Monday, December 11, 2006

Disabled access to town hall row

A DISABLED woman says she was "made to feel like a leper" when she went to Bournemouth Town Hall for her granddaughter's register office wedding.

Wheelchair user Maureen Hayes, 76, is now calling on the council to do something about access, facilities, and disability awareness training for staff.

"The whole thing was unwelcoming and not something I would recommend," said Mrs Hayes, of Southbourne.

After having to go into the building through a back door via a steep ramp, Mrs Hayes needed to use the toilet. She claims the member of staff on duty was unsure where the disabled facilities were located: they turned out to be in an annexe reached by going back outside.
Access to the room where the ceremony was being held was up four steps. Mrs Hayes says the member of staff did not know how to operate the stairlift and suggested men from the wedding party could carry the wheelchair.

After the ceremony, Mrs Hayes claims staff closed the back entrance, assuming that her taxi driver could get her and her chair down the front steps. She was escorted to a lift, but it took another 15 minutes for the member of staff to find an alternative way out of the building.

"How dare Bournemouth Town Hall expect disabled people to have this sort of reception? I accept that it's a listed building, but there's no reason why one side of the steps at the front couldn't be made into a ramp," said Mrs Hayes.

"We're not asking for red carpets, we're asking for the opportunity to live our lives freely. They are discriminating. Had I been a more timid person, it could have wrecked my day."

Helen Rigg, registration and coroner's service manager for the council, said: "We are currently examining ways to improve accessibility to the Town Hall for all people and would like to apologise to Mrs Hayes that her recent visit fell short of her expectations.

"Unfortunately accessibility is limited by the fabric of the old Town Hall building. People who use wheelchairs currently need to use the rear entrance and accessible toilet facilities are in the Town Hall extension."

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