Discrimination by Any Other Name…

… would still smell as foul.

Okay, this is a rant. I’ve been trying to book theatre seats. I was pleased to find that I can book them through my favourite cashback website, giving me a small but handy discount on the price. So I clicked through to the booking website, gave them my contact details, told them what we’d like to see, which performance and everything. The website offered me a few possible seats, but of course they’re not accessible. I hunted for the “wheelchair seat” option and found nothing. Eventually, I scrolled down the screen and spotted a sidenote which says, “To request accessible seating or wheelchair access, please call our team on…”. I swore quietly and rang the number. Two hours of patronising messages later I was still ringing the number. I think it was answered at one point – I’m sure I heard the phone being picked up – but then it was dropped and the line went dead. Eventually I got through to a person, who continued the theme of patronising me – insisting that it’s not possible to book wheelchair spaces online because the theatres have to speak to the wheelchair user to make sure they have all the assistance they need and everyone’s needs are different. I asked for her name and got an extremely patronising response. She did the old “talk loudly and slowly” thing and told me she wasn’t being patronising, that I had an attitude problem. Then she told me that this as the wrong number (despite their website’s statement) and gave me the premium rate number I have to call.

I called the number she’d given me and quickly got through to a very pleasant young lady, who checked and informed me that the theatre only has one wheelchair space and it’s already booked for the performance I wanted. So it goes. But we had a nice chat; I told her about the rudeness I’d experienced at the hands of their agents and she told me their justification for insisting on speaking to someone on the phone to make sure they took care of their specific needs in each case.

Now, I may be biased, but I call this discrimination. If I wanted “normal” seats I could book them online. It would take a couple of minutes to click through the relevant web pages and buy them. But because I need to arrive in a wheelchair, I have to phone both the booking company and then the theatre to make the arrangements. I would have to give my credit card details over the phone (which I hate doing – you don’t have the security you would online), waste half my day and don’t even get cashback on the purchase. I’ve already received one sales email from the agents – and I’m not even allowed to book seats through their website!

I understand that wheelchair spaces are at a premium in theatres, especially in the older ones that are minimally accessible. But is it realistic to effectively add to the cost of booking in this way? I spent two and a half hours to find out there was no suitable seat available – do I have to do this for every performance until I find one I can attend?

And if they’re so keen to speak to me in person rather than letting me book online, why isn’t the accessibility assistance number a normal-rate geographical one? Or even a freefone number?