Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Disabled people upset when British town builds new theatre restaurant with no wheelchair access

From News Shopper in Dartford, UK:

Anger over a theatre’s decision to build a restaurant with no disabled access is still mounting a year on, after two wheelchair-users say they were made to feel “like second class citizens”.

Wayne Lovegrove and Noel McTigue watched Stand Up and be Counted at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, but could not access either of the theatre’s bars after one was reserved for VIPs, with no lift to the upstairs restaurant.

Sarah McTigue, of Newmarsh Road, Thamesmead, whose husband was born with cerebral palsy, said: “I got told it’s my ‘problem’ and that really offended me - I don’t see my husband as a ‘problem’.

“I wanted to go home and get a refund. It was us that paid for the tickets, not the business guests, so why should we be treated like that? We felt like we had inconvenienced them.”

Spina bifida sufferer Mr Lovegrove, 49, of Kenwood Road, Eltham, was given the tickets as an early birthday present. He said: “It’s a bit unfair when we’re not allowed to go into all the areas others can. It makes you feel like a second class citizen. We just want to be treated normally.”

The incident comes a year after wheelchair-bound Wayne Evans, 59, told News Shopper he would sue the theatre for building a restaurant which ignored the Disability Act.

Grandfather-of-two Mr Evans, who was left paralysed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident six years ago, said: “I went through it all in great detail with them and said ‘you spent all this money on the restaurant but didn’t anybody give any thought to people in wheelchairs?’ Because we’d like to have a meal like anybody else.”

Mr Evans believes it would be easy to implement a small platform lift for wheelchair-users to reach raised levels, and says the restaurant’s lack of access contrasts with the theatre’s good parking facilities and good access into the main building.

He added: “It just seems mad! My wife and I constantly struggle with restaurants - we simply won’t go if it’s got a step.”

Mr Evans, who recently moved from Joydens Wood to Croydon, was due to attend Orchard Theatre’s disabled forum last year, but was unable to attend.

He said he will continue to pursue legal action if the issues are not addressed.

Andrew Hills, theatre manager at the Orchard, said that the downstairs bar had to be used as a member of the press had highlighted their own access problems.

Mr Hills said: “The problem we encountered was one of the people had access requirements.

“I wrote back to the complaint and said we try to meet everybody’s requirements here. Our aim wasn’t to discriminate against anybody.”

Mr Hills accepts that the restaurant does not have adequate access, and added: “We need to respond to those needs and we are looking at that. We don’t have any concrete plans but we are in discussions over how to make it more accessible.”