Paraplegic woman kicked out of Post Office because her ‘wheelchair was too big’

December 12, 2012 | by | 4 Comments

A paraplegic woman was ordered to leave a post office for ‘health and safety reasons’ – because her wheelchair was too big.

Disabled Sue Hitchings was humiliated in front of other customers after being told she was taking up too much room and blocking the aisles.

The sub-postmaster told her she would have to wait outside the branch in Knowle, Bristol as her husband Robert was served.

The Post Office where wheelchair user Sue Hitchings was ordered to leave

The Post Office where wheelchair user Sue Hitchings was ordered to leave

Sue, 58, refused to leave and instead moved to a till while Robert bought stamps and paid some bills.

And when Robert challenged the branch boss he was told he didn’t care if he complained to David Cameron.

Sue, from Hengrove, Bristol, 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.”

Robert, 62, said the incident on December 8 had left Sue upset for hours afterwards.

He 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?

“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.”

The sub-postmaster, who refused to be named, said banning large electric wheelchairs was a “health and safety issue”.

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’ve 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’ve 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.”

The Equality Act 2010 bans unfair treatment of people because of “protected characteristics” they may have, including being disabled.

It also specified that “reasonable steps” need to be taken to remedy any discrimination against disabled people.

Cheri Wilkins, chief executive officer of West of England Centre for Inclusive Living, said that everyone with an impairment should have access to all public places and services.

She added that the Equality Act 2010 was a positive step towards a reduction in discrimination but there was still a lot more that needed to be done.

She said: “This is a common problem that arises around access for disabled people.

“Many people do need to use wider wheelchairs and if a shop aisle is not wide enough, it does exclude them.”

A Post Office spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring that all its customers have as easy access as possible to its branches and take our 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.”

Category: News

Comments (4)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is really discrimination at its worst! A wheelchair is a persons legs for crying out loud. Since when is one not allowed to walk wherever one pleases? I have had this happen to my husband too several times, and I get shocked every time. Disabled people are still people and just because one is paralyzed in the legs and/or arms, doesn’t mean that they are paralyzed in the head too. They still have feelings. To the Sub-postmaster: you should really be ashamed of yourself!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Let us break this sub-postmaster both his legs, so he can enjoy a live bannend in a weelchair. On the the street of course!

  3. Heather Downs says:

    is it easier for the wheelchair user to alter her legs or the postmaster to alter the layout of his shop?

    Exactly.

  4. Ron Graves says:

    Not surprised. I, too, use a powerchair, and if I were to go to my local post office, I could get in with no problem (automatic door), but if people then come in behind me, the only possible way to get out again is by asking everyone to leave so I have room.

    The problem is, though, that to the uninitiated or just plain ignorant, powerchairs do look big, but in terms of width they are the same as most manual chairs, simply because they have to fit through the same doorways.

    There are some powerchairs, intended for outdoor use only, that are bigger, but most are the same doorway-friendly width. If the aisles are really too narrow to accommodate a standard powerchair, I’d venture to suggest that they might not comply with the law.

    And while I don’t support the manager’s actions, as the lady in question wasn’t the customer, couldn’t she have waited outside?

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