The opening ceremony for the Paralympics will be held on Wednesday in London. On Monday, cyclist Simon Richardson, who is unable to compete after a drunk driver knocked him off his bike while he was training last summer, lit the last cauldron in Cardiff in south Wales. Richardson had won two golds and one silver medal at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 and he has vowed to return to compete. Being able to light the cauldron was, he said, “the next best thing.”
But even before the Paralympic games have gotten started, individuals with disabilities are being made to feel like second-class citizens.
The same company, Locog, that ran the Olympics is running the Paralympics. Controversy erupted early in the Olympics when, as television footage quite revealed, there were rows on rows of empty seats, even for popular events.
Individuals with disabilities seeking to book wheelchair tickets for the Paralympics or to find out their availability have been told they can only do so using a business rate (0844) phone line, says the Independent. In contrast, individuals without disabilities have been able to buy their tickets online from Locog and without incurring extra fees.
Former Labour Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe says that such an arrangement is “discrimination,” says the BBC. Alex Rankin, of the disability charity Aspire, tells the Daily Mail that it could be “in breach of the Equality Act.” Many have expressed “outrage,” especially after being kept on hold for a long time, only to be told that no seats are available. A Facebook campaign group, “Stop the Olympics from discriminating against wheelchair users!” has been created that has nearly 900 members.
Indeed, wheelchair tickets were sold online and through dedicated phone lines without additional costs for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, says the Daily Mail.
Nicola Carlin, whose 5-year-old son has cerebral palsy and must use a wheelchair and who described herself as “desperate to get tickets,” told the Independent that she “called the ticket hotline more than 20 times on her Orange mobile phone, which charges 40p per minute”; she was sometimes put on hold for an hour. She was able, eventually, to purchase tickets but says “the Paralympics, of all occasions, should be making it easier for disabled people to enjoy sport, not putting up barriers such as this.”
Sarah Bard, who uses a wheelchair, decided to give up on buying tickets after long waits on her specially adapted mobile phone. As she says:
“My able-bodied friends can go online and check availability, see when the latest seats become available and buy them with no added charges.
“Wheelchair users, meanwhile, get left with only one option and that costs us extra money.”
It indeed is something near the height of irony that an event in which athletes with disabilities are participating has a discriminatory ticket policy towards individuals with disabilities.
Locog claims that its ticketing process is “inclusive and accessible.” But you have to wonder how great, or not, Locog’s efforts were to make its ticketing process one that (as it says on its website) enables “people of all abilities [to] purchase tickets easily.” Were a number of individuals with disabilities — who know what it’s like to not be able to get into a building for an event or appointment because there’s no ramp or accommodations — consulted to create facilities according to universal design, not to mention the ticketing process?
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