London 2012: Activist finds helpline less than helpful


A prominent disabled activist has criticised organisers of the London 2012 Paralympics after telephone helpline staff were unable to tell her if there was an electricity charging point for her powerchair anywhere on the Olympic Park.

Ruth Bashall said the helpline assistant she spoke to did not even know if she could take her charger through the security checkpoint at the entrance to the park.

Her experience raises new questions about the training given to staff working on London 2012’s telephone lines, particularly on issues relating to disabled people and their support and access needs.

And it came only two days after Sue Bott, another leading disabled activist, was left “humiliated” and “incensed” after she was twice interrupted by London 2012 staff while watching the opening ceremony to be told her guide dog was a health and safety hazard.

Bashall, who advised London 2012’s Olympic Delivery Authority on disability issues when it was designing the Olympic Park, made several unsuccessful attempts from Friday afternoon to secure the information she needed.

It was nearly 24 hours later – and only after the issue had been raised by Disability News Service (DNS) – when a London 2012 press officer finally confirmed that chargers could be brought through the security checkpoint, and that there was at least one charging point for powerchairs, near the information kiosk in the park’s World Square.

Bashall, a prominent human rights activist, plans to accompany another powerchair-user and other family and friends to watch the athletics session in the Olympic Stadium this morning (Sunday).

But after a similar trip to the Olympic Games nearly saw her run out of power while making her way around the vast Olympic Park, she wanted to be sure she could recharge her battery if needed.

She said: “I wanted the information in advance as I want to enjoy the day and not have a debate about my basic human rights with security people.”

At one point on Friday she was told by helpline staff that she could not even bring her powerchair onto the Olympic Park because it was a “prohibited” item, and would have to use a London 2012 scooter, which would be inaccessible to her.

She was then told by an adviser that she would need permission to bring this “medical equipment” onto the Olympic Park.

She added: “They were completely uninformed. I don’t think he knew what an electric wheelchair was. Yet again we are treated as a problem, yet again no-one knows what to do with us.”

Bashall said it was “ridiculous” that she had to rely on DNS to find out “what should be basic information”.

She said: “London 2012 clearly hadn’t given the information people the tools to do the job. It’s not going to ruin my day, but it almost did.”

She said she probably spent a total of two hours trying unsuccessfully to find the information she needed over the course of 24 hours from Friday afternoon.

A London 2012 spokesman eventually told DNS, nearly a day after the issue was raised: “We have got them an answer [about the use of chargers]and it is a positive one. We have gone out of our way to help a lot of [disabled]people.”

But he has so far been unable to comment on why London 2012 advice staff appear to be so poorly briefed on the assistance needed by disabled people.

2 September 2012