Whether your goal is to have the romantic time of your life, or to gorge yourself silly, or just to wander and discover tiny streets and massive monuments, most of the world agrees (tourists vote with their feet and currency) that Paris is THE destination. While the early kings named Henri gave that idea some traction in the 1500s, Louis XIV started showcasing the place as a world metropolis in 1670 when he ordered the defensive city walls torn down and the Grands Boulevards built on top of them.
But this isn’t a history lesson, it’s merely preface to say that Paris is an OLD city.
And old cities are tough to retrofit for modern needs. Like those of the disabled. Those tiny, romantic sidewalk cafés with tables barely bigger than the average American's girth, narrow walkways between tables, and Turkish toilets in the underground caves, are useless to people in wheelchairs. And cobblestone streets that can barely be navigated in heels probably PUT people on crutches.
Even the Métro, one of the best in the world, first opened in 1900, long before the advent of disabled access, though the old wooden trains used to have seats set aside for the wounded of both wars. But how, one wonders, did they get into the station? Only the newer stations and lines have anything close to adequate elevators, escalators, and train access.
Paris Play had the privilege Saturday of working with a group of photographers from the Paris Photography Meetup Group to document the yearly gathering at Place Stalingrad of Jaccede.com, a group that works to spotlight and lobby for disabled people to gain the same kind of access that most of us take for granted.
Jaccede isn’t about demonstrations or agitation; it creates a survey of the town and offers an app that tells disabled Parisians (and visitors) which shops, Métro stations, restaurants, streets, etc., are most easily used by people with various kinds of disabilities, from the wheelchair-bound to the blind.
The night is also a social gathering of the disabled in large numbers, for dancing, playing, partying, hanging out with volunteer jugglers, tightrope walkers and clowns, and serves as a gentle reminder to the able-bodied who cut through the Place Stalingrad to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the beautiful Basin Villette that Paris is everybody’s city.
Some memories of that night below, and a celebration of some of the citizens that we might sometimes overlook.