The mother of a severely disabled child has claimed Belfast City Council is “discriminating against and isolating” disabled people at tonight’s Christmas lights switch-on by only setting aside 25 tickets for people with mobility issues out of a total of around 11,000 tickets.
Angela Haughey’s four-year-old son Charlie suffers from cerebral palsy, visual impairment and multiple learning disabilities after contracting a devastating strep B brain infection at just two-and-a-half weeks old.
Despite doctors warning he might not survive, brave Charlie pulled through, and Belfast mum Angela says she has always tried to include him in all activities with his four siblings.
However, she says that she broke down in tears on Thursday after being told by a council worker that the local authority was “fulfilling its statutory obligations by reserving 25 spaces for people with mobility issues and 25 spaces for their carers” on a platform at the family event.
“I cried my eyes out when I got off the phone. Everything is so hard when you have a severely disabled child, and I was sad that something as straightforward as attending the Christmas lights should be a challenge,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“When I rang I was told all the disabled tickets and other tickets had been sold out, and I couldn’t believe there would only be space for 25 wheelchair users who are bringing one carer each.
“The council is providing a small, raised accessible platform area near the welcome centre, but even if we had got a ticket to that it could only have been used by him and one carer, separating him from his brothers and sisters. I think that would stigmatise him.
“This is a family event and I feel we should be able to enjoy it together as a family and make special memories.
“There are screens but Charlie wouldn’t be able to see them from further back on the platform as he has no peripheral vision.
“I asked the council why they couldn’t provide a bigger area on the ground at the front of the stage instead, which would allow families with disabled members to stay together and provide a better view for the visually impaired.
“But they said they were already fulfilling their legal obligations. However, I would question if it is morally acceptable”.
Angela said that the lack of spaces for those with mobility issues was discouraging many parents with disabled children from attending the event.
“I have spoken to the parents of other disabled children and they say they don’t even bother trying as they have been before and it was too hard,” she said. “This means that people with disabilities become more isolated.
“We try to encourage Charlie to walk as much as possible, but when waiting for the lights switch-on he would need to use his wheelchair as he would get tired easily.
“We can carry him now as he is small, but that will become impossible when he gets bigger and can’t walk so well.
“Then, if we can’t get the small number of tickets available, we will be stuck in the crowd and he will be left in his wheelchair staring at the back of the person in front of him.
“Charlie is a miracle, he is a little fighter, and we want him to be as happy as possible for as long as possible.
“As a mummy it’s hard to accept that he is disadvantaged due to his disability. We are still hoping to go to the switch-on, but we aren’t expecting much”.
A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said that the city centre is “fully accessible”.
He stated: “For the switch-on event, we provide a raised platform for use by people with mobility issues who require an elevated position from which to view the event.
“The capacity of the platform is limited by the size of the structure which we can safely provide in the environment in which we are working. The capacity is 50 persons. Our large screens relay the on-stage action throughout the site, and we provide subtitles on these screens, as well as a BSL signer on the stage itself.
“We also have designated areas close to the entrance/exit points for people who do not feel comfortable in large crowds and may wish to leave the site quickly during the event”.