Paris para-athlete urges better transport ahead of Olympics

On the platform of a Paris suburb train station, 25-year-old para-athlete Manel Senni braced for another daily odyssey in her wheelchair to go to basketball practice.

Paris para-athlete urges better transport ahead of Olympics
A person sits in their wheelchair on top of the stairs of a metro station in Paris in 2018 (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

“It should take me 20 minutes to get to training, but… I always leave home an hour before,” said the young Algerian student who was born with spina bifida, a spine condition that means she cannot walk.

With less than 500 days to go until the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games, the plight of para-athletes living in the French capital is shedding light of the limited accessibility of its public transport system.

At the station of Noisy-le-Sec, a first train pulled up, but it was an old model with a 40-centimetre step into the carriage.

“I’d have to call station workers to set up a ramp for me,” she told AFP.

“What I do instead is wait for another train with a floor at the same level as the platform,” though this can mean watching up to three trains come and go.

Finally, a train with a lower carriage floor pulled up on the tracks, and Senni lifted her front wheels slightly to ease herself on board.

“This is one of the easiest trips of my week,” she said.

On other days she is forced to circumvent the entire city, instead of crossing it, to get to another basketball court.

‘Focus on transport’

Two stops later, Senni glided off and easily made her way out of the station. But outside, she discovered her tram had been cancelled due to public works.

“This type of thing happens every day, I’m used to it,” she said with a smile, before wheeling herself to the sports hall instead.

Not far from practice, a stadium was under construction for the summer games next year.

“You can tell that they’re really making an effort to properly host the Paris Games,” she said.

“But it would be great if they could also focus on transport so that disabled people can come to see them.”

Pierre Rabadan, a city official in charge of preparing Paris for the Olympics, said he was well-aware of the challenge.

“We know our network isn’t 100-percent accessible,” he said.

“We know that, due to its age and complexity, even with the best will in the world, we’d struggle to make all stations accessible even in six or seven years.”

Mazes of staircases

While 100 percent of Paris buses are equipped with ramps and most train stations in the suburbs are accessible to wheelchairs, there is still a lot of work to be done in inner-city metro stations.

Inside the city walls, only one metro line — number 14 — has lifts into every station and low-hanging trains speeding up and down the tracks.

In most of the rest of the Paris underground system, mazes of staircases block the way to platforms.

According to the capital’s transport authority, during the Games, passengers in wheelchairs will be able to book places in advance on buses to ferry them from main train stations to sports venues.

Patrice Tripoteau, the director of the France Handicap rights group, says this was a good start.

“It won’t be able to respond to all situations, but it will cover a large part of them,” he said.

“But the measures should be up to the challenges, otherwise a sizeable amount of people will find themselves struggling,” he added.

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Why dental care could cost you more in France from October

You can expect higher dental costs in France from October 1st, unless you have private top-up health insurance. Here's why.

Why dental care could cost you more in France from October

If you are receiving dental care with a public sector, or conventionné, dentist in France, you are currently eligible to have up to 70 percent of fees reimbursed by the French social security system (Assurance maladie). To benefit from this, you will need to be registered in the system, which is best done by acquiring a carte vitale

READ MORE: Healthcare in France: The essential French vocabulary you’ll need if you’re ill

But from October 1st, only around 60 percent of these fees will be reimbursed by the Assurance maladie – a move that the government hopes will save €500 million each year to help a heavily indebted health system. 

If you have a mutuelle (private health insurance), then the rest of the cost (or a large portion of it) will likely be covered by them, although it’s always worth checking in advance.

If you don’t have a mutuelle, you will have to make up the rest of the cost yourself. According to the consumer association, Que Choisir, some 2.5 million French people do not have private health insurance.

Analysts believe that as a result of these reforms, the cost of mutuelles will increase further – with private insurers arguing that they will have greater overheads. The average price of a mutuelle has been projected to rise by 4.7 percent by the end of the year, in part as a result of inflation.

READ MORE: Medical appointments in France to increase in price

Which dentists are covered by social security? 

When booking a dental appointment in France, it is worth looking for dentists who are conventionné. If you are booking through the Doctolib website, which we would highly recommend, you can filter your search to only show dentists with this status. 

A dentist who is conventionné secteur 1 charges the standard tariffs set by the government – for example a simple consultation will cost €23, a hygienist appointment will cost €28.92 and the removal of an adult tooth will cost €33.44.

Currently, if you are covered by social security, 70 percent of these costs will be reimbursed, but this will soon fall to 60 percent. The rest of the costs will likely be covered by a mutuelle, if you have one. 

A dentist who is conventionné secteur 2 will charge slightly more for their services – this can vary from a few euros to hundreds on euros depending on the case. There are obliged to provide this information to you before you undergo treatment.

If you are registered with the French social security system, you will be reimbursed as if you have received treatment from a secteur 1 dentist. In other words, even if you pay more for a consultation with a secteur 2 dentist, the amount of money you will receive from Assurance maladie will be the same for if you had visited a secteur 1 dentist. A good mutuelle should be able to make up the rest of the costs. 

For private, or non-conventionné secteur 3 dentists, you will not be reimbursed through the French social security system. Only a very good mutuelle will cover the entire cost of these treatments.

READ MORE What you need to know about a mutuelle