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'Second-class citizens': Wheelchair user's fury at Paralympics over seating

Courtesy Beth Davis-Hofbauer

Beth Davis-Hofbauer is seen with her baby, Amelia. Davis-Hofbauer created a petition on Change.org after she was told that wheelchair users could be accompanied by only one other person while attending events at the Paralympics.

LONDON -- A disabled mother has begun a campaign that has attracted thousands of supporters after she was told she could not sit with her family at the 2012 Paralympic Games because she was in a wheelchair.

Beth Davis-Hofbauer, who runs a company that makes craft boxes for children, raised a petition calling on the Games organizers, LOCOG, to change what she had been told was its ticketing policy, which allowed only one person to accompany someone in a wheelchair. At 12:45 p.m. ET Friday, the petition had 33,847 signatures.


LOCOG then issued a statement saying this had never been its policy, and Davis-Hofbauer said a LOCOG official told her that improperly trained staff had made a mistake.

But, despite being told she now will be able to sit with her family, she vowed to keep on campaigning because she has been contacted by other people with similar complaints.

Davis-Hofbauer, of Fareham, Hampshire, England, said she had tried to get tickets for her, her husband Edward, her autistic son Milo, 4, and daughter Amelia, 19 months, for a cycling event.

When told they would not be able to sit together, she then asked about tickets for the athletics, swimming and basketball, but to no avail.

People being treated 'really badly'
Davis-Hofbauer, who uses a wheelchair due to illness, said she needed her husband to be beside her as he is her caretaker, and the children could not be expected to sit by themselves. She offered to pay full price for the children, and have them sit on their laps, but she said that idea was rejected by the ticket-line operator.

“I felt like the crap on their shoe to be honest, and very guilty because I felt it’s my fault -- because I’m ill and I’m in a wheelchair, my children cannot go,” Davis-Hofbauer said.

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After setting up the petition, she said she was contacted by 11 or 12 people who said they had received “exactly the same kind of treatment,” and had heard reports of more.

"There are people still being treated really badly by them, being ignored by them, being treated like second-class citizens,” Davis-Hofbauer said.

“We disabled people shouldn’t really have families -- we forget that,” she added sarcastically.

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She said she had now been told the family would be able to sit together in the cycling velodrome, but said she would continue to campaign on the issue.

“I think they thought if they sold me tickets I would shut up, but I actually do care about other people so I’m not going to shut up," she said.

'Ironic'
Davis-Hofbauer said stadiums generally should do more to enable wheelchair users to be treated like ordinary sports fans. But she added it was “ironic” that there was a problem with the Paralympic Games. “It makes it sound even worse,” she said.

A LOCOG spokesperson emailed a statement that reads: “it is not our policy that wheelchair users can only be accompanied by one other person when attending the Games.” 

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“We designed our venues such that accessible seating will be located around the new venues, at different price points so that wheelchair users can sit with their friends and families rather than in one single designated area, and we included a companion seat in the cost of a ticket for a wheelchair space,” the statement added.

NBC News asked LOCOG to comment specifically on the case, whether other people had made complaints and what was being done about them.

In response, a LOCOG spokeswoman said in an email that, "We have been able to sort a number of customers out, we will always try to help but with less than 2 weeks to the Games it comes down to a question of availability."

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