An open letter to the production team at the Last Leg
I was really, saddened to read @lovejellyj experiences when wishing to be an audience member on the Last Leg, but not surprised, as my hubbie and I have also had two completely different experiences of attending a recording of your programme.
We have been four times, and we tried for a fifth time .... but had no response.... on the first two occasions we had fantastic times and were treated as if we were any other audience member, while making the necessary adjustments to make this so.... What went wrong.... well these recording were at the Hammersmith Studio, with its closure we moved to the ITV studios.
The next occasion was the General Election special...... we equally had similar experiences with those with clipboards and it was frustrating to hear, that despite writing our specific needs in the box on the application form, this information was neither passed on to the SRO team on the day or the production team itself.
In the last decade, I have gone from a women with hidden disabilities to a woman with a stick, to a woman with a mobility scooter and in the next few months a woman with a wheelchair and power drive, I therefore know the almighty struggle it is to overcome chronic pain and other related symptoms to get from A to B never mind standing in a queue. Now you may say, sitting in a wheelchair, elevates that problem, well have you ever experienced the pain and numbness associated with being cold. How I dream to bounce up and down on my toes when standing in a queue getting colder and colder......
So back to General election night.... in response to what happened that night, I didn't blog... this blog didn't exist, and I didn't take to social media, because of the actions of one man... I will nickname Mr Ted.... The head of Studio Client Liaison who came and spoke to us that night, and invited me to put my concerns in writing...
Dear Mr Ted
I have waited a week to contact you to reflect on what happened to us while present at this recording. Sadly in relation to all our interactions with the Head Steward of Audience Members (HSAM). I would very much hope you can forward this to the relevant person, to consider training issues.
I believe it began before we even entered the studio. The security officers outside the building had directed us away from the queue to wait in the foyer of the London Studio, as we told the entrance wasn't accessible. Reassuring us someone would come and get us. Unfortunately the message we were there had not been passed on. When HSAM identified us, he made it clear that we had inconvenienced him, and we were in the wrong.
When we arrived at the studio itself, my husband had no problem in his wheelchair navigating the cable protectors independently. I on the other hand, because of my long scooter base and stabilisers did, and was concerned as I had bruised my ribs and had written of an expensive scooter when previously I had toppled over (he electronic control box hit the hard floor). I raised this concern, and although the studio technicians helped I did experience pain shoot up my spine when a technician lifted and dropped the back of my scooter off one of these ramps ( I have solid wheels so no shock absorbers).
We experienced friendly and helpful assistance during the time before and then after the major break in recording. However as you are aware, not during the long break itself.
After it was explained to the audience there was refreshments outside, my husband and I decided to get out of the way of those coming down from the seating platform, as we had been placed in front of the gangway. We joined the queue with others to get said refreshments. We were then pulled out of the queue by the HSAM and told we could not go with our able bodied colleagues, we were asked to go into a dark corner where the pigs had previously been stored " to get out the way" of my able boded colleagues. I was told I had to wait for assistance, I was unhappy, but tried to accept the situation. However, the stress levels rose, when the young lady who had joined us in the foyer, was also called out of the queue and was asked to go into the dark corner with us. In the meantime HSAM had radioed asking colleagues to assist us to the toilet. HSAM had assumed we needed the toilet as he had not asked. I was getting increasingly concerned that the young lady with us, was experiencing a severe panic attack and distress which she had vocalised to HSAM, who appeared to completely ignore this matter.
At no point did HSAM show, concern, understanding, empathy or a friendly manner to this situation. All I heard was for health and safety reasons you have to stay here and wait for assistance and wait for all the able bodied audience to leave before us. Both verbal and non verbal behaviour was in a very hostile and dismissive manner.
At no point did was a first aider called to support the young lady with the panic attack.
Finally when assistance arrived, we were allowed out the studio, through a flat route with no cable protectors. I appreciate that this was off public limits, however, having raised the issue of actual risk. I was puzzled that as I had had to have an escort we couldn't have used this more safe route.
We would like to thank you, for spending precious time with us during the break to hear what we had to say and for then ensuring we were fairly treated for the rest of the time with you. I would especially like to thank you, for getting a chair and sitting with us and actively listening to our concerns at our level.
As you know I didn't want to leave on a sour note, and I apologised for shouting at HSAM, when my frustrations had reached Fever pitch, however, I'm still left with the feeling he did not understand why we were upset, we were just disruptive wheelchair users, who should be glad that we are provided with assistance.
On reflection I would love the appropriate people to consider both the training for the audience assistance team and the policies for people with disabilities in the studio environment.
1. People with disabilities do not want special treatment they just need a level playing field.
2. People in wheelchairs without carers with them, are capable independent people who constantly look at risk and get from A to B in an environment that is not friendly - i.e we do not need help opening doors, we do this everyday on our own like able bodied people.
3. We are safe to walk/wheel alongside able bodied people even amongst a crowd, again we do it every day!
3. People with disabilities, feel like second class citizens when stuck in the props corner in a cramped dark space, while being told, to get out of the way of the able bodied, and for health and safety reasons we were not allowed out on our own.
4. In the 21st century people with disabilities should not be labeled as generic health and safety risks, each situation should be addressed separately. For example my husband and the other young lady were independent over the cable protectors and were an equivalent risk to a lady in stilettos, they were going to a public space and therefore appeared to be no reason to be held back. I on the other hand would have understood, if it had been acknowledged that I needed an escort through a non public space which was cable free, and needed to wait for an escort.
5. Please don't assume people in wheelchairs necessarily want or need the toilet, we may want to do something completely different.
6. Who is the nominated first aider? As a mental health professional, I am very aware of the symptoms displayed when a person is having a panic attack. Does each team member have basic skills taught them? What is the procedure if a person voices that they are having a panic attack, to get a first aider to support that person, i.e getting them to a safe and quiet area? When we were at the Hammersmith Studios we were introduced to the first aider who looked after us. I didn't think this was really necessary but I wished he had been there that night. I was alarmed when HSAM said he hadn't heard both her and me state she was unwell. Are staff trained in active listening?
7. Are people aware, that in noisy environments, people speaking at different heights, often cannot be heard, therefore if engaging in conversation, it helpful to crouch down to a wheelchair level. It is also less intimidating as an eye to eye conversation can be had.
8. I was saddened that HSAM did not feel able to give me his name, in the world of customer service, if I wanted to praise, would this be the same policy?
As a dual trained occupational therapist (physical and mental health) I am well aware of adapting the environment to help all those to function equally, as a disabled person I am aware of the need to educate and train people in equality and discrimination. I would be very happy to come in and talk about this further.
I received this blog, today, and it really summed up my experience with HSAM and hope that this event can be reflected upon by all, and changes made.
Once again, thank you for you're empathy, understanding and kindness
---- Forwarded Message -----
From: Seth Godin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, 18 May 2015, 11:27
Subject: Seth's Blog : Why do you do it this way?
Why do you do it this way?
That's the simple test of a bureaucracy that has lost its way.
If your employees can't answer how something they do helps the customer or the company, you've insulated your people from their jobs.
"It's our policy," is not an answer to why. Saying the policy again, louder, is not an answer to why.
Their inability to answer this simple question might be because you haven't taken the time to teach your people how to think about the work you do. Or it might be because you're hiring people (or rewarding people) who don't want to think about your work.
Don't you want the people who do the work to understand it? And don't you want your customers to feel respected by the people who serve them?
This was his reply
Thank you for taking the time to write, I really do appreciate it and the very useful points you raise, including the specific references which will definitely help us consider where the right improvements are needed and implement them.
I hope we can welcome you back to the studios in the near future.
We did apply for the series just passed, but despite requesting tickets for the weeks at the end of the series, at the beginning of the series, we were not allocated any, thats ok we thought, thats life. However when we saw the new set, with apparently no wheelchair allocation on the set itself and such big production numbers at the end, I wondered whether there was any allocation for wheelchair users at all, certainly if they were there, they were back in a corner somewhere. Reading the twitter responses today to @lovejellyj, @mikScarlet article ( http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mik-scarlet/big-benefits-row-a-story-_b_4724617.html) in relation to another tv studio experience sums up much of how I and others are now feeling.
To sum up, @lovejellyj experience was not one off, and what is so frustrating, disappointing and distressing, is Channel 4 could be considered the leaders in TV about inclusion and equality, you have the most superb programme vehicle to do it, but if you cannot walk the talk and demonstrate that you understand the difficulties of disabled people in everyday life, by ensuring your studio audience with impairments doesn't feel discriminated against then your authenticity around "isitok" and the image you want to portray is put into question.
A very Grumpy Spastic Woman