It’s déjà vu all over again, as they say tautologically

You know this society wot I’m chairman of? – a year or so ago, we had a member who resigned in a huff. Thing is, she is disabled and uses a wheelchair. She asked if her carer could accompany her free of charge, which we agreed. She used to get out of her wheelchair and sit in a seat where there was extra legroom. Then the fire alarm went off in the middle of a lecture. The carer started to lift her, a committee member fetched the electric wheelchair – which she didn’t know how to control, so the disabled lady started to get angry with her – and meantime the rest of the row were blocked from leaving the theatre. It was a false alarm, but after that we explained that it was not safe for her to use a seat that she could not get up from, and asked her to remain in her wheelchair. There are two rows of three seats at the back of the theatre that can be removed, and we arranged that this should be done.

The next month, she sat at the back, but in a seat at the end of the central row rather than in the side rows we’d cleared for her. Of course, the other people in the row were stuck again. We explained that this was no help and just made the blockage at the back of the theatre rather than the front. We refrained from saying that one paying person was taking up six seats, because that wasn’t her fault, but we did feel that she wasn’t really co-operating. The theatre is a very old building and, whilst it has full disabled access, it can’t give full accommodation to everyone’s wishes.

After several letters, phone calls and a couple of meetings, she resigned and asked for her money back. We refused, as we’d already paid her capitation fee to the main society and it was her choice not to take up the offer we’d made.

I’ve just had a phone call to say that we’ve another member who wants to do exactly the same thing. Additionally, she wants a ramp to be put at the theatre entrance to the front rows, and seemed unable to understand when it was explained that it wasn’t possible because the steps are too steep. She says she has to sit at the front or she can’t hear. There’s a sound system with an induction loop, however, for people with hearing aids – and the angle from the front row means she can’t see to lipread if the lecturer is behind the lectern, and if not, he or she would be in the dark as only the lectern is lit up – so I think she’s making an excuse there.

Maybe if I had to use a wheelchair it would make me stroppy. I know that disabled access is still limited and that simple, helpful measures are usually not taken. I think that it’s a pity people have to fight for something that should be done without question. But I also think that there are circumstances where one has to make concessions, particularly where other people are affected. I hope she will accept the situation, but if not I’ll do my politely unhelpful thing, because she is not being reasonable.

14 comments on “It’s déjà vu all over again, as they say tautologically

  1. AFC 30K

    I really can see both sides. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that Wifey had an acute stoke which left her paralysed from the neck down for a while.

    Whilst she is now virtually completely recovered there was a time when we were unsure of what level of paralysis would remain. To that end it really makes you see the world through the eyes of those who are less able.

    It is, unfortunatley, a utopia to make the world completely accessable for the disabled. Our new building regulations really do go a long way to help redress the situation, but these only apply to new buildings.

    DDA of old buildings is a case of what is reasonable. I think that both able bodied and disabled must both realise that many things can be don to help the disabled but it is not always practical to make everywhere accessible.

    I’ve you’re done everything that is reasonable then that’s the best you can do, however, if it’s still not possible for the disabled person to enjoy the facility they perhaps shouldn’t have joined in the first place.

  2. Z

    We really did do our best and so did the theatre, and it was for the safety of the other members, her carer, the theatre staff and herself that we said it was not acceptable for her to get out of her wheelchair and sit in a seat. We weren’t just theorising, as there had been a fire alarm that demonstrated how hazardous the situation was.

    I really wanted to think of another solution, but there wasn’t one. She really was very unco-operative and didn’t accept that her wishes shouldn’t override everything else.

    It’s not easy to imagine the predicament of someone who has a disability until you have, or know someone who has, such a problem. Even things such as printing on paper – yellow on blue, for instance – is very hard to see with less than perfect eyesight, and I think there should be much more awareness and help for people. The trouble is, it’s seen as a problem for the old or handicapped and they are people who are not considered a great deal. They are, of course, as important as anyone else, and so is anyone else who has or receives a disability. But it’s still a two-way thing, if one has the mental capacity to understand things from all sides.

  3. Dave

    I agree with everything that has been said, let me say that first of all. However, I have been in other places that have made areas at the back (or way out in the wings) clear for wheelchairs – and in places where everyone else has gone to the front/middle to get a good view, it can feel very much that wheelchair users are being treated as second class, or at the least not getting value for money.

    I realise that in some – particularly older – buildings, there is no other choice.

  4. PI

    Sadly, having a disability does not necessarily go hand in hand with saint like qualities and if you have done all you reasonably can and she won’t accept, it you have to treat her like anybody else who is being unreasonable. It must take enormous patience and I’m sure you make an excellent job of it.

  5. Blue Witch

    How about getting someone from one of the disabled charities to look at the building and seeing if they think that everything that could (and should) be done under the DDA has been done? It would then remove the responsibility for the decision from you/your group, and show that you’re exploring all avenues.

    Better still, ask her to arrange for that person to visit…

  6. The Boy

    Tricky one with no easy answers. Compromise is necessary in any human endevour, and if in her bitterness she can’t see you were trying to be reasonable, c’est la vie.

  7. Ad

    At football matches and other such outdoor venues there are allocated spaces for wheelchair users, these facilities tied into the redevelopment of stadia, as and when other work is scheduled and require the wheelchair users remain seated in their own wheelchair. I think that the disabled users should understand that whilst they do have every human right to participate alongside abled bodied people the contstraints of older amenities will prevent certain aspects of active involvement for them.

  8. Z

    I’ll write an update later – Blue Witch, we only hire the theatre for a morning each month and having the place checked is not something we can do. But I’ll bend your ears later and tell you all about it. I spent half the morning on the phone and was glad I’d planned lunch out as a treat afterwards!

  9. Blue Witch

    Ah, but, anyone can ask for any building to be inspected under the DDA. One of the disabled charities would know the mechanism for this.

    I only found this out because I bumped into such an inspector in a (n independent) school just before the FOTCR™.
    No idea where they came from though, but I know the trustees were none too happy by the amount of money it cost them to bring the building up to his recommendations…

    I’ve had lots of dealings with people over the years relating to this sort of thing (largely parents fighting for their disabled kids needs) and I’ve often thought that they were doing things excessively just to make a point, because they felt they had no other way of expressing frustration/control.

  10. Z

    I appreciate that we could do it, but we can see that their arrangements are reasonable – we’ve no argument with them and they have complied with the Act as far as possible, considering that they are dealing with a building that is several hundred years old.

    The area in question is one where people do choose to sit – actually, where the lady would like to go, in the front row, is the least popular row as you have to crane your neck to see the screen.

  11. Dandelion

    Listed building then, is it?

    I’m just going to stick my neck out here and hazard a guess that the poor disabled lady probably doesn’t know that the front row is not the best place to sit, seeing as she’s never been able to sit in it…

    FWIW, I think you’d be perfectly justified in telling her to push off (geddit?). There’s no pleasing some people, and short of making her able-bodied again, it’s hard to see what more you can reasonably be expected to do.

    I do think the world would be a poorer place if everything were limited to the lowest common denominator. Hey, we might not even have invented the wheel…

  12. stairlifts

    You might want to take a look at this unique wheelchair lift system The System is imbedded into a staircase turning it into a retracting set of stairs that reveal a platform lift / disabled lift for wheelchair access. These stairs can be clad in the same existing material or whatever material required, from carpet to marble. Internal/External access, perfect even for listed buildings.


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