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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The De Havilland Model Railway Society held their annual exhibition today (29th April) at a Methodist church in Welwyn Garden City. But they were limited to the ground floor by the church authorities after a threat was made to sue the church under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The Society had mentioned in adverts and magazine items that "disabled visitors will only have access to the ground floor, so that about 40 per cent of the exhibition will not be accessible to people unable to manage stairs.". A concessionary entry fee for those limited to the ground floor was promised.

It seems that someone from Kent issued the threat to sue the church too late for the matter to be resolved prior to today's exhibition. The local church authorities asked the central Methodist authorities for advice; as a result of which the decision was taken to ban upstairs to all the public. The consequence was that the Society had to reorganize the whole exhibition, and a number of layouts were not on view. The Society also decided to charge a lower entrance fee to all visitors, and so have lost out on income themselves.

I was unable to speak to the Minister at the church to find out more information about any access audit they had already carried out. There were facilities, e.g ramp access and toilets, for wheel-chair users, so clearly they had already made some provision for the disabled.

What a shame that today's 'sue it' society leads to interference in the innocent pleasures of many and creates bad publicity for those who do need help.

John Webb
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Further to my post #1 above, I was unable to find out if the complainant had made any attempt to contact the Society or the church to find out why access to the first floor was restricted. If they had might have been given the results of any access audit that had been carried out. I also doubt if they knew what the building was like - as far as I could see there was no way in which access for wheel-chairs users could be made to the first floor without building a completely new lift tower on the outside of the building.

The Disability Discrimination Act requires that alterations are carried out to adapt existing buildings so far as is 'reasonable and practical'. At my own church we have decided, on advice from our architect, that it is not 'reasonable and practical' to rebuild the toilets in our Centre to accomodate wheelchairs - besides costs it would disrupt our regular users for too long.

In the end it is the courts who will decide what is 'reasonable and practical' for a particular building, and no-one (in my opinion) should be able to threaten to sue or actually do so until a court has made such a decision. And if the court decides changes are needed the court must also give time for them to be carried out.

Regards,
John Webb
 

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Our club is at present setting up a new meeting room based on a secondhand portable classroom which has been erected on an old tennis court. This is being financed by charitable funding and the members are doing most of the physical work. We have hired in a digger to level the site and dig drains and prepare trenches for the power supply.

Local Authority Building Control quite rightly require that we provide disabled access and a suitable concrete ramp, 1.6 metres wide and 10 metres long, with a return path another 10 metres long is at present under construction. We also have to provide special paving slabs to help blind people find the steps to the entrance.

Anybody contemplating building such a clubroom had better take note. The most expensive part of our project after the initial purchase of the building has been the provision of disabled access. It is more expensive than site clearance, provision of foundation pads, electricity supply and all legal costs.

We once did have a disabled member. When he became housebound some of us used to go to his house to help him build his railway. Model Railways can be a boon to disabled people, in many ways they are an ideal hobby, and they have every right to be able to get into exhibitions, but I hope that they would stop short of even talking about sueing where full access is unavailable as in this case. Some exhibitions allow disabled people access in advance of the normal opening time.

The progress with our building is shown on our web site at Clay Cross MRS.

Colombo
 

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So does this mean that exhibitions where the layouts cannot be seen from a seated position will also be in trouble?

The 2 exhibitions I have been to so far (Stafford and Stourbridge which was on 3 levels and there is no way that I could see that a wheel chair could have got to 2 of the floors where the main layouts were) all the layouts needed to be viewed standing - I'm not disabled myself but have 2 young children who were unable to see the layouts without being picked up.

Just my thoughts
 

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Best not to say anything in adverts. Railway modellers who are less able generally are an understanding bunch and appreciate that exhibitions can be in buildings that are not entirely suited to their needs due to the one off nature of exhibitions and local facilities that are available in small towns and the cost of hiring facilities etc. Disabled hobbyists would normally contact the club in advance of a visit to check out what is available and make a decision on the basis of advice given.

Its the non hobbyist who is not so understanding.

Happy modelling
Gary
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
It was the fact that the Society had taken the trouble, as many do, to point out that not all the exhibition was accessible, which seems to have triggered off the threat - club members were clearly upset by this when I was talking to them. I have no information as to whether the complainant was actually disabled themselves or if it was some opportunist type trying it on to make money or what....
A great shame for all, whatever the person's reasons were.

Re baseboard height - there seem to be many opinions on this. Many like to have it at 'average' eye-level height, some prefer the roof-top view with smaller children and seated adults having the eye-level position.
But maybe exhibitors will eventually be compelled to cater for the disabled - perhaps a small CCTV camera and adjustable height screen? Or even the system giving a 'driver's eye' view?

John Webb
 

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QUOTE It seems that someone from Kent issued the threat to sue the church too late for the matter to be resolved prior to today's exhibition. The local church authorities asked the central Methodist authorities for advice; as a result of which the decision was taken to ban upstairs to all the public. The consequence was that the Society had to reorganize the whole exhibition, and a number of layouts were not on view. The Society also decided to charge a lower entrance fee to all visitors, and so have lost out on income themselves.

It's really quite sad that it has come to this. Most of the open days and Rail shows I have been to here in Australia do not have proper wheel chair access and there is one open day I go to each year which is on three levels with no lift or wheel chair access. As previously stated it seems to be the fact that they have been honest about the restricted access which has triggered this situation. Maybe we need to keep quiet about access to avoid this kind of scenario.


As regards baseboard height, most of the heights vary but in general they are above the height visible to some one in a wheel chair or to children. I have to lift up my son and nephews so they can see my layout and it's lower than most at exhibitions. Usually baseboards are designed to be within easy reach of the operator. If Rail exhibitions were forced to make layouts at say one metre height for wheelchair bound people and children can you imagine the amount of back trouble from prolonged bending over that would trigger with older operators and visitors?
Then we would be getting sued by fellow rail enthusiasts. You can't please everybody.
 

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QUOTE It seems that someone from Kent issued the threat to sue the church too late for the matter to be resolved prior to today's exhibition.

Someone? It is almost inevitably someone. I believe that we could defeat the PC brigade by challenging the anonymous complainers to come out from under their stones and have the guts to complain face to face. There are many things in life which annoy me or with which I do not agree, my response is to talk to the people concerned or keep quiet and put up with it, the choice is mine but letters to the "appropriate authority" would never be an option unless all other means have been exhausted. The world is full of people willing to load the cannon but few to stand up and fire it.

So there you have it, remove the anonimity and you might fight back against the PC thought police.

Brian
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The person concerned is presumeably known to the church and Society concerned. But details were not released to the visiting public. Hence my comments making it clear I had no idea why the person concerned made their objection in the way they did. The exhibition had been mentioned in Railway Modeller in April's edition as well as the more recent May one, so I see no reason why the person concerned couldn't have raised the matter sooner than they did.

My personal feelings are that they were trying it on to gain money rather than anything else. And if they couldn't get their money why not spoil the day anyway.... It will be interesting to see if the local press pick the story up and what further comments may result from that.

Regards,
John Webb
 
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