We will be in France in May-June, 2015. Is anyone aware of accessibility concerns or tips to avoid same in France in general and in Paris in particular? We will be going with someone who may have a need for a wheelchair or other aid for short periods.
The smaller hotels, I.e., budget, may not have elevators so assure yourselves of that when you choose a hotel. The metro stations in Paris are difficult for people with mobility problems and doubly so for anyone in a wheelchair. The good news is that the buses are great, accessible with a wheelchair and have a centre space for parking of prams and wheelchairs. The buses also " kneel" if you understand what I mean, so that there is not a high step onto the bus.
Some restaurant toilets may present a problem as they are often down a narrow and steep staircase, so something to consider if urgency presents itself. Museums usually have an elevator hidden away somewhere so you need to seek it out. The Arc de Triomphe has an elevator for the elderly and infirm but there are still some steps to negotiate at the top.
If you'll be taking a train, you can generally pre-book for free boarding assistance. See http://www.sncf.com/en/passengers, then Passenger Services, then Disability Access.
Try for the “Prems” rate TGV tickets through SNCF (cheap, reserved, nonrefundable, available three or four months ahead of your travel date) to print at home and pay with PayPal. It does not tend to work with US credit cards, unless you have an extra level of security set up.
I definitely suggest looking into boarding assistance at railway stations, as platforms are low and there are generally around three steep steps into the railway carriage on long-distance trains. Newer trains on local services are sometimes low-floor.
PS: The main sight in Paris that should probably be avoided is the Sainte Chapelle, which is only accessible by steep and narrow spiral staircases.
Of all the hotels in Paris that I am familiar with, I can think of only one that had one or two steps before entering the building. One or two had stairways. The rest had no steps entering the building. Pair that with elevator access to your room and you have accessibility. Rooms with wide doorways may be available. I don't know about that.
If you check booking.com, the hotel descriptions may show disability access for some rooms. I would still check on elevators and whether there are stairs.
We were in Paris several years ago and at that time I was having accessibility problems. We located a hotel with an elevator. The bus stop was only a couple blocks from our hotel. I did have a cane with me that had a fold down seat and several times I was told to come to the front of a line...if you can believe that! Also, in several of the museums we did ask about an elevator instead of stairs and we were lead to one. It all worked quite well.
You say you will be going with someone who "may need a wheelchair or other aid for short periods", so I assume that person does not rely on wheelchair all the time? We were in France (and Paris) and decided to rent a transport wheelchair from a business near our home to take with us. It was a wheelchair that folded up rather small, was about 20 lbs, and had to be pushed by someone other the person in the chair (transport chair with all four small wheels) That was perfect fit for us. Our daughter has cerebral palsy, walks just fine short distances but needs assistance for long distance. Typically she would train before we go and she generally does fine, but this last year she ended up with a hair line fracture in her foot just a few weeks before we left.
We set up assistance in the airport - awesome! They took us straight through customs (had our own private customs officer in a back room) and dashed us straight to pick up our luggage. Many museums saw us coming and took us straight to the front of the line, even had bathroom stalls not being used because they were "for the disabled". We had cars stop to let us go by even on their green light, etc. just all over very accommodating people. We had planned to use the buses, but we got frustrated with them and decided to take the metro. Hubby just lifted the chair over the turnstile and daughter could walk short distances and stairs, so we were fine taking the metro. It was a little difficult by lifting the chair up high over the turnstile, and up and down the stairs, but since daughter could walk ok through those areas, that made it all very doable. But, hubby got tired!
Even in St. Chapelle and other areas of stairs, we were able to leave the chair, enjoy the short walk or stairs, then return to the chair again. It sure made it easier that our daughter could walk some, but still needed the chair for longer distances.
Our experience was that the French were very accommodating to disabled people. They went out of their way to help us, most of them anyway. Yes, we were still almost run down by cars, but some even stopped for us. We even had a private tour at Versailles because their elevators are behind some back rooms. Daughter LOVED that! Even though she didn't love sitting low and feeling different, she finally got use to it and started to enjoy the special privileges that come with the experience.
We did decide to take a taxi from the airport to make it easier to get so much stuff to where we were going. We never do that! But in this case it was a good idea and make it easy. And, we were happy to have it because without it we would have been very slow moving. This allowed us to move more quickly. We bought museum passes, but I do think we could have gotten in for free if we hadn't. I didn't want to worry about that so we just bought them.
If you can, get a lightweight transport chair, it will make it easier for you and it may give you more flexibility.
I spent 2 weeks in France with my 87yo mother this past October. She uses a wheelchair in airports and a folding cane for walking anything more than a block or so [but not around the house, for example]. We also brought one of those canes that has a mini-seat that folds down. Most of our trip was in the Loire valley, to see chateaux. I was really surprised at how easy it was. In October there were essentially no lines at any of the sights we visited [this likely will not be true in May-June...]; we had brought the seat-cane so Mom could sit during long lines and never needed it for that. Also surprised at how many of the chateaux and other sights had benches in many rooms, so Mom was always able to sit down when she needed a break. We had brought her handicapped parking hangtag, which let us park in handicapped spots close to our desired sights. She often got into chateaux free, and sometimes I, as her assistant, was also free; they did ask for her card a few times and I explained that all we had was the hangtag in the car. One more look at my white-haired mom leaning on her cane was generally enough to get the free entry, though I did use a smartphone photo of the handicapped hangtag in one place, which seemed to satisfy them.
I'm sorry that I have no info for Paris; Mom doesn't like cities so we didn't set foot there. At the end of our trip we flew into CDG from Scotland and spent one night at an airport hotel before returning to the US. If your friend uses a wheelchair in the airport, be aware that at CDG Mom [and we, her travelling companions] got a free private shuttle direct to our lodging and a free pickup the next morning to return us to CDG; perhaps not very useful if you are heading straight into Paris, but if you have a night at the airport it could be very nice.
Have a great trip!