I received a phone call at the shop this morning. “I’d like to order two pounds of parsnips and some sprouts” said a voice. “Hello, Bette,” I replied – the Sage had put her up to it of course.
She told me that she had explained to our unhappy member that I had confirmed that we could not arrange things as she wanted, but that the lady concerned – let us call her Miss B. – would not accept the situation. Would I phone her, please? Yes, as soon as I’d checked the prices of aubergines and avocados and written up the new (lower) price of tomatoes.
Miss B was really quite difficult. She tried very hard to intimidate me, and accused me several times of discrimination. I was vastly polite, didn’t rise to anything she said, was very regretful – this is true, I’d rather help than hinder any time and I honestly don’t like anyone to be disadvantaged. I am a peacemaker at heart and would rather give in than make trouble on almost every occasion – but I didn’t give an inch.
She changed tack several times, in fact, sometimes saying she could walk and climb steps and sometimes not. She also said she was deaf, and so needed to sit at the front. I said that there is a loop system – but she says she doesn’t care to wear a hearing aid. She heard every word I said, but of course she may have equipment to amplify her telephone receiver.
The theatre in question is a very old building, and there have to be some concessions to that in the facilities that they offer, as it’s a listed building. However, there is wheelchair access, with an automatic door, the controls of which are easily reachable from a wheelchair. It is possible to reach the auditorium without changing levels, there is a disabled lavatory and I think that it complies with regulations. There are six seats that can be removed and two, at least, wheelchairs can be placed there. Obviously, one would have to book them in advance.
Now, the theatre trustees also allow one wheelchair to be taken nearer the front. When we had to evacuate the theatre during a lecture because of a false alarm, we realised that, not only did our member cause a safety hazard because she couldn’t vacate her seat, but that she needed a completely clear aisle to get out of the theatre. Furthermore, the place where there was room for a chair, in front of the side rows of seats, partly blocked the view of the stage if filled by a person in a wheelchair; the chair being higher than a theatre seat – this might not be too bad when there were actors moving about, but would be a considerable annoyance if you were looking at slides on a fixed screen. For those two reasons, our committee decided that, whatever the theatre policy was, we would insist that wheelchair users should use the designated area with removed seats. This would not put people at a disadvantage, as the views and acoustics are good throughout this small theatre, and in fact the back seats fill up far quicker than the unpopular front seats, because you don’t get a crick in your neck (and you can make a quick getaway, important when you are paying £1.30 an hour for parking).
I explained this. She accused me of discrimination. I refuted this and explained the safety hazard. She accused me of discrimination. I refuted it and explained that we want to welcome her to the theatre and are very happy to accept her carer free of charge, but that we have to consider the comfort and safety of other members too.
Then she said that, in an emergency, she could leave by the door at the front of the auditorium. I said that it was too steep for a ramp. She said that she could walk down the stairs. I asked her if she could walk up them too – she said yes. I said that, in that case, we would be very happy for her to sit in the seat of her choice. If she was able to leave her wheelchair at the door, whichever door, and walk in, we would give her any additional help she needed and would be very glad that she could come and enjoy the lecture. She wanted to know why, in that case, we were discriminating against her by not allowing her to bring in her wheelchair.
You think I’m going on a bit here? This is nothing. I promise, nothing. I spent nearly three-quarters of an hour discussing it. I said that I’d raise the matter at committee, if she’d write to me outlining her case; I was telling her the decision made at committee following a similar situation. She said that isn’t much good, when the lecture is tomorrow. I said that she could have asked before, rather than interrupting a committee member’s Sunday lunchtime. This was the only time I sounded a note of criticism.
She said she would resign and wanted her subscription back. I refused. She said we’d taken her money under false pretences. We went through the whole discrimination thing again. I said that, in any case, we’d already paid her capitation fee to the head office. “You’ll just have to be out of pocket, then, won’t you?” she said. I said that we would discuss her individual situation in committee, but that we feel that we have made sufficient arrangements for each member to see and hear the lecture and so that there was no justification for returning her subscription.
In the end, she said she’d like the seats to be taken out, but that she may not come to the lecture, depending on the weather. I said that we would welcome her, and quite understand if she was not able to come – furthermore, if she felt able to walk to her seat then she would be welcome to do that, regardless of the removed seats. I added that I hoped to meet her tomorrow and that I hoped that she would decide to remain a member.
I haven’t mentioned that she said she was going to report me to Head Office – I said that she was more than welcome to, but that each Society is autonomous, that I’d already checked the legality of the situation, and that she would be referred back to me.
I felt annoyed and harrassed at the end. She had wanted to bully me by calling me discriminatory and thought I’d be scared. I am quite indignant at this.
Anyway, afterwards I rang to make arrangements, and then went to have a lovely lunch at Mahsrae Teerts Efac. I had mussels, in a wine, cream and tarragon sauce and a very large glass of wine. Then I went to a music lesson at the High School – I was assisting at rather than participating in the lesson. Then I went back to the shop.
Now, Al and family are home and they have had a lovely time. My shopkeeping duties are over for now, and nothing went wrong. And my sister and I have spent the last hour on the phone together, resulting in near-hysterical laughter, largely because that’s better than crying. Not that we felt like crying, it was more a ‘life’s a bitch and then you die’ scenario.