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.