London 2012: Games could face legal action for ‘failing disabled parents’

The organisers of London 2012 could soon be facing an embarrassing legal action, over their failure to help disabled parents sit with their children to watch Paralympic events.

As the first 60 members of the 300-strong ParalympicsGB team arrived in the athletes’ village this week, and with the opening ceremony just six days away, the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG appears to have made no effort to resolve the concerns of disabled parents planning to attend the games.

Disabled actor Melissa Chapin has been trying to work with LOCOG for the last fortnight to resolve concerns that she and other wheelchair-using parents with Paralympic tickets will not be able to sit with their children and friends.

She has been asking LOCOG to take steps to ensure that more wheelchair-users who bring their children with them to venues such as the ExCeL centre – which has mostly unreserved seating – will be able to sit next to them.

She has tickets for two days of competition at Excel – which is hosting sports such as sitting volleyball, powerlifting, table-tennis and boccia – on September 2 and 3.

On the first day, she will be joined by a wheelchair-using British Falklands veteran, her seven-year-old twins, and two personal assistants, but there is no guarantee that they are going to be able to sit together.

She has already been contacted on Twitter by 10 other disabled parents with similar concerns.

She believes LOCOG will not be able to rely on its volunteers – or “games makers” – to resolve problems on the day, because they will be swamped by disabled parents with similar seating needs.

Chapin has also pointed out that LOCOG stopped wheelchair-users from buying tickets through its website last November, forcing them instead to use an 0844 telephone number, as reported by Disability News Service.

She said this had made it impossible for disabled parents to buy tickets for themselves and their children.

LOCOG has so far refused to work with Chapin to find a solution to her concerns, or to comment on the issue to Disability News Service.

Chapin said: “It is becoming a human rights issue. It is almost impossible to make me crack, but the cracks are starting to show. The twins couldn’t believe this was happening to their mum in this day and age.”

She believes LOCOG is breaching the Equality Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Meanwhile, LOCOG has struggled to explain why it chose four of the most inaccessible spots in the United Kingdom to light its four Paralympic flames.

The flames were lit by groups of scouts at the summits of the highest peaks of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The four flames are being transferred to the four capital cities, where they will be the focus of a day of “flame celebrations”, before they are brought together into a single flame at a ceremony in Stoke Mandeville. A 24-hour relay will then take the single flame to the opening ceremony in east London.

A LOCOG spokesman said the idea of scaling the four peaks was about “showing what people can achieve”, and that they had “wanted to do something different and unique rather than replicate the Olympic torch relay”.

He said the idea would have come from the “creatives” in LOCOG’s torch relay team, but he said: “I don’t know specifically who had that idea.”

He added: “Unfortunately it was not going to be accessible to everybody but we tried to ensure that all the groups involved had a mixture [of disabled and non-disabled people].”

He said he believed that three of the mountaineers who took part in the flame-lighting events and “at least two or three” of each of the four groups of scouts were disabled people.

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London 2012: Praise for volunteers and venue access

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.”

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Young athletes will mirror Paralympians’ quest for gold in 2012

Some of the UK’s most talented young disabled athletes are to take part in Paralympic-style events in key London 2012 venues, just weeks before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

The events will run alongside those for non-disabled young people at the finals of the government’s new School Games next May.

Young disabled athletes will compete for medals in swimming, athletics, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing and table-tennis, with demonstration events in other sports yet to be decided.

The finals will take place in the main Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre and the cycling Velodrome – all in the Olympic Park in Stratford – and the ExCeL Centre in London’s Royal Docks, with finalists selected by their national sporting bodies.

The competition aims to “mirror” the Olympics and Paralympics, including opening and closing ceremonies, and will be the last event held in the Olympic Park before the Olympic opening ceremony on 27 July.

In the months leading up to the finals – but only in England – there will be competitions within schools, between local schools, and then county- and city-wide festivals.

The county- and city-wide events will have to include a minimum of eight sports, of which five must include competitive opportunities for young disabled people.

So far, a third of English primary and secondary schools – about 8,000 – have signed up to take part in the School Games, which includes a commitment to provide opportunities for competitive sport for their disabled students.

These opportunities are likely to come either from linking up with disabled students in other local mainstream schools, or by providing inclusive sporting opportunities in their own school.

Alison Oliver, director of sport for the Youth Sport Trust, the organisation commissioned by Sport England to deliver the School Games, said there was “no question” that the competition would increase sporting opportunities for disabled young people.

She said: “The biggest challenge is making sure that those opportunities are as meaningful and sustainable as possible, so what we are building is not just something that is here today and gone tomorrow.

“This is about giving young disabled people the same sorts of possibilities we give non-disabled young people, in enabling them to achieve their personal best.

“There is no doubt that more young disabled people will be engaged through this. The biggest challenge is how big the transformation will be.”

National sporting bodies will select the athletes to take part in the finals, who will compete for England – or possibly for their English regions – against young people from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the four Olympic venues.

At this year’s UK School Games – the predecessor event for the School Games – eight per cent of the 1,750 competitors were disabled young people.

Oliver said she hoped this would rise to 10 per cent for the finals of the School Games next May.

Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, said: “The competition will use the inspiration of 2012 to transform competitive sport in schools and get more young people playing sport, long after next summer.”

More than £100 million of National Lottery and government funding is being invested in the School Games over the next three years.

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