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Wheelchair Users Forced To Use Expensive Phone Line To Book Paralympic Tickets

August 26, 2012

Paralympic Games organisers have been accused of discriminating against the disabled after forcing wheelchair users to book tickets on phone lines costing up to 40p a minute.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that those trying to book wheelchair tickets for events have to ring an 0844 number in order to buy tickets or check availability.

Able-bodied people can simply buy them online from organiser LOCOG without incurring extra costs.

  Some disabled people now claim they have abandoned hope of attending the Games after being kept on hold for long periods running up large bills before eventually being told there are no tickets available.

Hundreds have complained about their treatment on blogs and social networking sites and some have joined a campaign group on Facebook called ‘Stop the Olympics from discriminating against wheelchair users!’

 Calls cost 5p a minute from a BT landline and up to 40p a minute from a mobile on the Orange network, 35p on Vodafone and Three, and 25p on O2.

Some networks also charge a connection fee. Many disabled people have to call the number on a mobile because they have specially adapted phones that are easier to use than landlines.

One woman, who has a disabled five-year-old son, said she called the ticket hotline more than 20 times on her Orange mobile phone and on some occasions spent up to half an hour on hold.

Such a call to the 0844 number would cost £12.

 Wheelchair user Sarah Bard, 32, from Nottingham, who has to use a specially adapted mobile phone, said she had given up trying to buy tickets after calling the hotline from her mobile six times and each time being put on hold for up to 15 minutes.

She said: ‘Locog have designed the system to restrict us. Why are they advertising an 0844? 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.’

Last night former Labour Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, chairman of the all-party disability sports group at Westminster, branded the phone charges ‘unacceptable’ and called on LOCOG to remove them.

He said: ‘This is completely ridiculous. Wheelchair users should be able to book their Paralympic tickets online just like everyone else.

‘I shall be contacting LOCOG as soon as possible to ask them to remove these charges and reimburse people who have incurred unnecessary expense so far. The Paralympics is about breaking down barriers – not subjecting wheelchair users to charges that other people don’t have to pay.’

 Wheelchair users who want to buy tickets to the Games, which start on Wednesday, are directed on LOCOG’s website to a section called ‘Ticket information for disabled people’.

This page informs them that they must call the phone line. The website says: ‘If you require a wheelchair space, you can purchase tickets by calling the London 2012 Accessibility team on 0844 847 2012.’

At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, tickets for people with wheelchairs were sold online and through dedicated phone lines with no additional charges.

The disclosures are likely to prove embarrassing for LOCOG, which boasts on its website that it has ‘created a ticketing process which is inclusive and accessible’ and claims ‘it is important to us that people of all abilities can purchase tickets easily’.

The group on Facebook campaigning against the ticketing – which has 688 members – was founded by Terrijayne Butler, 33, whose 11-year-old son Reece has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

She wrote an open letter to LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe complaining about the issue and sent her website’s link to his personal Twitter account but says she has had no response.

She said: ‘My fear was that my phone bill would end up being more than the actual tickets for the family. I know some people who have got through fairly quickly but others who have told me they have been waiting for more than half an hour only to be cut off.

‘It is severely depressing that disabled people are being treated as second-class citizens like this.’

When a Mail on Sunday reporter called the number yesterday, after getting through it took 11 minutes of talking to an operator to find out which tickets were available.

Our reporter was told the only available wheelchair tickets were for Goalball and cost £15 for adults and £5 for concessions.

A companion would be able to attend free. There were also ground passes available for the Olympic Park and ExCeL centre.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope said: ‘At a time when disabled people report that attitudes towards them are deteriorating, the Paralympics offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a hugely positive difference.

‘Despite increasing the number of wheelchair accessible seats in the Olympic Stadium, there doesn’t appear to be any additional provision made for disabled people who want to buy these tickets.

‘The majority of people these days want the convenient and cost effective option of making their purchases online and disabled people are no different.’

Alex Rankin, from disability charity Aspire, said: ‘It could be in breach of the Equality Act. LOCOG should investigate how they can refund the cost of the call to all those people. It is unfair and unjustified to discriminate in this way.’

And Bobby Ancil, from Muscular Dystrophy campaign Trailblazers, said: ‘Forcing disabled people to call premium rate numbers to book tickets is simply unjustifiable.’

Last night LOCOG said it did not make any revenue from the phone line. It is unknown if Ticketmaster, who handles the ticket sales, makes anything from the calls.

LOCOG also said it had not received any complaints about the cost of calls and that the average length of calls to the phone line was less than two minutes.

A spokesman said: ‘All spectators were able to apply for tickets online for more than a year. ‘From November 2011, we provided a bespoke phone line to ensure customers could discuss their individual accessibility needs.

‘We really are trying our best. There are so many needs – soldiers and others who need legroom for their prosthetic limbs. We try to switch them and need to talk to them. We are proud to do more for spectators with accessibility needs than any other sporting event in this country.

We offer free Games mobility scooters at Games venues, free blue badge parking, and a free companion seat for every wheelchair space.

By May just under 1.5 million of the total 2.5 million Paralympics tickets were still unsold. By August 7, about 1.1 million tickets remained, by August 14 about 400,000 were left and last night there were 200,000 unsold.

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Hargrave permalink
    August 26, 2012 1:16 pm

    It just beggars belief. One rule for the able bodied one for wheelchair users. Not only that we have to pay premium telephone rates and hang on to the phone until an operator is free, the government is already robbing us with their cuts to benefits.
    This is a once in a lifetime event and the organisers go out of their way to make things difficult for us. Sometimes I feel ashamed to be British.

  2. K Watt permalink
    August 26, 2012 10:35 pm

    Yes I agree that a dedicated line should be available for specific needs, but why do we have to pay extra for it. I phoned for closing ceremony tickets several times ( yea right like I would have a chance), waited on the line, pressed this button, pressed that button and got to the department that I needed then the line went dead every time. Grrrr!!

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