Why can’t wheelchair users expect to sit with their friends and family?
I never thought I’d say this, but: I’m jealous of people who can walk properly. I don’t mean I’m envious of the functional bones and joints themselves, I long ago made peace with my own musculoskeletal system. I’m jealous that walkies can purchase tickets for the Paralympics via the website rather than having to spend half an hour on hold listening to the mascot’s song over, and over, and over again. When you’re booking your tickets online quickly and simply; spare a thought for the poor disableds suffering from “who knows how far you can go, when you travel on a rainbow?”
You would think that when we’re talking about the Paralympics – a huge spectacle of what disabled athletes can achieve – that disabled people could expect equality in the booking system. Seemingly not. Given that you’re only able to book wheelchair spaces by phone that leaves deaf wheelchair users with a huge problem.
LOCOG seems to have forged a very specific notion of what wheelchair users are and are not. If you deviate from their ideal then there’s no Paralympic tickets for you. That all wheelchair users can hear perfectly and have nothing better do to with their day than sit listening to hold music aren’t Coe and Co’s only misjudgements.
Two stories have hit the news in the last few days about disabled parents being told that they’re not allowed to sit with their children at the games, placing them in an impossible situation. First came Beth Davis-Hofbauer’s petition on change.org after she was told that she couldn’t sit with her four year-old and nineteen month-old children because she uses a wheelchair. Her story was quickly followed by that of Melissa Chapin who was told that she couldn’t sit with her eight year-old twins. While trying to straighten the mess out Melissa had it implied that she’s not adult enough to care for her children because she’s disabled. Lovely bit of prejudice there from the sales agent. Thank goodness she decided to work in a call centre rather than as a social worker.
LOCOG seem to be under the impression that disabled people can’t possibly have families. We’re all single, childless, friendless people.
The fundamental flaw in LOCOG’s seating design is the assumption that all wheelchair users want to sit in groups of other wheelies. Yes you need some big blocks of accessible seating for wheelchair using families, couples and groups of friends but you also need the odd wheelchair space scattered among the mainstream seating so a wheelchair using mum can sit with her non-wheelchair using husband and kids or someone can sit with a large group of non disabled friends. It’s a common problem you see in most venues of this type: that wheelies are lumped together. But in a world where we’re inching towards integration, the seating at such a prominent event should offer integration too.
The UK does still have a long way to go before we’re a fully inclusive society – just take a walk along your local high street and count the number of shops with steps at the door. An alternative exercise would be to flick through a newspaper and count the number of time you read words like “nutter” and “insane”; abusive language towards people with mental health problems. But the sad fact is that despite all our failings we are still one of the most inclusive countries in the world.
With a disability-focussed eye on London over the next few weeks we should be showing the rest of the world how to do inclusion and how to do it well. Our Paralympic legacy should be that we inspire other countries to improve their access and attitudes towards disabled people. With the games heading towards being the first sell out Paralympics in history we’re showing the world that us Brits are just as impressed by the achievements of elite disabled people as their non-disabled counterparts. But we’re also showing the world that we’re unequal as the only way a regular Joe disabled person can sit with their family at a major event is to turn to the press and kick up a fuss. It seems we can’t just do inclusion outright.Tagged in: Beth Davis-Hofbauer, disability, inclusion, integration, Locog, Melissa Chapin, olympics, paralympics, tickets, wheelchair user
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