Paris an 'obstacle course' for the wheelchair-bound
DAMIEN Birambeau has spent most of his life in a wheelchair - and, for most of that time, he has had trouble getting around Paris, his home town.
Despite being one of the world's top tourist destinations, the French capital is a veritable obstacle course for people in wheelchairs.
Compared to London, where one in four Underground stations has step-free access, Paris lags far behind.
"Some people just abandon the idea of going out," said the 43-year-old Birambeau whose start-up helps people locate accessible sites and businesses.
Of the city's 16 Metro lines, only line 14 - the newest one, opened in 1998 - is completely accessible with lifts and step-free access.
The city's transport authority RATP says the situation is better with buses and trains.
"All the buses in Paris are accessible, meaning 70 per cent of their stops are accessible for people in a wheelchair," Marie Christine Raoult, its accessibility specialist, told Agence France-Presse.
Paris' many old historic buildings pose daunting architectural challenges to efforts to render them accessible.
But since the 1970s, the government has taken note.
In February 2005, it passed a law guaranteeing rights for the disabled, who today make up nearly one-fifth of France's 65 million residents.
And while the situation has improved - with specially adapted public toilets, handicapped parking places and an official, multilingual website listing parks, theatres, cinemas, stores, swimming pools and other accessible city facilities - progress has been slow.
The 2005 law led to requirements for businesses to make their premises more accessible, said Paris-based disability lawyer Alexandra Grevin.
Firms were given 10 years - until 2015 - to submit their accessibility plans, he noted, and then another three years to implement them, installing ramps and other physical adaptations.
Yet, "nine out of 10 shops are not accessible", said Charlotte de Vilmorin, founder of Wheeliz, a Paris-based organisation that helps people find adapted vehicles around France.