'Awful' treatment of wheelchair user at theme park slammed

A woman has penned an emotional open letter to a theme park, after a ‘horrendous’ visit with her sister and girlfriend.

Becky Cheetham decided to spend her birthday on September 28 at Alton Towers theme park in Staffordshire, England, with her girlfriend and sister Hannah, who has Cerebral Palsy and is in a wheelchair.

But rather than enjoying a fun day out celebrating, Becky took to Facebook to share a gut-wrenching photo of the moment Hannah was left ‘inconsolable’ during their day at the park.

“On your website, it states Alton Towers wants to ‘help guests with additional needs have a fabulous and unforgettable experience’,” she starts her letter.

“It certainly was an ‘unforgettable’ day for all the wrong reasons.”

cheethams with dreams theme park letter
Becky's sister Hannah was left 'inconsolable' at the theme park. Photo: Facebook/cheethamswithdreams

“Hannah has Cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair, but that is all. She is completely aware of her surroundings, understands everything you say and communicates non-verbally,” Becky explains, before going on to detail the day they had experienced, including some shocking encounters with some staff members.

“Due to seeing how upset my sister was yesterday, I feel I have a duty to approach this subject in a positive and enlightening manner to ensure other people do not have the same experience.”

Becky says the sisters have been to Alton Towers many times before and have had no issues. But this time was different.

“We went straight to the customer services to gain our disability access band and head off to have fun! We got given a leaflet for our virtual queue but at no point was any explanation on what rides we could go on given to us, or Hannah’s disability questioned further,” she says.

hannah and becky cheetham
Hannah has Cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair, but is completely aware of her surroundings, understands everything and communicates non-verbally. Photo: Facebook/cheethamswithdreams

But things went downhill from the first ride. They were shown through the disability access, before two other workers took them up a lift. Once they got to the ride however, Becky noticed a sign saying ‘to ride the rollercoaster, the individual must have to walk 25m unaided.’

“Once I had noticed this, I told the woman Hannah wouldn’t be able to do so, in which she replied ‘yeah she can’t ride’. The lady then turned to her coworker and shouted across ‘SHE CAN’T WALK’, and shut the door behind us,” she says.

“My issues with this situation is that Hannah is a human - please speak to her directly. Do not embarrass her by shouting out her insecurities across the ride for a crowd of people to hear. We passed three lots of workers, and not one of them thought to explain the rules of the ride before we got up there and had to turn around.”

At the next ride, Becky says they were humiliated again, in an incident which left Hannah “inconsolable”. They had waited 30 minutes to get on, before Becky carried Hannah onto the ride and they both sat down ready to go.

“Until… a worker came up to me (not Hannah) and asked if Hannah could walk. They continued to ask if Hannah could walk off the ride if it broke down. I calmly explained they had just seen me carry Hannah onto said ride, so obviously she could not.

“At this point, the crowd of people waiting for the next train and in the queue were looking at us. The girl said Hannah could not ride due to health and safety. I began to cry due to being so angry. They had embarrassed us by letting us get on to then be publicly removed from the ride.

“I have never experienced such a horrendous level of customer service. Hannah, unconsolable at this point, was angry and fed up due to the ignorance of your staff.”

The group were eventually able to speak to a very helpful and empathetic worker, who was able to explain all the health and safety regulations and the rides Hannah could go on - something Becky says would have been appropriate at the start of the day.

Though unfortunately the day did not improve much. Hannah was finally able to go on a ride - the Teacups - and yet when they asked for a second round, as there was no one in the queue, they were refused and told they would have to get off and then get back on again - despite the difficulty of doing so.

Afterwards they also arrived at another ride, that according to their leaflet had disability access, only for a staff member there to tell them they hadn’t had disability access in a while.

“After spending £40 per ticket, driving for one and a half hours, and wasting my Birthday, we went on two rides - The Runaway Train and the Teacups. If you know Hannah, she is the biggest adrenaline junkie and these rides are known as ‘children’s rides’. She isn’t wrong. Wheelchair users want the same experiences as everyone else,” Becky’s post, shared here with permission, continues.

“We are in 2020, and other parks have been able to make real adaptations for wheelchair users.

“Having been to Disney World, Universal Resorts, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and EVEN Alton Towers two years ago… how can this theme park claim to be inclusive for people with disabilities when a fully grown adult can only have fun on a teacup ride?

“As an example, at Disney World there are 45 rides over 4 parks which are available to wheelchair users, with 6 even having transfer devices available.”

cheethams at disney world
Becky said other theme parks like Disney World had more inclusive rides and procedures. Photo: Facebook/cheethamswithdreams

Aside from the issue of ride accessibility, Becky also stressed the issue of the employees attitudes and awareness and decided to started a change.org petition for disability awareness training for public facing staff members.

“The way we were treated and the lack of awareness and training with disabilities was the biggest issue here. It was disgraceful,” she writes, even offering that she and Hannah personally come in and speak to staff members after their experience.

“Alton Towers needs to invest in clearer guidance for guests with disabilities, needs to train staff on this guidance, and then needs to provide behavioural training for staff to prevent these issues from occurring again,” she says.

“Please let Hannah and me to offer to personally come and train your staff on how to speak to people with disabilities, expose your staff to awareness and build positivity around this. Not one person spoke to, or apologised to Hannah herself. She had to sit and listen to you argue with me around how her disability has effectively ruined our day. Not our fault, yours.”

hannah and becky cheetham alton towers open letter
Becky and Hannah have offered to personally help teach the staff at Alton Towers. Photo: Facebook/cheethamswithdreams

Becky’s post quickly went viral and has been shared almost 30K times, gaining close to 5K comments, with many people appalled by their story.

“I am so so sorry that you had to experience this. People’s attitudes are appalling,” one person commented.

“I’m so sorry you had such an awful experience on your birthday at Alton Towers. I hope you have some level of success in making this company and their employees aware of disability and they make favourable changes,” another wrote.

While a third said: “I feel so sad and angry for you and Hannah. A great letter, excellently putting all of the valid points across and how they made you all feel. I admire that you are sharing this too thank you.”

Becky revealed in a follow up comment that they had received a response from the theme park as well.

“Thank you so much for your comments, shares, likes, messages... everything. You are all incredible. We have had a prompt reply from Alton Towers, who are willing to work with us to improve their attraction,” she said.

“We will do everything in our power to change this for the better, so you don't have to go through what we did.”

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