The first week of the London 2012 Olympics has seen praise for the assistance given to disabled sports fans by volunteer staff, reports of superb access at venues, but some early concerns about accessible parking and transport.
There has also been critical praise for the Deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who led the drumming during the much-praised “Pandemonium” section of the opening ceremony, which celebrated Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
And there was also a high-profile appearance by The Kaos Signing Choir, which features both Deaf and hearing children and is based in north London, and sung and signed the national anthem in the ceremony.
So far, there have been no reports of access concerns within the main Olympic venues.
Joyce Cook, chair of Level Playing Field, formerly known as The National Association of Disabled Supporters, said her organisation had yet to hear any complaints from disabled people attending London 2012.
She said: “I have not heard anything about venues at the Olympic Park at all which usually means good news. We normally hear if things go wrong.”
She was closely involved with advising the Olympic Delivery Authority on its plans for building the Olympic Park venues, although not with the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG.
She added: “I would say the fact that we haven’t heard is probably a good sign.”
Lynda Ball, a wheelchair-user from Queensland, Australia, praised access and staff at the two Olympic venues she had visited, the Aquatics Centre on the Olympic Park and Earl’s Court in west London.
She said: “It was great. Everyone looked after us so well. All the happy smiling faces of the volunteers have been wonderful.”
She said that “games makers” – London 2012’s army of volunteers – had even arranged for her to have a wheelchair-accessible place at the side of the volleyball court in Earl’s Court, even though she and her husband had booked regular seats.
Art Pena, from California, another wheelchair-user enjoying the volleyball at Earl’s Court, also praised the “very helpful, cheerful people” who he said were “more than willing to go out of their way to help”.
His one concern so far has been the lack of portable ramps on tube and train journeys, which has meant relying on help from members of the public to lift him into and out of carriages.
He said he had asked staff if they had any portable ramps but was told: “Sorry, we don’t have any.”
He said: “The events themselves, it has been wonderful here. It is just the tubes and the trains where we have had a difficult time.”
In June, Transport for London announced that it would pilot the use of portable ramps at 16 key tube stations across the capital during London 2012, but the scheme only applies to this minority of stations and not to the train network.
TfL has so far been unable to say whether there have been any problems with the pilot programme.
Another foreign visitor again praised London 2012’s accessible venues but raised concerns about some arrangements for disabled visitors.
Malik Badsi, director of Paris-based Yoola, a specialist travel agency which accompanies disabled people to sporting and cultural events, said he had encountered problems trying to obtain entry for his bus to the Olympic Park carpark on the night of the opening ceremony, despite having the necessary accreditation for blue badge parking.
Staff at the entrance gate appeared not to know where they should go, and he and his clients spent an hour being directed from one entrance gate to another before they were finally allowed into the accessible carpark.
He experienced similar problems at the ExCeL centre, which is hosting seven Olympic events, including gymnastics, boxing and table-tennis.
The London 2012 organisers LOCOG had sent him his accessible parking accreditation by email, but staff at ExCeL refused to accept it, and he claims they suggested he was “a liar and a fake”.
He said his experience had been “a disaster” so far, although the venues themselves were “very nice and very accessible”.
He said: “There is too much bureaucracy and administration and there is nothing working. I am not very happy.”
He has brought about 100 clients, including at least 60 disabled people, to London for the games, but will be bringing as many as 200 disabled people to the Paralympics later this month, and called on LOCOG to make improvements before the games begin.
He claimed the Olympic Park “mobility service” was too slow, with a shortage of vehicles to shuttle disabled people from the carpark to the various venues.
A LOCOG spokeswoman said the problem with the accessible parking on the Olympic Park was probably an “isolated incident”, but that they had “spoken to the venue transport managers to make sure it doesn’t happen again”.
She said the mobility service had to obey speed restrictions in the packed Olympic Park, and had received “really great feedback” from disabled people.
She added: “It is not like a speedy taxi service. The feedback I have been getting is that people are really grateful to have this kind of service.”
LOCOG has not yet commented on the ExCeL parking concerns.
There were also criticisms from disabled visitors to one of the BT London Live events, which are showing London 2012 action on big screens, and include sports participation activities, live music and other entertainment, and have been organised by the mayor of London, The Royal Parks and Tower Hamlets council.
Disabled student Louise Hickman was at the BT London Live event in Victoria Park in east London to watch Friday’s opening ceremony.
She and her friend – also a wheelchair-user – were disappointed by the failure of stewards to know the arrangements for disabled visitors.
She said: “They lacked any common sense, or the ability to use their own initiative. They were aggressive and had no disability awareness.”