Banned from Knowle post office – because of her wheelchair
A PARAPLEGIC woman was ordered to leave a post office – because her wheelchair was "taking up too much room".
Sue Hitchings and her husband Robert visited Knowle Post Office in Wells Road on Saturday to pay bills and to buy stamps.
But as they were queuing to be served a staff member approached them and said Mrs Hitchings would have to wait outside because her wheelchair was taking up too much space.
The couple believe Mrs Hitchings was discriminated against because of her disability.
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But the sub-postmaster who runs the post office has told The Post that banning large electric wheelchairs is not discrimination but a "health and safety issue".
Mrs Hitchings said: "I was so shocked and embarrassed.
"There were lots of other people in the queue who were looking at me – I felt humiliated.
"I have a normal electric wheelchair and am able to go into other shops without a problem.
"I refused to go outside but had to move over and wait by the till."
Mr Hitchings complained to a staff member who he thought was the sub-postmaster, who he claims told the couple that he had previously asked 40 other wheelchair users to leave the shop and had never received any complaints.
The couple, who live in Airport Road, Hengrove, said the man's attitude was "disgraceful".
Mr Hitchings said: "I felt his attitude was very uncaring.
"What about all the elderly people who use the post office, if they are alone and in a wheelchair do they just get booted out?
"There are some things that family members or carers can't do – in many cases a disabled person's only option is to go into their local post office, especially if they are completing important forms that need to be specifically filled out by them.
"My wife was left upset for the rest of the day after what happened – it was humiliating for her.
"When I complained and said I was going to take my complaint higher the sub-postmaster said I could complain to David Cameron for all he cared."
Cheri Wilkins, chief executive officer of West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL), said that in an ideal world everyone with an impairment would have access to all public places and services.
She said the Equality Act 2010 was a positive step towards a reduction in discrimination, but believes there is still a lot more that needs to be done.
"This is a common problem that arises around access for disabled people," she said.
"Many people do need to use wider wheelchairs and if a shop aisle is not wide enough, it does exclude them."
The Equality Act 2010 bans unfair treatment of people because of "protected characteristics" they may have, including being disabled.
It also specifies that "reasonable steps" need to be taken to remedy any discrimination against disabled people.
The sub-postmaster of Knowle Post Office, who refused to give his name to The Post, claims he previously checked with The Post Office Ltd and Bristol City Council that the set-up of his shop was acceptable.
He said the aisles between the Londis convenience store part of the shop and the post office part were wide enough for manual wheelchairs but not wide enough for electric wheelchairs, like the one Mrs Hitchings uses.
He said: "Large electric wheelchairs don't fit down the narrow aisles because they are too wide and there's no turning space for them.
"We go out of our way to help all our customers, especially those with disabilities.
"I have asked many people in electric or motorised wheelchairs to stay outside while we get them what they want, or a family member gets it for them from the post office.
"We have had people in motorised wheelchairs lose control in the past. One customer had his foot run over, another was hit by a wheelchair and once a wheelchair user collided with our lottery machine. It is a health and safety issue.
"I've explained many, many times to many people and normally they don't have a problem. I also informed Post Office Ltd and the city council about it, as we are providing a public service. Neither of them raised any concerns."
A spokesman for The Post Office Ltd said: "The Post Office is committed to ensuring that all its customers have as easy access as possible to its branches and takes its responsibility under the Disability and Discrimination Act (DDA) very seriously.
"Post Office Limited is itself responsible for compliance with the act in respect of access for disabled people to its services at Crown Post Offices and sub-postmasters are similarly responsible for DDA to the post office services that they provide."
The council told The Post its equalities team had no record of contact with the sub-postmaster.
A spokesman said that if Mr and Mrs Hitchings wanted to discuss the issue further they could contact the team on 0117 922 2658 or at firstname.lastname@example.org