This Easter, much like Jesus my hidden disability rose from the ashes! My previous blog ‘On my Last Legs to see The Last Leg‘ instantly went viral, creating heated discussions on Twitter and multiple Facebook networks, with over 6000 views in the first day alone. I feel truly humbled by the fantastic support I have received.
Public response from both the UK and around the world was, and continues to be overwhelming. I have been inundated with heartfelt messages from people with both ‘visible’ and ‘hidden’ disabilities identifying with my experience as well as sharing their own with me. Additionally and almost more importantly, just as many able-bodied people are clearly shocked that this happens at all, with comments of ‘I had no idea’ and another describing the piece as ‘an eye-opener to the barriers disabled people face on a daily basis.’
One of the first respondents to my blog was Cherylee Houston, the Coronation Street actor and avid disability campaigner who was on Channel 4 News that very week debating disability cuts with Conservative MP David Burrowes. She was super supportive, tweeting that ‘this policy needs to change’ and connected me with Miranda Wayland the ITV Diversity and Inclusion Manager, who pledged to look into the incident.
However less than 24 hours after my blog was published, as myself and my boyfriend Rich, sat in Chinatown’s Beijing Dumpling for dinner, something terrible happened. Yes, that’s right, I became one of those twatish people who constantly looks at their phone at the dinner table. I was a Twitter twat. Sipping on gin and dim sum like Snoop Dog with the munchies, I was bombarded with what must have been well over two hundred tweets during dinner.
Adam Hills tweeted, ‘I’m so sorry. I had no idea any of this happened. I’m fuming’ and The Last Leg invited me to the series finale show on April 1 as well as to the after show Green Room drinks. Fans of The Last Leg from around the globe were quite frankly just lovely describing the treatment I had received as incomprehensible given the nature of the show. Tweets included pleas of; ‘please discuss hidden disabilities on the show’ to ‘send a car to pick her up this time’ to ‘send her flowers’ to ‘put her up in a hotel’. One tweet which made me smile urged; ‘make it right Adam, accept her friend’s marriage proposal!’ It was really fantastic that The Last Leg took responsibility for the action of their door staff on March 18 and I was confident that the future disabled access policy would be amended. Or so I thought.
On day of the finale show I wondered what would welcome me at the ITV studios that evening after such a traumatic experience last time. It was ‘take two’ 🎬 and like the previous visit, as mentioned in On My Last Legs to see The Last Leg, I started getting ready the day before, duly changing my weekly biologic injection and chemotherapy dates to accommodate the show. I fought through the raging fevers and relentless pain of my Rheumatoid Arthritis to catch the arduous tube journey to the show, easy for some but not with RA. So to the Tweeters that asked, no the show did not put on a car. I arrived battered and bruised all over my body from the journey and I could feel my white blood cells literally trying to murder me on the Southbank but of course nobody could see this, my illness is apparently ‘invisible’. Fraught with pain, I almost cried into the Thames, that’s right Justin Timberlake, I almost cried me a river.
Nevertheless I pulled myself together and with a cuddle from Rich, we made our way to the ITV studios. I felt a shiver of anxiety as we passed the queue where I had been subjected to the humiliation and discrimination to that of a Victorian freak show. This time we had been invited to the main reception area to wait amongst those with VIP entry. Now this was much more civilised and sensible! Disabled people should go to an area where it is warm with seating…but the people next to me were not disabled, these were the privileged few with no fuss entry, sitting comfortably in the warm simply because they ‘knew someone’ or ‘worked in media’. This simply by any means was not right. It saddened me that potentially someone like me could be outside right now, walking the long mile past the raging queue to be greeted by offensive door staff, all whilst *said* disabled person is being made to stand for the pleasure. The very least you could have offered was a seat while you victimised me.
After popping painkillers and anti-inflammatories, that barely touch the pain, we were led with the VIPs through the ITV building to the television studios. After an hour of rehearsal, The Last Leg trio kicked off the show live with fantastic comedic execution. Special guest Charlotte Church’s gloves (and shoes) were off for the perfect political rant, championing everyone from the steel industry to the NHS to our schools with a bit of a Trump bashing thrown in for good measure. In homage to Bernie Sanders’ ‘bird on podium’ moment, an actual vulture was released above our heads which thankfully didn’t claw out my eyeballs or worse, poo on my new dress. But things really got surreal when The Cheeky Girls randomly appeared in the show’s closing political skit 👯.
In fact in the words of The Cheeky Girls, I then asked Rich to ‘touch my bum’ as I needed my painful derrière, back and legs massaged from being seated for two hours, not complaining just a fact. We were soon escorted along with the ‘privileged few’ to the Green Room. In need of a seat already, I had no choice but to awkwardly slide onto the sofa next to Alex Brooker, his friend and The Cheeky Girls. I smiled at a Cheeky Girl and said ‘hello’ to Alex who introduced himself.
A perky Ben Wick, executive producer of The Last Leg then appeared in front of us and introduced himself to me. I explained who I was and he apologised about the previous week and asked if I enjoyed the show. I thanked him and told him the show was fantastic, at this point Alex said ‘Oh are you the one who had all that shit last time?’ I told him I was and turned to tell him more when Ben grabbed my attention asking, ‘did you like the show tonight? It was good wasn’t it?’ I again said it was great but asked him if the show’s access policy would be changed now for future disabled visitors? He looked uneasy saying, ‘that would be difficult’ followed by, ‘but the show was good wasn’t it?!’ Was he trying to hypnotise me? I explained that the show is a separate entity to the access policy which currently allows disabled people to be treated appallingly.
I expressed it would be as simple as applying the entry I had that evening; come to the main reception, away from the maddening crowd, simply give your name, sit down and wait to be led to the show. He again repeated that it would be difficult (and yet not so difficult that the ‘privileged few’ do this for every show?) He then added ‘well there’s never been any problems before!’ This statement made me shudder, it is reminiscent of the stereotypical retaliation to sexism or racism in the workplace which instead of taking ownership to investigate, is to isolate the individual thus reversing the guilt and responsibility back onto the individual. In turn the establishment does not need to be accountable because it is the individual who is the problem. Under The Equality Act 2010 this is called ‘victimisation’. The act describes disability as a ‘protected characteristic’ and outlines four types of discrimination, one being ‘victimisation’ which the act states as ‘treating someone unfairly because they’ve complained about discrimination or harassment’.
Let me also explain that just because Ben may be unaware of whether there has been a problem before, does not mean there has not been a problem before. Odds are there has. The majority of the time disabled people do not complain because it is too traumatic to relive the experience only be told it is all in their head and they are the only one complaining. I know it took a lot of courage for me to write about this experience which is usually just reserved for my partner and friends with RA, friends who can finish each others sentences because this kind of thing happens all too often. Ben did inform me that there has been a meeting about my case before adding, ‘but look, the main thing is you enjoyed the show right?!!’ Hmm no it’s really not. He swiftly left my company, I think I confused him.
I was next approached by the lovely smiley Sarah Croker, Line Manager at Open Mike Productions who had emailed me instructions for that evening’s entry. She also asked me if I enjoyed the show. I repeated that I had but again asked what would now be done about the disabled access policy? I explained as I did to Ben how much simpler the system I used to enter that evening was, away from the queue, away from abuse. She was no longer smiling and said ‘that would be difficult’ I was beginning to feel sorry for this lot, I thought having a painful, debilitating, chronic illness was difficult but no, life in television seems really ‘difficult’. She explained that ‘everyone has different needs’, however it is not for her or anyone else to judge a disability, it is the law to provide suitable access to a building.
Sarah then followed with, ‘and then there is the issue of equality’. Now this did spark me, equality for able-bodied people? I haven’t heard that one before! Even if ‘equality’ is the angle being used, it was not applied here. Let’s address the ‘equality’ of my situation a couple of weeks ago. Were the able bodied people in the queue bearing an equal experience to myself, the disabled person? The able-bodied people were standing carefree, pain-free in the queue whilst the disabled person with a severe painful illness had to stand whilst being heckled, humiliated and intimidated by the able-bodied queue and the Clipboarder door staff. The able-bodied people in the queue were not subjected to this behaviour therefore we were not treated equally. And to voice concern for the equality of able-bodied people in this instance is highly inflammatory and offensive.
As a ‘protected characteristic’, I experienced every type of discrimination outlined in The Equality Act 2010:
Despite the name, the Equality Act 2010 actually provides equality for disabled people via ‘equity’. Equality assumes everybody is at the same starting point with the same requirements, in this case disabled people and able-bodied people. Equity acknowledges a different starting point for disabled people, and the need to make adjustments for a level playing field. Equality provides sameness, equity provides fairness.
For example; a child with dyslexia uses headphones in a classroom to assist a writing task but the other children do not have headphones. It does not matter whether the other children want headphones, what matters is whether a child needs headphones in order to complete the writing task. Would Sarah consider there to be a lack of equality here because the children without a learning difficulty were not also given headphones?
I think this info graphic illustrates this concept well:
However I did not get to press Sarah further on this issue as she then asked how we were getting home informing us that someone would escort us from the building. I am sure this was not aggressively intended but we decided to leave all the same. On the way out we spoke to Adam Hills who apologised again for what happened the last time at the door. He said, ‘the (Last Leg) show champions physical disability very well but I realise that hidden disability is a whole other level which still needs to be addressed’.
Despite a leaving hug from Adam, myself and Rich exited the ITV building quite forlorn. The production staff I encountered were at best patronising and at worse hostile. They seemed annoyed at the suggestion that seeing a TV show was not as important as a fair access policy for all disabled guests – not just the ones (or ‘one’ it seems) who complain. The reason for my blog was to highlight on behalf of every disabled person the disability discrimination and intimidation that took place from the queue and Clipboarders who were representing ITV, Channel 4, The Last Leg and Open Mike Productions that fateful night. It was not so I could watch a TV show, as great as the show was.
It has now been 3 weeks since the Clipboarders, 2 weeks since the first blog and 1 week since I eventually saw the show and met the staff. To date I have had over 9000 people read my blog but I am still waiting to hear a response from ITV on the incident and how they plan to address their access policy.
I do realise it may be a case of ‘biting the hand that feeds you’ on behalf of the production staff. However I do not think hostility is needed, I would like to think we are all on the same side, wanting a fairer policy allowing disabled people to access buildings as easily and as stress free as their able-bodied friends do. Although extremely traumatic, I am glad my experience has brought the issue to the table as Cherylee Houston described. Whatever way you look at it, the fact that I am having to write this blog at all proves that the current ITV access policy for disabled people is not working and clearly contravenes the Equality Act 2010.
One friend responded online to my blog with two beautifully choice words namely ‘Clipboard’ and something that rhymes with ‘tankers’. The cute response came when her delicious two year old daughter ‘rang’ me on her toy phone singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to make me feel better. I think the SRO Clipboarders, ITV studios and Open Mike Productions could take note from little Dilys, in short: when a person is suffering and in pain, be nice, don’t be a tanker.