Action on Hearing Loss defends holding comedy fundraiser in inaccessible venue

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A disability charity has refused to apologise for holding a fundraising comedy night in an inaccessible London venue.

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly known as RNID) was raising money as part of its Deaf Awareness Week with an evening of stand-up at The Comedy Store in London.

Performers included Angela Barnes, Samantha Baines, Ed Gamble, Eshaan Akbar, Russell Howard (all pictured, left to right) and John Bishop, three of whom have hearing loss themselves.

But the venue chosen by the charity is not accessible to many disabled people, with The Comedy Store warning on its website that it only has a “chair lift” which “cannot bear the weight of a person in a wheelchair”.

This means that any wheelchair-user “must be able to leave their wheelchair, descend via the chairlift, then retake their wheelchair once at the bottom of the stairs”, so “large electric wheelchairs are unable to gain access” to the auditorium.

Alan Benson, a disabled campaigner and activist from London, said: “Funding is a challenge for everyone so events like this are very important, but it’s vital that we get them right.

“In a society that routinely discriminates against disabled people we must make sure that we support each other and run fully inclusive events.

“I know that those with hearing impairments routinely face barriers to participation so I would have hoped for better.”

Benson, who uses an electric wheelchair himself, added: “London has many great accessible venues so there is no excuse not to use them.

“By using venues like The Comedy Store, we validate their inadequate provision.

“To justify the event by saying it was accessible to some disabled people is simply not good enough.”

When questioned about the inaccessible venue, Action on Hearing Loss (AHL) refused to apologise or say why the event was held in a venue which was not accessible for many wheelchair-users.

It also refused to say what kind of message that decision sent to wheelchair-users with high support needs, and whether it suggested that raising money and “awareness” of AHL’s work was more important than including people who use electric wheelchairs.

But a spokesperson said in a statement: “At the launch of Deaf Awareness Week, it was important that the charity gave people with deafness and hearing loss the opportunity to attend an iconic comedy venue that has played host to some of the most famous performers in the world.

“To achieve this, the show was supported by BSL interpreters, live subtitling and a hearing loop.

“But it was not just those with deafness and hearing loss who came to the show, people with various disabilities were also in attendance, including those using wheelchairs.

“We are committed to breaking down the barriers that prevent inclusivity for all and we will continue to work with venues to help improve their accessibility.”

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