Now who doesn’t love The Last Leg? I have certainly watched it since it first aired alongside the stunning 2012 Paralympics – cue: Public Enemy’s ‘Harder Than You Think’! The year the wonderfully enlightened question arose; ‘if the Paralympians can do that then why can’t all disabled people?’ Umm the same reason the average able-bodied person cannot outrun Usain Bolt perhaps? Because he is an athlete? 🤔 It was so refreshing to identify with the presenters of The Last Leg with their non-apologetic personalities and sense of humour, and who just happened to be disabled too. It was a refreshing change from the usual portrayal of disabled people on TV ie: villains, somebody with a chip on their shoulder or what seems to be more the case now in the media, as chancers and benefit cheats. So on being allocated e-tickets for The Last Leg on Friday 18 March from SRO Audiences, a TV audience provider company, myself and my partner as huge fans of the show were over the moon.
Now I have sero positive Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), which is a chronic autoimmune progressive and degenerative condition. Basically my immune system is attacking my own body every second of the day. This chronic disease affects not just every bone, tendon and muscle but the function of the entire body including the eyes, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and brain. I have constant fevers and just to be clever my heart and brain also have an autoimmune communication whereby I spontaneously pass out and an ambulance needs to be called.
I am in constant pain and not surspisingly exhausted all the time from my body attacking itself. I can feel the weight of my own body so am essentially carrying around a 9 stone human rucksack every second of the day but to me it feels like a tonne. I can literally feel my bones grating together and the pull of gravity on my arms, legs, neck and back. I spend many a night feeling crushed by own body and excruciatingly slotting my knees back into their sockets when they come out. Thank fuck for skin is all I can say, otherwise I would have knee joints and pieces of hip and spine littering all over London.
This is just a brief summary of having RA, not for sympathy but for clarity of what every day entails along with a concoction of powerful intravenous biologic drugs, chemotherapy, strong painkillers, anti-inflammatories and various other fanciful drugs. But make no mistake I do not live my life in bubble wrap. I, like many people with chronic illnesses, actually love my life and live it to the fullest I can, whilst I can.
Back to The Last Leg, I duly let the show know of my condition as I obviously can’t stand in a queue and was told I have seats reserved. Yay! However as the day approached I became anxious about queuing as I read through the SRO Audiences access policy:
As you can see the access policy is confusing at best. What does this mean? I still have to queue? My reserved disabled seat can be released to an able-bodied person? I was getting anxious and relayed this during a FaceTime call to my one of my bffs Clare over in Australia. She urged me to contact the equally Australian, Adam Hills to check this policy was correct. (She also told me that she was going to marry him.) I digress. So to Adam Hills I tweeted and to my delight he replied straight away, took my name and said he would look into it. On the day of the show he tweeted me saying the door staff were expecting me. Little did I know it was to be more of a ‘we’ve been expecting you’ a la Bond villain stylee, rather than a ‘welcome, we’ve been expecting you!’
Myself and my partner who is also my carer planned a whole evening of it, a lovely dinner before making our way over to the ITV studios (show is screened on Ch4 but filmed at ITV). I had to stop off at The Royal Festival Hall on the way to rest before I could attempt the 5 minute walk to the ITV studios as I was in immense pain, exhausted and on the verge of passing out. I approached the door staff explaining that I had a disabled seat reserved for myself and one for my partner. The clipboard duo did not look impressed at all! Sorry about that Clipboarders but I assure you, a lifetime of having a serious chronic illness is slightly more inconvenient for me, than it is for you to scroll through your clipboard.
We were also of course lovingly greeted with mutterings of ‘queue jumping’ from people at the front of the queue who also afforded us their best filthiest looks and stares. One woman looked like her eyes had been replaced with actual daggers. You’d think Jimmy Savile reincarnated had turned up…and eaten the last purple Quality Street…and then left all the empty wrappers in the box. I do have a pair of gold leggings somewhere but I assure you that’s where the similarity stops.
Bearing in mind this is a queue to see The Last Leg… a show borne out of the Paralympics presented by hosts with varying disabilities. But maybe it’s different to this bunch if you are a disabled celebrity – that’s *almost* sexy right? Let’s face it Adam Hills yes, Alex Brooker yes, Josh Widdicombe….ok go on then. But plain old disabled just doesn’t cut it. The rest of us are merely an inconvenient bunch of queue jumping scroungers who should surely be out working a night shift if we are able to come and see an evening comedy show? Especially the ‘walking’ young(ish) disabled like me who are partial to a faux fur coat and shock horror wears MAC lipstick! To the queue mutterers, I know, I totally fuck with your comfortable stereotype of what a disabled person is.
Anyway Clipboard A and B conferred, ‘oh yes this is the one Lee told us about’ glancing at the clipboard, indicating that I was the only disabled request for that audience. Clipboard A said, ‘you’ve only got an e-ticket’ (the only ticket they had issued btw). He continued, ‘so yeah, we’ve given your seats away’ I explained I have a seat reserved for myself and my partner who is my carer. He said, ‘you’re too late, we’ve gave your seats away 10 minutes ago to other people’.
We had arrived at 8.45pm. The queue opens at 8.40pm. The SRO Audiences email states:
We were at the start of the time bracket of the queue line opening. They had given my seats away at 8.35pm that’s 5 mins before they opened the queue at 8.40pm! Furthermore out of all the seats in the studio they had decided to give the reserved disabled seats away to able-bodied people according to the clipboard. And there were clearly many other empty studio seats remaining as there was a queue full of people who were not being turned away and who clearly did not have priority tickets judging by their attitude to me ‘queue jumping’.
Clipboard A added that I can have a priority ticket emailed to me for an upcoming show (not necessarily The Last Leg). He makes it sound so easy, however none of this has been easy. Getting here started a month ago when I requested a reserved seat. Then the day before the show when I had to reschedule my chemotherapy so that I was marginally less nauseous than usual so that I could enjoy the evening as best I could. Getting here took me entire day to get ready and dressed in stages through the constant pain, exhaustion and taking medications. It also involved dealing with the nausea from yesterday’s gruelling chemotherapy which makes me feel like my entire body has been poisoned, which to be fair it has. Getting here involved me having to pit stop at the Royal Festival Hall due to terrible pain despite being just five minutes from the studio. And I am being asked to undertake this all again to come back to be greeted with this same shocking access policy?
Now Clipboard B who didn’t turn to face me the whole time (clearly I’m not worth the time of day in her little world) retorted over her shoulder, ‘and you will still have to queue with everyone else.’ My partner explained to the side of her head that I am disabled which was the whole point of reserving seats – because I cannot stand in the queue.
She replied flippantly, ‘well if you do come with someone who can’t queue up they can go and wait over there’, swatting limply with her hand to a random side of the ITV building, ‘but whoever is with them will have to queue up with everyone else’. Hmm firstly, “if you do come with someone..”? Hello! I’m (just about) standing right here! I am that ‘someone’. It was like she was in denial that I was certifiably disabled, as if she really wanted to say, ‘if you’re with a proper disabled person they can wait over there’ (followed by hand swat). Maybe she thought if she kept her back to me and didn’t make eye contact then I would disappear? And this is the problem, disabled people face everyday, we are treated like we are a problem that needs to go away.
My issue is not simply that I did not get in to watch The Last Leg. It is the treatment of which I received at the hands of the door staff and the access policy. The attitude of the door staff was dismissive and downright offensive. I was made to feel like a second-class citizen and I left in tears feeling demoralised and extremely traumatised. The ITV and/or SRO access policy is to split the disabled person from their carer. Is this anxiety and stress really necessary? I didn’t see them splitting up able-bodied couples in the queue. This is clearly an unethical, discriminatory policy towards disabled people. It is also quite frankly a shoddy door policy which causes time wasting and a shambles in the queue.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, amendment 2005 and the 2010 Equality Act protect a disabled persons right to access to goods, services and facilities. Access policies are in place to give people with disabilities access to the same facilities as the able-bodied/ non-disabled. Also given that the person most likely can’t stand for long, access should be swift and most importantly with dignity. I certainly was not treated with dignity that night. The Clipboarders made the whole process very awkward and embarrassing drawing attention to my situation. Which in turn made the queue get involved with their sarcastic comments. What looked like the only disabled reserved seats should never have been given away considering there were plenty of empty seats left. Again this is a queue to see The Last Leg.
Seeing The Last Leg was to be one night of escapism from the daily struggle and worry of my degenerating illness as well as the overwhelming reality of disability cuts. The effect to disabled people across the country is crippling. Losing PIP and ESA entitlement is spiralling lives into uncertainty, plummeting below the bread line, with some losing their homes and ending up homeless. Which I suppose is handy for statistics, at least they’re off benefits. I assumed being in the audience at The Last Leg, I would be amongst like minded people on matters like this right? Maybe the presenters but certainly not the door staff or the audience members that I encountered.
Ironically these are the same people who were going to sit (in my seat) and laugh at all the disability related banter and cheer at jokes on Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation. Yet in the real world, they and the Clipboarders treated me no differently to how IDS and this government treat disabled people. You have sneered at me, intimidated and degraded me.
But don’t feel bad, us disabled experience this abuse daily when parked in blue badge bays or at airports where we require assistance. If only you knew just how much strength and energy it takes for us to shower in the morning or simply flip a light switch. We are being scrutinised and victimised every second of the day for actually making it out of the house and daring to go about our own business.
Over the last few years this government together with its sensationalist media on benefit scroungers have made us easy targets. Disability abuse is on the rise and the reign of horrific Atos assessments have taken place, coinciding with drastic cuts to mental health services and disability benefits. The poorest, most vulnerable people in society are being forced to pay for a deficit caused by the wealthiest in society. None of it makes sense. Tax evasion by the top 3% of companies could easily fill this deficit and they would not even flinch. And yet it is disabled people who are treated with contempt in society, this is sad. We are sad.🙁
I’m also sad because I missed out on seeing my weird man crush, Louis Theroux, who was special guest on The Last Leg that night.
I don’t expect to get an apology from ITV or SRO – disabled people rarely do when we complain. At best there is ‘no record’ of this treatment or we get a fobbed off with, ‘retraining the individual staff member’. However ITV and SRO Audiences your entire access policy needs revising, it causes unnecessary stress and intimidation. On second thoughts, actually an apology would be nice. After taking a week to write this because of back to back hospital appointments, injections, fevers, constant pain, exhaustion and scrawling with my deformed and painful hands, yes an apology would be nice at the least. The treatment I encountered at the ITV studios is just one small reflection of how disabled people are treated in society now. It is just ironic that the TV show was The Last Leg.
And I guess what I’m also saying is; sorry Clare, I never did get to inform Adam Hills that you are to be his wife. Although he seems to have a pretty awesome wife already who, like, sings opera and everything.
What happened next? See The Next Leg