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|TX: 18.07.05 - Club Med
PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON
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The Disability Rights Commission says that the company Club Med should review its policy of excluding disabled children from its holiday clubs. You and Yours contacted the commission to raise the case of Joe, who is five and has severe disabilities because of a condition called tuberous sclerosis. His mother, Mandy Moshe, a GP from Twickenham in West London was deeply disappointed when she tried to book a Club Med holiday for the family in the South of France. Dr Moshe contacted You and Yours when she was told that Joe wouldn't be able to use the kids club at the resort near Nice. She claims a representative at the company's head office explained that Joe might upset the other children. She told us what happened.
We started investigating Club Med and it looked like it was just going to be the perfect scenario. We've got some family friends that live nearby in the South of France, we wanted to spend a few days with them and I came up with this fantastic holiday - a mix and match, three or four days in each, we could have time with our friends where we'd relaxed, perhaps we'd get tired, but then have our relaxing time with Joe, thinking that we would take it in turns to take Joe into the child club. Joe would need one-to-one care in the club and we were fully appreciative of the fact that Club Med do not offer that. But we thought that we could take it in turns taking him into the club or possibly even look into the aspect of maybe flying someone out for three days. They then started looking into it in further detail and after some inquiries got back to me and I was completely gobsmacked that actually even if we provide the care - and I kept on stressing that we would be with him, we wouldn't leave him, that we were willing somehow to provide the one-to-one care he needs - he would not be allowed in any of their clubs because he has special needs.
I have heard all about the disability problems and issues but luckily so far I actually haven't run into major discrimination. But I just could not believe what a blanket rule it was. The person I was put through to was someone in head office and at this point they knew nothing about Joe, nothing about Joe's needs, it was purely a - in their brochure that anyone that needs - that have special needs - that needs any additional care could not attend their club. When I asked why the only reason they could give me was that maybe it was because it might upset the other children. Joe looks like a normal child, he has a wonderful smile, an infectious laugh, other children like being with him, how dare they imply that perhaps other children might not want to be with him.
Dr Mandy Moshe, mother of Joe. Club Med didn't want to come on the programme today, though they deny that Mandy was told that Joe might upset the other children in the kids club. They also issued this statement: As a UK tour operator we abide by the ABTA code of conduct in order to respond to the needs of people with disabilities. While we have advised Ms Moshe and her children that they are welcome to use all the other facilities at the Club Med village we can confirm that in accordance with the terms and conditions of our European villages summer 2005 brochure we will not be able to provide the mini club med facilities for her son. The brochure clearly indicates that our facilities cannot cater for children who need specific medical supervision, monitoring especially or one-to-one supervision or the assistance of a third party. These children will remain under the sole responsibility and supervision of their parents and guardians.
Well joining us now is Dee Birkett, she's a travel writer with the Guardian, she has three children and the oldest, who's 12, uses a wheelchair and Keith Richards, is head of consumer affairs at ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents.
Keith Richards, Club Med have said there that they're abiding by the industry's code of conduct, what do you think?
Well it's one of those cases that actually highlights a whole range of problems for businesses that are selling in the UK services that are going to be enjoyed overseas, because what we are dealing with is an issue to do with domestic legislation - that's the Disability Discrimination Act - which has been in place for many years now. And what our code requires is there must be compliance with that UK legislation. The difficulty for companies like this is that what they're actually offering is a service outside the UK, so there's a question mark from a legal point of view whether the UK law actually applies anyway.
But what about the spirit of the act? You say it's causing a problem for companies because they're based in the UK but they operate outside, but the spirit of the act surely would want them to comply and what about the problem for parents?
Well I think our view would be that it isn't necessarily a problem that that's creating, it's a challenge because the challenge is you're operating in different countries that have different health and safety requirements, as an example, so this company has got to take heed of whatever those kind of requirements are in the countries that they operate in. But what we always do is encourage the industry in the UK to look at what it can do to take reasonable steps to accommodate the needs of all customers, whether they have disabilities or not. And that is reflecting the requirements of the domestic legislation. So they've got to look at what alternatives they can take and there is a very positive duty on them under the UK law to change their practices, policies and procedures that may well discriminate against customers. So I think it's a question of sort of stepping outside the box, looking at the art of the possible, taking reasonable steps and most cases the needs of disabled customers can be accommodated.
Dee Birkett, is this a one-off case in your experience?
Well very sadly not. In my experience most holiday companies find excuses to exclude rather than ways of including. My daughter, my 12 year old, who uses a wheelchair she has been banned from a kids club on the grounds that her wheelchair would be a health risk to other children, which is quite clearly absurd. We were going on an alpine holiday at one point and at the very last minute the holiday was cancelled because our holiday company said that alpine terrain was not suitable for my daughter and she would feel excluded from other activities. The only way she felt excluded was being told she couldn't go on the holiday, that's how she felt excluded. Now what I think the presumption behind all of this is that if you're disabled you're going to be problem. Now quite frankly if I had the choice of having my 12 year old who's a wheelchair user or my 4 year old, who's rather mischievous, in my kids club, I'd choose my well behaved 12 year old any day. The presumption is anyone who has - any child who has any kind of disability is going to be a burden and that's simply not the case.
Keith Richards, from the Association of British Travel Agents, you seem to be implying in your answer that there might be something in French law that meant that this child couldn't take part in the kids club, that can't be the case surely?
Well we see in many countries, not just European, but around the world, where tour operators send customers to, that there are certain legal regimes in place and that includes requirements, particularly things as specific as kids clubs, to have a certain ratio of carers to children and also to make sure that those carers who are there provide enough assistance and are available. Now the question here maybe a slightly subjective one, is how much time will caring for a particular person with a certain disability take out of that carer's time. Now I'll come back to my original point and that is that that is not an automatic reason for refusing to take somebody on holiday. What the company needs to look at is whether it's possible to increase the ratios, whether it is possible to bring in a third party, whether parents can indeed be present in the kids club.
Well I'm told that - I'm told that parents are allowed to be present in the kids club, for example if the child finds it difficult to settle or is crying, or is shy, it wouldn't be exceptional for a parent to be allowed to stay.
I obviously can't comment on the specifics there but if that is the case then obviously this all needs to be explored by the companies that are involved in selling services overseas. But there are some very specific things under the UK law that do allow justification for disability but they are very specific. And just to give you one very quick example: you can justify discrimination where to provide the service to a disabled person on different terms means that there is an additional cost in providing it and you can't wrap that up in the total cost that everybody pays. Now that's quite an easy one to get around. So all I'm saying here is that any company, particularly ABTA companies, that are offering these services should step back and review their policies, their practices and procedures, which I think is what the Disability Rights Commission is suggesting, and take a look at this from a different perspective and I think they'll find that they can accommodate the needs of a much wider variety of people within their kids clubs and within their holidays.
Dee Birkett, briefly if you would, are there travel companies with very good records when it comes to catering for people with disabilities?
Well sadly I haven't come across it because many of them, as we've just heard, hide behind very tangled legal requirements and say well it's not even to do with UK law, it's to do with foreign law, which is something that as a family is impossible to battle with and it's really just screens to hide behind.
So there's not a single company that springs to your mind, as a travel writer with a disabled child, that is very, very good?
Well the one time that I did successfully get my 12 year old, who's a wheelchair user, into a kids club, mysteriously when they had a fashion show for the pre-teens she didn't - was the only child who didn't appear in the fashion show. So even if you get them inside the door sometimes what happens is just the ordinary prejudices of people who work there think that they can't take full part.
Dee Birkett, Keith Richards, thank you both.
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