A disabled mother has been told she cannot sit with her family at the upcoming London 2012 Paralympics. Melissa Chapin, 43, from Milton Keynes, booked tickets for events over two days at the Excel Centre for herself, another disabled friend and her children, aged 8.
She was successful in obtaining tickets last September for 2 wheelchair users, 2 carers and 2 children to see the Sitting Volleyball at the Excel Arena, with day passes to attend other general admission events including Boccia, Table Tennis and Powerlifting.
When the tickets arrived by post in February, Melissa began making travel plans immediately, using the official London 2012 website as her guide. “I was really thorough but knew I would need to be flexible too. It's an unprecedented event, the largest ever Paralympics, and I wasn't sure how the disabled access and transport would pan out. I needn't have worried. I've heard they're top-notch.”
However, things changed suddenly yesterday, when Blottr reported how Beth Davis-Hofbauer, a wheelchair user who was to attend the Paralympic Games, was told she would not be able to sit with her family. Mrs Davis-Hofbauer started a petition on the campaigning website Change.org regarding wheelchair tickets and seating provision for families at the Games. When Melissa received this petition, she knew she would face the same problem.
On the petition, Beth wrote “Naturally [our family] wanted to sit together and, particularly as it’s the Paralympics, I assumed there would be adequate provision for this to happen. I was stunned to hear that there … is a policy that wheelchair users can only be accompanied by one other person.”
Unfortunately for Melissa, this means her 8-year old twins would have to sit in a different section, without her. She contacted London 2012 to clarify.
“When I spoke to the ticketing agent on the phone, I was told, 'You weren't supposed to be sold those tickets, I don't know who sold them to you.' I explained I had purchased them myself via the website last September and had already received the tickets by post. The agent responded that I should never have been sold the tickets as the children can't go in without an adult. I explained to her that I AM an adult, and she had to backtrack and admit she meant a non-disabled adult.”
Shocked by the conversation she had had with the agent, Melissa contacted the Editor/founder of Disability News Service, John Pring [who follows disability-related trends in media professionally]. He explained that LOCOG had stopped selling wheelchair tickets online from last November and had set up a phone line-only system. Had they realised their error?
“I actually think I was one of the 'lucky' ones,” says Melissa. Our situation highlights an important issue, namely that planners in this case, but also society generally, haven't considered that disabled spectators might have children, spouses and friends who are not their carers.”
“Most of us don't fit the 'scrounger' or 'shut-in' stereotypes”, she continues. “A full 50% of wheelchair users have jobs. But with all the controversy and negativity around at the moment, no one wants to put their head above the wall to speak out. And who can blame them?”
Melissa is hopeful. “We still have two weeks left to address the situation. As far as I'm concerned, it's my children who have the most to gain or lose. They shouldn't be penalised just because their mummy happens to sit on wheels. Here is an opportunity for LOCOG to come out and make a statement about the important place of disabled parents in society. They've gotten so much else right,” she adds, “and they have Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on board, a disabled parent herself. These situations are a custom fit for her expertise. I reckon she and the Games organisers will be going for gold.”