Hello again, Samantha here to update you on the BBC’s responses to the disability access issues we raised regarding access to the BBC’s flagship Doctor Who Celebration convention, to make the 50th anniversary of my favourite show. I can only hope you aren’t as tired of this whole saga as I am.
If you can face more, be warned, it’s a long un.
Grab a cuppa and settle down.
Before I update you on the responses I’ve had, I want to say a little bit about why I’m so upset by this.
I’m a disabled person and equality matters to me an awful lot. I try to fight injustice and discrimination when I encounter them, not only for myself, but for other people’s benefit too.
Yet this particular battle has an added dimension to it I feel I’d like to explain.
I have been a huge fan of Doctor Who since the age of three. I buy DVDs, books, toys, mugs and calendars.
My home is filled with TARDISes, a veritable army of daleks, K9s, cybermen, action figures… the list goes on.
I have attended conventions because of Doctor Who related guests, and have costumed as five different Doctor Who characters to date.
I travelled to Manchester, Cardiff and London to see the Doctor Who exhibits which predated the Doctor Who Experience, and travelled to London to see that. I went to Manchester to see Doctor Who Live.
I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to get tickets to every Doctor Who Prom the BBC has produced. I’ve watched filming in Cardiff, and visited filming locations.
I recently had a birthday, I am very lucky to have generous family and friends. I got a talking Cyberman plush, a talking 11th Doctor plush, a TARDIS stress toy, a mini dalek talking plush, two sets of Doctor Who glasses, two sonic screwdrivers, three Doctor Who pop vinyl figures, a Doctor Who collectible card game, and a Doctor Who necklace.
I also have birthday money which I would normally spend on Who stuff, but I haven’t as yet.
Why am I telling you this? (I know some people will think I’m sad).
Because I’m not doing this for fun. It’s upsetting and time consuming and stressful, I’m doing this because it matters to me.
Because I’m no longer excited about the Doctor Who Celebration.
I don’t feel welcome, I don’t feel included as a disabled fan. And even more sadly, I’m not excited about the 50th anniversary any more.
The BBC have taken that from me, with their lack of inclusivity. They are making me, a fan for over 30 years, fall out of love with the show I’ve adored since I was old enough to upend my mother’s laundry basket and pretend to be a dalek.
I think that’s really sad, and I teared up just writing that.
But from the BBC’s perspective, how does this make financial sense? You can see how much time and money I’ve put into being a fan, is it really worth losing that, and breaking the law, because they can’t be bothered to put things right?
I’ve received several responses from the BBC since my last blog about the access issues for the 50th Celebration, none of them satisfactory, and it’s been almost three weeks since they last responded, so I figured it was time for an update.
As you may remember, Chris Hicks of the BBC promised to “speak to all of the people who had issues…and provide a satisfactory outcome for everyone”. This has yet to materialise.
Following Chris’s unsatisfactory response on 10th July, he was made aware of my blog post update, and I sent the following reply. Yes, it’s terse, I know. But I’m sick and tired of this whole thing.
Thank you for your email. I’m afraid I really don’t feel that it addresses the issues. I can see that Alison has already forwarded the blog update I wrote to you.
I feel you have failed to address that this was not an isolated case but a significant failure in access provision for disabled customers and is a clear breach of the equality act. This is all the more disappointing as the BBC had significant free consultancy advice on improving access from Alison and myself in 2011.
You have not addressed the fact that disabled customers were repeatedly given misleading information, on the event website, by email, and on the phone.
You have not addressed the fact that disabled fans were unable to book photos and arranged for such photos to be offered.
You have not indicated whether you will change my ticket to Saturday, as I did not have the same access to tickets as those without a disability and was given incorrect information by telephone staff.
You have not indicated whether you will refund those you gave up and paid for tickets for carers, as they could not get through and were worried they would miss out otherwise.
You have not indicated whether you will offer partial refunds to those who bought the more expensive TARDIS tickets, as the website information did not make it clear that their access needs would be met by regular tickets.
You have not committed to improve the website access information or booking processes in future.
You have done nothing to recompense disabled customers for the additional costs they have incurred, nor the time, stress and distress.
I feel your response does not truly accept responsibility for this breach of the law, nor offers and apology.
You claim the phone number received unanticipated levels of calls.
Unanticipated to whom, exactly? Doctor Who is the BBC’s flagship show, hugely popular and makes huge amounts of money.
The show has a huge fanbase of all ages and is the longest running show of its kind. In this, its 50th year, and with Matt Smith leaving the show, I find it hard to believe the demand was unanticipated.
I certainly anticipated it, when I emailed expressing concerns about getting through on the phonelines, on July 4th.
I will email you separately regarding expenses for the doctor who experience.
On the 15th, Chris again responded:
We felt it would be helpful to clarify some of the points which you have raised in your response to our letter last week.
All potential bookers were able to book tickets via the website and the telephone booking line. Only carer tickets had to be booked via the telephone and as we have previously stated this could be done any time between the time you booked tickets and the event itself. We are sorry that this information was not made clearer on the website and if you or anyone else was given any wrong information on email or on the phone. We have learned from this experience and are taking steps to make sure that customers have clearer and more accurate information in future.
Our ticketing agent was confident before the tickets went on-sale that they had appropriate systems in place to deal with the expected number of calls. However, the demand for tickets was unprecedented and this did result in some callers struggling to get through.
When you spoke to a box office agent there were no tickets available for the Saturday. The pre-sale allocation had sold out due to unprecedented demand. More tickets became available at 11am when tickets went on general sale which is why the allocation did not officially sell out until midday.
Disabled customers were able to book tickets and photo opportunities with Matt Smith online subject to their availability.
Accessibility is something that is very important to us, and there will be a dedicated seating area within the theatre which will meet our disabled visitors’ access needs. In the main halls we will also be providing services which will ensure that the experience of our disabled visitors is an enjoyable one.
We have invited Alison Smith from Pesky People to help us make sure that the site has full and proper access for disabled visitors.
Anyone who has paid a full price ticket for their carer is entitled to a refund on that carer ticket. They should contact Single Market Events to claim that refund. Refunds can be claimed by emailing Olivia@single-market.co.uk.
We have also invited Alison to the event so that she can write about it for Pesky People.
Once again, I would like to apologise on behalf of BBC Worldwide that your experience has been an unsatisfactory one and to assure you that we take your feedback extremely seriously and that it will help to ensure that we make improvements to the booking services we offer.
The Doctor Who Celebration team
Great that they will give a refund to anyone who paid for a carer ticket, although I haven’t seen this information publicised anywhere (I tweeted people I knew were affected by this).
But their argument seems to be that it wasn’t discriminatory as I could have booked tickets on the website had I not been told that I couldn’t.
So it wasn’t disability discrimination as long as you were psychic.
Oh, and that they hadn’t anticipated the event would be so popular.
Really?? REALLY?! A show that has been running for 50 years, a flagship BBC show, a huge money maker, a convention celebrating this show, in its ANNIVERSARY YEAR, with an appearance by the current Doctor, for the last time before he regenerates? It wasn’t predictable this would be popular??
I’m sure you can anticipate my response, but here it is anyway:
Thank you for your email.
I am glad to hear that disabled people were in fact able to book their tickets on the website and could phone to book the free carer ticket later. Sadly, this was not clear on the website, nor was this information given to me when I emailed asking for clarification and expressing concern that the phone lines would be overwhelmed on the day tickets went on sale. I was told that I had to phone when tickets went on sale.
Other people were also given this incorrect information. It is no good having arrangements to allow booking for disabled customers if this information on how to book is not communicated, and indeed, in this case, misleading and incorrect information is given to those that enquire.
Regardless of what you intended, the fact remains that I could NOT book my tickets on the website and could ONLY book by phone, as this is what your own staff allocated to deal with access enquiries told me I needed to do. This constitutes a breach of the Equality Act 2010, regarding providing equality of access to goods and services, and preventing disabled customers from being disadvantaged. It also meant disabled customers had to incur significant costs that able bodied customers did not.
I was not told on the telephone that further tickets for the Saturday would be made available at 11am, nor that I could book my tickets online. I would have done so, had I been given this information. As I had been told in an email from your staff that I could only book on the telephone, and on the telephone I was not given correct information, I did not have equal access to Saturday tickets that able bodied customers had.
As I had been told I could only book by phone, and your staff on the telephone were unable to sell me photo opportunity tickets, and no one responded to my query about this before such tickets sold out, I had NO opportunity to purchase a photo opportunity. Once again, this is in breach of disability discrimination legislation.
While I appreciate that efforts may well have been made in advance to allow disabled people to access tickets, the fact remains that these systems failed on the day in question, and equal access was not provided. Nor is my case isolated, we have highlighted a significant body of disabled people who had the same issues with very little effort. This was a significant issue for many people.
I appreciate that you have acknowledged that systems were in place, but these systems failed, and as such, access to the event has breached disability discrimination legislation in multiple ways.
What you have failed to do thus far is offer solutions to restore equality of access. This would include
Changing my ticket to a Saturday (I realise the event is sold out but there will be tickets for press, competitions etc available to the BBC).
Providing me with access to purchase a photo opportunity.
Making some gesture as compensation for the lack of access, additional costs, time, and stress this has caused.
For other people who had similar difficulties, similar solutions should be offered, as well as the refunds of paid carer tickets you already mentioned, and downgrading VIP to regular tickets if people purchased these to ensure their access needs were met.
I appreciate the time you have taken to deal with my complaint, however you have so far failed to offer any solutions to meet your legal obligations to provide equal access for disabled people to the event.
At this point, Chris stopped replying, and I was contacted by Neil Wease, Event Manager for BBC Worldwide. He intially asked to phone me, but I expressed a preference for email communication. His email on 30th July was as follows:
Thank you for your continued patience whilst we’ve been looking in to this matter for you.
We acknowledge that photo opportunities should have been available to all who booked by phone, therefore we have gone through the log of calls in order to offer people who called while the photo ops would have still been available, the chance to purchase them. This is the fairest way to ensure those who were in the window of being able to buy them, were able to, retrospectively. Unfortunately, the time of your call falls outside of this window, but, given we understand the frustration this has caused you, we’d like to offer a signed photo of Matt as a way of making some amend.
Please be assured, we are committed to making our event as accessible as possible and details of our plans will be published on our website nearer the time.
I’m pleased you have tickets, there are a lot of people who didn’t manage to secure any at all, so we look forward to seeing you at the Celebration in November. In the meantime, if you could provide me your address to send the signed photo to, I’d be very grateful.
I’m very pleased they say they have offered photo opportunities to some people denied them, although I’ve yet to locate anyone who was offered one. But THEY OFFERED ME A SIGNED PHOTO?!!?
SERIOUSLY, that is their compensation for breaching the law, denying disabled fans access to the event, the hugely expensive phone calls. A signed photo, which I’ve no doubt I could get by sending an SAE to Matt Smith’s agent. I wonder whether anyone else has been offered a signed photo, or if it’s just me, the mouthy blogger?
Thank you for your email.
I’m afraid your response is still unacceptable.
I was forced to book by phone by your discriminatory procedures, due to having a disability, despite expressing concern that the phone lines would be jammed to your staff several days in advance. I was told I could ONLY book by phone. This is in breach of the Equality Act.
Despite requiring that disabled people call to book their tickets,you failed to provide a separate booking line for this purpose, meaning that we had to try to get through to the main line. As the lines your partners had arranged were woefully inadequate, we kept getting disconnected every time we got through. This was at cost to me.
It took over an hour to get through. I’m confident that in that time, with two PCs, a mac, two tablets and two smartphones in the house, we would have successfully booked tickets online earlier than we managed to by phone.
Furthermore, when we did eventually get through, photo ops were still available, both the woman we spoke to and the official Twitter account confirmed this.
Had you not discriminated against disabled people by limiting their access to booking tickets by telephone and then adding to the inequality by also having inadequate technology and procedures to actually handle those bookings, you cannot actually say who would have been able to book photo opportunities and at what times.
While I appreciate your effort in reviewing phone logs, it fails to take into account the catalogue of breaches of disability discrimination that led to disabled people having to get through by phone, and therefore still represents a failure to provide equal access.
Furthermore, I was told tickets for the Saturday had sold out when this was only the case for the presale and further tickets were available, and they had sold out before I secured tickets due to your failures in providing equal access. You have not addressed my request to have my tickets transferred to the Saturday.
I sent that on July 30th, almost three weeks ago. I have heard nothing since.
It seems Silence Has Fallen at the BBC.
Chris also promised to sort out our unpaid expenses from our initial visit to Doctor Who Experience in London in 2011 if we provided further information. I did this on 11th July. Chris has not responded to those emails or been in touch to arrange payment of the expenses.
You may remember that Chris asked Alison of Pesky People to advise on their website to improve the access information and attend the event to review the access arrangements. Further probing revealed that, having had Alison’s time and expertese for free once, they expected disability consulatation to be provided free of charge once again. Apparently the BBC “is not in a position to hire in external consultancy” at this stage. Even though clearly, they needed such consultancy months ago, before the tickets went on sale.
You may also remember that I storified 116 tweets detailing the problems disabled people had had trying to secure tickets for the event.
We also passed them a number of complaints we had emailed in to pesky people or left as comments on the site.
While the BBC committed to address all of these, I have been keeping in touch with several other people on Twitter who told us differently:
@Clare_Hibbert recieved the same initial unsatisfactory response that I did on the 10th July, she replied, but when I last heard, had nothing back. Her son was very distressed by this.
@AnnaWatsit had a phonecall from the BBC, who swapped her family ticket to a disabled person, carer, and child tickets. While this was an improvement, it still wasn’t on the day they wanted, and they weren’t offered a photo opportunity.
@Zodifly was able to get a free carer’s ticket, but not the VIP tickets they actually wanted.
So while some people have had some joy, I haven’t found anyone who’d describe it as a “full and satisfactory response”, who’ve been offered a photo opportunity, or indeed, who’ve been offered even a signed photo.
There is only silence.
EDIT: Just as I was about to hit “publish”, I spotted one final tweet from @Clare_Hibbert which I feel sums the situation up well:
Around the same time I last heard from the BBC, the Doctor Who Experience announced that, for a limited period this month, you could tour the actual TARDIS set in Cardiff. We emailed them on the 9th August to ask what the access arrangements for this tour are. We had no reply, so emailed again on the 15th. They replied on the 16th, saying the TARDIS tours had sold out. So I can’t go. You couldn’t make this up. Yet another access failure from the Beeb. This is really starting to feel personal, BBC.
So, that’s the sad state of affairs as it currently stands. The BBC have disciminated against multiple disabled people, and have made, at best, underwhelming attempts to put this right. And now they are no longer responding to emails. And they’ve got at least one fan, falling out of love with their show as a result.
I wonder what The Doctor would think of their behaviour?