The weather this morning wasn’t promising. The sky was thick with grey clouds all looking heavy with rain. It didn’t look like a great day for a picnic. But by the time we were ready to leave the clouds had given way to glorious sunshine.
Sophie and Poppy and I left the castle buoyant with excitement. We weren’t heading out for a bog-standard Saturday afternoon in the park but to a gathering of people with Tourettes coming from all over the country.
Hyde Park provided a beautiful setting for the meet-up. We chose a spot overlooking the Serpentine where the sandy bridleway with the lake stretching out beyond it, dotted with boats and pedalos, made it feel like we were at the beach.
There were over fifty of is there, of all ages. The atmosphere was as warm as the weather and it was fantastic to relax and chat with friends old and new.
Regularly meeting other people with Tourettes and their families is critically important to me. I remember being very reluctant to go to this sort of gathering at first, but I can’t remember why now. If I’d known the powerful difference meeting others makes I wouldn’t have wasted a moment. Gatherings like the one today make me feel part of a wonderful and supportive community. I love the security and easy understanding that comes from being amongst people who share many of the same experiences.
At one point I fancied a trip out onto the water so I headed to the boathouse with Poppy to hire a pedalo. The pedalos are charged per person so when we went to pay I asked what their policy was on tickets for support workers. To my surprise I was told that we’d both have to pay full price. I didn’t expect them to charge for Poppy at all because she’s an essential carer without whom I couldn’t use the boat.
The Disability Discrimination and Equality Act says that:
‘Service providers have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way they deliver their services. This is so that a disabled person is not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in accessing the services.’
In my opinion, having to pay double the price because you have to have someone to help you is a pretty substantial disadvantage. However, the boat hire company seemed unaware of their responsibility. The woman said that because they didn’t discriminate against disabled people I would have to pay full price for both my own ticket and my carer’s. The logic of this policy escaped me and I said it didn’t fit with their responsibility to accommodate my support needs. He then offered to charge a child rate for Poppy’s ticket. I accepted this arrangement on this occasion, although I didn’t feel they were meeting their obligation.
Some people may not understand why carers should go free. You may be thinking, ‘Why should disabled people get special perks?’ But imagine having to pay twice every time you wanted to do something just because you needed help. This would be discriminatory, and without the ‘reasonable adjustment’ of not charging for carers, the range of things you’d be able to do would be greatly restricted.
The boathouse staff made a common mistake and failed to understand that equality isn’t always just about treating everyone exactly the same. A non-discriminatory approach means taking into account someone’s needs and being flexible enough to do something a different way. Using their logic, it would be reasonable to expect a wheelchair user to climb a flight of stairs because providing a lift would be discrimination!
Thankfully most places are more enlightened. I’ll be following this up later with a letter to the company that runs the boats. I’d hate it if other disabled people had to miss out on what was for me a very enjoyable and relaxing experience floating around the lake.
I don’t think Poppy found it quite as relaxing as me. She was both pedalling and being responsible for preventing my tics acting on their promise to jump in.