Paralympic Games: Row erupts over tickets for wheelchair users

 

The organisers of the Paralympic Games have been accused of discriminating against the disabled by making wheelchair users book tickets for events via business rate phone lines.

Those trying to book wheelchair tickets or check their availability can only do so by calling an 0844 number costing up to 41p a minute, while able-bodied people can buy their tickets online from organiser Locog without incurring extra costs.

The arrangements have caused outrage among some disabled people who say they have been kept on hold for long periods of time running up large bills before being told there are no seats available.

Many have complained about the situation on blogs and social networks with a Facebook campaign group called "Stop the Olympics from discriminating against wheelchair users!" attracting close to 700 members.

The London 2012 website has a specific section for disabled people wanting to buy tickets to the Paralympics, which start on Wednesday.

It says: "If you require a wheelchair space, you will be able to purchase one, subject to availability, by calling 0844 847 2012."

According to communications regulator Ofcom, 0844 calls are charged between 1p and 13p per minute for landline customers. Calls from mobile phones are typically charged between 15p and 41p per minute, depending on the network provider.

Nicola Carlin said she called the ticket hotline more than 20 times on her Orange mobile phone, which charges 40p per minute, and on some occasions spent up to half an hour on hold.

The children's nurse, whose disabled five-year-old Matthew suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, told the Daily Mail: "I can't understand why the organisers made it so difficult for people like us to get tickets.

"There's no mention on the phone line of how much it costs, and people like me who have been desperate to get tickets would have held on for ages."

The 31-year-old, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, eventually got through, but added: "The Paralympics, of all occasions, should be making it easier for disabled people to enjoy sport, not putting up barriers such as this."

Wheelchair user Sarah Bard, 32, said she called the hotline from her specially adapted mobile phone six times and was each time put on hold for up to 15 minutes. She has now given up attempting to buy tickets.

Ms Bard, from Nottingham, said: "It is discriminatory towards the disabled.

"My able-bodied friends can go online and check availability, see when the latest seats become available and buy them with no added charges.

"Wheelchair users, meanwhile, get left with only one option and that costs us extra money."

People have also criticised Locog's policy that states wheelchair users can only be accompanied by one other person per ticket.

An online petition has been set up by Beth Davis-Hofbauer calling for the rules to be changed and has attracted nearly 40,000 signatures.

The disabled mother-of-two said she wanted to sit with all of her family but was stunned to find out it was not possible.

"I cannot believe that this event, designed to inspire a new generation of athletes, has a discriminatory ticketing policy," she added.

"It's essential that my husband sits with me as he helps me with things I need to do and clearly my kids can't sit separately.

"Quite apart from these practical considerations, I want to share this special occasion with my family, but I'm being prevented from doing so just because I am in a wheelchair."

On its website, Locog says it has created a ticketing process which is "inclusive and accessible".

"It is important to us that people of all abilities can purchase tickets easily," it adds.

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