Wheelchair dancer sues company over dance floor ban

By Clive Coleman
Legal correspondent, BBC News

media captionWheelchair dancer says event organiser discriminated

A disabled dancer is taking legal action after he was banned from an event over claims his wheelchair damaged the dance floor.

Fred Walden, 54, says he was humiliated when staff at a Jive Addiction event last October told him to stop dancing.

He is suing the company for discrimination under the Equality Act.

The company claims its policy, which bans anyone using an object that damages the floor, is not discriminatory.

Mr Walden, who lives in Oxford, has been a paraplegic since an accident in 1984. Before that, he had been a keen disco and Northern Soul dancer.

He started dancing in his wheelchair 15 years ago and travels the country going to jive, blues and swing dance events and competitions. It has become a really important part of his life.

"I think if I hadn't found jive dancing I would probably be dead," he said.

"It's very easy if you are paralysed to put on a lot of weight, especially in the winter when I used to suffer chronic chest and kidney infections. With dancing, as well as getting the exercise, I get out and meet lots of really, really lovely people."

Last October, Mr Walden was at a dance event and competition organised by Jive Addiction Limited in a west London hotel when he was told to stop dancing by a member of the company's staff because his wheelchair was damaging the floor.

image captionMr Walden says his wheelchair tyres do not damage the floor

Mr Walden, who dances with able-bodied partners, said he had never been stopped before and initially thought it was a joke.

"I was taken to an area of the dance floor I hadn't been on and shown a black scuff mark which rubbed off easily," he said.

"I explained that my wheelchair has been specially constructed for dancing with able-bodied partners and was fitted with wheelchair sports tyres that are specially made not to leave marks."

An evening out dancing with friends had gone very wrong.

"I felt anger and embarrassment because I am there with people I want to dance with," he said.

Not only was he being prevented from enjoying himself, it felt as though he was being accused of vandalism as well, he said.

Mr Walden is suing Jive Addiction for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

He is seeking a declaration that the company acted in breach of its obligations under the act, an order that it should comply with its obligations, and damages for injury to his feelings.

The company declined to comment, but in its defence, seen by the BBC, it says its policy stops anyone damaging the dance floor with any object, and denies that it is discriminatory.

Mr Walden's solicitor, Chris Fry from Unity Law, disputes that.

image captionJive Addiction says its policy is not discriminatory, but stops anyone damaging the dance floor with any object

He said: "It's a fundamental misunderstanding about the Equality Act that having a policy which treats everybody the same is compliant. It isn't.

"The act encourages companies to think about the outcome of that policy.

"If you have a policy which says wheelchair users are not allowed on a dance floor, then essentially you are preventing disabled people from participating in this activity.

"It's a breach of the Equality Act because it's discriminatory."

Mr Walden believes dancing with able-bodied partners says something powerful about integration.

"When you see things like the Paralympics you get a great feeling, but it is totally segregated activity.

"When you try to integrate with everybody else on the same level, you know you will still possibly come up against real problems."

Mr Walden has received letters of support from nine companies that put on dance events in the UK. He is determined to see his legal battle for integration on the dance floor through to a conclusion.

The case is expected to come to trial next year. In the meantime, Mr Walden says he will keep dancing.