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We need simpler solutions: France makes it complicated

Alexia Gil, 23, has cerebral palsy and finds life with disabilities a constant struggle. She is determined to make things better for people like her and has a project to create a support website for young people who want to travel and study abroad. 

She has also written to President Macron, urging him to make it easier for people with disabilities to study in further education. “Only 7% of disabled people who start studies end up with a degree, so how are we going to find work?

“I lasted three months at university. The classes were not difficult; but just going to the toilet was, as I can’t go on my own.

“There were helpers but only at set times. It is the simple practicalities that can make life hard and could be solved if somebody listened to our needs.”

She stuck in, however, changed course to do a BTS (Brevet de Technicien Supér­ieur), and is studying at Toulouse IFAG business school and working on her start-up.

“I was offered a place to study literature at Cardiff University, but as I need daily care, physiotherapy three times a week and monthly visits to hospital, it was just too complicated and I had to give up.

“I have been on holidays abroad and I am going to London for the fourth time next week, but each time it takes about six months to organise a trip. It is stressful.

“As well as the medical side, there are practical issues. If your wheelchair has a puncture, where do you go to get it fixed? I would like to create a network of contacts so it is easier for people to organise trips.”

It is early days, but Europe’s Erasmus scheme for young people wanting to study or work abroad has already shown interest.

Alexia finds London easier than France. “Websites for places to visit always have a section for disabled visitors with sensible questions about the degree of your handicap and always have a number to ring.

“If I go to a restaurant or a shop, it seems no problem for them to put a fold-away ramp in place so I can go in. Trains, taxis, buses and planes are easier to access and you don’t have to reserve a special place.

“In France, if I want to go to Paris, I have a seven-hour journey with no access to the dining car and no access to the toilets.

“We make it too complicated in France. What we need are simple solutions to make life easier. Instead of making laws to alter a whole building, why not provide ramps and at least make the ground floor wheelchair-friendly.”

“It is a strange world. I can socialise with a friend by internet in the US, but in Toulouse, the town where I live, I cannot go out with friends to a bar, because they are not wheelchair-friendly.”

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