Anyone who has been following the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games preparations from a disability angle will probably already be aware that wheelchair users wishing to attend the event will automatically be able to have a companion with them free of charge. This is not the case for other disabled people who, it seems, will have to apply for a companion ticket once they know if they have been successful in the ballot. Depending on the popularity of the event, no guarantee can be given that they will actually get a companion ticket. So, it could be the case that a disabled person could end up with a ticket, no companion ticket, and therefore be unable to visit the event. The only way to ensure that a companion can be guaranteed a seat is to buy a second ticket at full price.
A lot of non wheelchair using disabled people have been up in arms about this. To me the Olympic games seems such an out of reach event that I haven’t really got involved with this particular battle. However, I have found a second venue this week who have a similar policy.
I was looking on the web site for Birmingham Town Hall last night with a view to buying some tickets for a concert. There was a section for disabled visitors so I thought I’d have a look to see if I could get any concession for a companion. It would appear that I can’t. It states that a 50% concession is available for wheelchair users who need a companion, but it was clarified on the phone that this is only available for wheelchair users.
This got me thinking. Most venues now, by law are required to be accessible to disabled people. Most venues have lifts or ramped access, designated wheelchair spaces and accessible toilets. I’m not for one minute suggesting that these places have got it right, far from it, as I have heard many horror stories from wheelchair users who have been met with accessibility barriers. I am therefore in no way arguing against the discount for companions of wheelchair users and am very glad that they are in place.
But why only for wheelchair users? Can these policy makers not think beyond whether someone can put one foot in front of another and walk?
Imagine this. You arrive at a venue, walk through the doors and are met with a big foyer area with people milling around. Oh I forgot to say, you can’t see anything, or what you can see is blurry and indistinct. There may be tactile signage, but more often than not there isn’t. Even if there were, where would you start to look for it, you could be there all day! Like most visitors on arrival, you wish to use the toilet, buy a drink and then find your seat. So you stand and listen for the sound of, say, a till or a ticket barrier. You don’t hear anything that gives you any clues and you’re starting to get a bit fed up of people jostling you as they pass. So, you try to engage one of the jostlers into helping you find a member of staff. But they have their own agenda. They too wish to use the toilet, buy a drink and find their seats and they don’t want to be encumbered by some random blind person. You’re invisible. Of course, there are always kind people who will see your predicament and offer you help and eventually you get what you need. By the time you reach your seat however, you probably feel like you’ve been through the wringer. Although you ask for a member of staff to come back to you at the interval and at the end of the show, they may, or they may not, so you could be faced with the same situation in reverse at the end of the evening.
I know for a fact that there are many blind and partially sighted people who would not put themselves in that position. So, unless they have a friend or family member who wants to attend the same event, find it easier not to go.
Why therefore, are blind people and people with other disabilities prevented from buying a discounted companion ticket? I hope this policy of separating out wheelchair users from other disabled people isn’t something we can look forward to more of.