Help on hand for disabled travellers
What help is available for disabled travellers?
A shock advertising campaign in December 2015 exposed the difficulties disabled people have in their daily lives.
It highlighted demeaning attitudes such as that disabled people took up too much space on the Metro or that they should live on the ground floor rather than improving lifts.
Charity Adapt said 17% of French people have a disability but access is too often poor, especially when travelling.
Things have been improving and here we look at some options for disabled travellers.
On the train
Wheelchair users or those with a disabled person’s card can ask for help getting on or off the train and making connections.
This should be requested at least 48 hours before the trip.
Called Accès Plus on the long-distance network (TGV, Intercités, Thalys...) it can be booked on 08 90 64 06 50 (12c/min on a landline), by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by logging on to voyages-sncf.com/services/acces-plus
Where help is not available at a station the SNCF should offer an alternative mode of transport to get to your destination.
A similar service is offered on the local TER network, but not in all regions. See accessibilite.sncf.com/gares-et-services/services-adaptes/ and click Accès TER.
Each region has its own contact details.
For the Ile-de-France Transilien service call 09 70 82 41 42 (local call cost) or email email@example.com
Domicile-Train is an SNCF service offering transport from home to the station, taking up to three bags and a pet, including accompaniment to the train, helping you to your place and stowing bags. It is from €19.99/hour plus 0.42/km. Details: 08 11 65 46 53.
The similar Baggages à domicile service (08 90 64 06 50) collects bags from the train and delivers them to an address (allow 24 hours), for €38 for the first bag then €20.
Charity Compagnons du Voyage offers volunteers who can transport disabled people, for example from a station to another destination (at a fee). See compagnons.com or call 01 58 76 08 33
On the plane
In theory any disabled person on a flight to, from, or via an EU airport (or one in Norway, Iceland or Switzerland) should benefit from free assistance on request – at all stages from arrival at the airport to getting on and off the plane and to the exit of the destination airport.
You should be able to take up to two items of mobility equipment (eg. a manual and electric wheelchair) and any medical equipment you may need.
However if you would not be able to escape the plane on your own in an emergency the travel firm can ask that you do not travel alone.
Usually if you use a wheelchair you will be able to use it up to the plane’s doors. Staff will then usually stow it directly in the hold and escort you to your seat using a special chair.
If you want help, all the main firms (eg. easyJet, Ryanair, BA, Air France...) say you should be sure to notify the company at least 48 hours before flying.
At easyJet, for example, it suggests notifying them by:
- While booking, click the “Special needs and access requirements request” option and fill in relevant sections, or
- Once booked, find your reservation on the website then click “Your itinerary” at the bottom right of the page, then choose “Specific needs and access requirements” and select “Special Service Request”.
- Do so at least 48 hours before and they will ensure you have the help you need at the airport, it says.
People likely to need a companion include those with severe learning disabilities, those both blind and deaf, or those who are unable to move to an exit without assistance.
If you fly often, ask the airline medical service for a ‘Fremec’ card (Frequent Traveller Medical Card) which is valid for five years and recognised by all members of the world travel industry body IATA. You will need a doctor’s note to apply.
You may get benefits such as, on Air France flights, a disabled person and companion can have reduced price tickets on flights within France.
Some companies also have their own cards with benefits to disabled travellers: holders of an Air France Saphir card can use their card number on booking, letting the company access data on their needs to get priority boarding, a personal greeting and help on board.
On long-distance coaches
There are more and more options for coach travel in France and in theory EU rules say disabled people should be able to use them without discrimination or surchages.
However, not all companies have wheelchair-adapted coaches, but this is expected to improve. Starshipper, notably, said its coaches would all shortly be fully accessible.
Isilines also promised it would have 60 by the start of 2016.
On other transport:
- wheeliz.com/en is for peerto-peer car rental of accessible vehicles
- Taxis G7 (taxisg7.fr or tel: 3607 in France), operates across much of France, and has many cars with wheelchair ramps. Associations synergihp.fr and ulysse-transport.fr also offer car services for transporting people with disabilities