A leading disabled activist was left “humiliated” and “incensed” after she was twice interrupted by London 2012 staff while watching the Paralympic Games opening ceremony to be told her guide dog was a health and safety hazard.
Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), had been given tickets to the event in the Olympic Stadium by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), and told them in advance that she was a guide dog-user.
But she was given two seats in the middle of a row where there was not enough space for a guide dog to sit at her feet.
As a result, she asked other spectators to move so she could sit in the aisle seat, with her guide dog Faith beside her on the steps.
Bott was first approached by a member of staff halfway through the opening ceremony, as the Queen was about to declare the games officially open, and was told that Faith was a “health and safety” issue.
She said: “At first I thought it was a bit of a wind-up, but then I realised she was actually serious.
“I really got quite cross and in the end I said to her, ‘I hear what you are saying. I don’t agree and I am not going to take any notice.’ I actually missed the Queen opening the games.”
She was later approached again, this time by a London 2012 manager, who told her that Faith, who was sitting quietly beside her on the steps, was a “health and safety hazard”.
Bott said: “I told her that she was interfering with my enjoyment of the evening. She was saying, ‘suppose we have to evacuate the stadium?’ and I said, ‘I would get out easier with a guide dog.’”
By this time, there were empty seats beside Bott and her daughter, Angela – who had accompanied her and was describing the action to her – so they moved along and Faith sat in front of one of the vacant seats. But there was still so little room that part of the seat in front kept hitting Faith’s paws.
Bott said: “I just felt totally humiliated. It was ridiculous. If Faith is a hazard then so is every disabled person and every wheelchair-user.
“I am still struggling to believe it. It just feels like a bad dream. I would not have expected that kind of treatment in a million years.”
Bott was even more disappointed because earlier in the day she had enjoyed taking part in the Paralympic torch relay as part of a five-strong team of disabled people from DR UK.
She said the treatment she received in the stadium “really took me back to years gone by”, and added: “What it does prove is that we still need our disabled people’s organisations fighting for our rights. We cannot relax for a moment.”
A DCMS spokeswoman said she believed it was her department’s fault that Bott had been given a seat in the wrong section of the stadium, which was not accessible to guide dog-users.
But she has so far failed to comment on the attitude of London 2012 staff in the Olympic Stadium.
A LOCOG spokesman said: “If it was a health and safety issue it is something we have to take extremely seriously.”
He has so far failed to comment further.
30 August 2012