As confusion grows over Paralympic seating for wheelchair users, a disabled mother calls for change after being told she may have to sit separately from her two young children.
Melissa Chapin [pictured] was told that her children cannot be guaranteed seats next to her at some Paralympic events because she is in a wheelchair.
A Locog ticket agent also said that her children should not have been sold tickets without an accompanying adult, Ms Chapin told Channel 4 News. “I explained to her that I am an adult, and she had to backtrack and admit she meant a non-disabled adult.”
Locog’s aim to make the Olympic and Paralympic Games the most “accessible and inclusive ever” has been well publicised, and it says it exceeded the usual number of wheelchair space provision in other UK sports venues.
However, there is growing concern that this is not enough, with politicians such as John Prescott joining the debate: “Come on @sebcoe. Let’s allow families with disabled parents enjoy the Paralympics together,” he tweeted.
And Ms Chapin is not the only wheelchair user to have had problems with Paralympic ticketing. Beth Davis-Hofbauer [pictured below], a mother of two who uses a wheelchair, also says she was told she would not be able to sit with her children when she tried to get tickets this week.
She says the Locog ticket office told her there is a policy that wheelchair users can only be accompanied by one other person – something Locog denies. Ms Davis-Hofbauer booked four tickets but was told only one person could accompany her in the wheelchair area. Her husband is her carer, and her four-year-old autistic son and 19-month-old daughter are also attending the event.
I explained to her that I am an adult, and she had to backtrack and admit she meant a non-disabled adult. Melissa Chapin
She launched a Change.org petition, urging organisers to change their policy, which now has almost 25,000 signatures.
A Locog spokesperson said the availability for all spectators – including wheelchair users – was now an issue as some events are selling out in the weeks approaching the Games, meaning that tickets together are more difficult to obtain. More than 2.1 million tickets have already been sold for the Paralympics.
Q and A: How to get Paralympic tickets
Ms Chapin bought tickets for herself and her carer, as well as her eight-year-old twins last September.
They are hoping to attend sitting volleyball at the ExCel arena and have day passes to attend other general admission events, including boccia, table tennis and powerlifting.
“This is about the kids. They’ve been looking forward to this for over a year. They shouldn’t be penalised just because their mummy happens to sit on wheels,” she said.
Despite the confusion, a Locog spokesperson said the sitting volleyball tickets Ms Chapin purchased are not allocated, so are made available on a first come first served basis.
“As we have designed our venues such that accessible seating will be located around the new venues at different price points, this means that wheelchair users will be able sit with their friends and families rather than in a separate designated area,” he told Channel 4 News. “Children can be accompanied by any responsible adult, whether a wheelchair user or otherwise.”
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. Melissa Chapin
Ms Chapin said she is now confident about volleyball seating. “But my concern is the other open events,” she said.
“I don’t think as a wheelchair users will be able to roll in to any event and be able to sit with my children. And I’m worried for people who don’t have tickets yet.
“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,” she told Channel 4 News. “It’s not Locog’s fault – you don’t know what disabled people need unless you ask them.”
In addition to wheelchair users’ difficulty in securing seats next to their family members, they have been forced to book tickets via telephone, rather than online.
Locog stopped selling wheelchair tickets online last November, and users now have to call up an 0844 number. Locog said this was because of a “separate quota” for wheelchair tickets, and the Disability News Service reports that some users have been put on hold and forced to put up with greater inconvenience as a result.
Ms Chapin says she was “one of the lucky ones” in booking her tickets in September.