visitors to the RA do pay - albeit at a slightly reduced rate. But a helper is provided for disabled people.

London's congestion charge for the city centre is waived if you are disabled.

Jonathan Rhodes says that "while cinemas in wheelchairs are not good, London theatres are mostly very good and give discounted rates".

"So the London negatives are decreasing rapidly, especially with the Olympics coming."

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