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London 2012 backs down over Olympic ticket discrimination fears

Organisers of the London 2012 Olympics have been forced to rethink their ticketing policies after disabled activists warned they would breach disability discrimination laws.

The 2012 organising committee, LOCOG, had decided that all wheelchair-users who were successful in the main Olympic ticket ballot would automatically be allocated an extra free ticket for a personal assistant (PA) or companion.

But tickets for non-wheelchair-users who need PAs were to be severely restricted, with just 10 free tickets for PAs available for each of the 645 sessions, including those in the giant 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

Out of 6.6 million tickets available for sale, only 6,450 tickets (less than 0.1 per cent) were to be reserved for the PAs of disabled people who do not use wheelchairs, such as those who are blind, or have autism or learning difficulties.

But disabled activists have now forced LOCOG into a climb-down after warning that these plans would have breached the Equality Act, as they were based on arbitrary limits rather than the need to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to attend.

Disability News Service understands that both UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) and Level Playing Field (formerly The National Association of Disabled Supporters) have played key roles in persuading LOCOG to back down.

Under the 2012 “Ticketcare” system, all non-wheelchair-users who are successful in the main ticket ballot will still have to enter another ballot if they want to apply for a free ticket for their PA.

But LOCOG has now agreed to scrap the limit of 10 tickets per session, although it says there will still be a “minimum” of 6,450 tickets reserved for PAs and companions.

Mark Todd, 2012’s accessibility manager, said this minimum “could easily go up. We think we can meet the need.  We are hoping to.”

When asked at what stage LOCOG had decided not to allocate just 10 PA tickets per session, he said: “We didn’t make a decision. The feedback we got was that setting an upper limit would not work so we decided there was no upper limit.”

LOCOG only launched its range of ticket products for disabled people – including Ticketcare – this week, more than a fortnight after its ticket application process opened.

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, welcomed the news that the policy had been altered, but said she had heard nothing from LOCOG since early March, when she raised her concerns and was told the 10-ticket maximum would apply.

She said she was “very disappointed” with the breakdown in communications, and added: “What I would really welcome is a formal response indicating what the final arrangements are. The arrangements have been changing continuously.

“It is very difficult to inform our members and ensure they have an opportunity to enjoy the games as we had always hoped they would.”

Level Playing Field declined to comment.

The day after Newman’s comments, as it launched its ticket products for disabled people, LOCOG sent UKDPC and other disability groups a copy of its press release – which makes no mention of the decision not to proceed with a 10-ticket limit.

Despite repeated questions from Disability News Service, LOCOG has refused to say when it decided to scrap the 10-ticket limit.

It has also been unable to explain why it decided to launch its ticket products for disabled people more than two weeks after the main ticket process opened, even though many disabled people are likely to need more time to select the events they wish to attend and apply for tickets.

The ticket products for disabled people include several accessible options, such as being able to request a seat with a direct view of video information screens for spectators who are Deaf, or to ask for a seat close to the action for those who are partially-sighted.

Additional services for disabled spectators will include some free blue badge parking at all venues, accessible shuttle buses, audio description, induction loops, a Changing Places toilet at all venues, information in accessible formats, facilities for assistance dogs, and a free mobility service which will loan out manual wheelchairs and scooters.

New provided by Disability News Service