A World War Two veteran has received an apology from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew after he was asked to leave the gift shop because he was using a mobility scooter.
Joe Fisher MBE, aged 95, a life-long campaigner for polio victims after contracting it during the campaign in Burma, said he was furious to be asked to leave by a member of staff at Kew Gardens. Mr Fisher was shocked to learn that mobility scooter riders were not allowed on the grass at the gardens, a UNESCO world heritage site, which left him feeling like “a dog that ought to be on a leash.” They were also barred from the cafe and even the toilets, which prompted Mr Fisher to ask whether he was intended to “pee behind a bush.”
He has now received a letter of apology from Kew Gardens which states a review has been launched of its disability access policy and that staff have been sent for re-training.
Mr Fisher, of Gosforth, Newcastle, was visiting Kew Gardens with his wife Christine and hired the mobility scooter at Kew to help him see as much of the site as possible.
He explained: “My wife and I separated in the shop and I was having a good look around before I started making my way towards the exit. A lady came over and addressed my wife rather than me, saying “would you mind asking your husband to leave, he is not allowed in here on the mobility scooter. We were both incredulous, not least because I hired the mobility scooter at Kew. My wife, quite rightly said “ask him yourself, he isn’t stupid.”
Joe continued: “So she then explained it to me and said, “it’s in the rules,” which I queried, assuming she’d got it completely wrong. “But later when I looked on the website I discovered it actually was in the rules. Mobility scooters weren’t allowed in the cafe, the toilets or even on the grass. It left me feeling as though I was a dog that ought to be kept on a leash and allowed only to have a pee behind a bush.”
He added: “I have spent my entire life campaigning for Polio victims on matters just such as these and frankly I was astonished that somewhere like Kew could have got it so badly wrong. This is not some tu’penny ha’penny tourist attraction, it’s internationally renowned and world famous. Surely someone should have queried this extraordinary policy at some point before now? We are still in a situation where 63% of the nation’s top attractions do not have proper, full wheelchair access and that just isn’t good enough.”
Joe has received a letter of apology from Kew stating it is reviewing its access policy. The letter also states: “We are sincerely sorry that the person who spoke to you did so in an impolite manner.”
The Kew Gardens website has now been altered to say that the only places not accessible to mobility scooters are the glasshouses, galleries, Kew Palace, the Royal Kitchens or the Treetop Walkway.
A Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew spokesperson, commented: “Everyone is welcome at Kew, and we take pride in our customer service. We have written (by post) a letter to Mr Fisher expressing our sincerest regret that he had a disappointing experience during his recent visit to Kew Gardens. We have worked hard to make sure that Kew Gardens is accessible to people with disabilities and as such, his experience was not typical of our service or reflective of our policies. “We welcome mobility scooters into the shops and cafes at Kew, but there are a few other areas where for practical reasons they are unable to go e.g the glasshouses and galleries, and the Treetop Walkway.
The statement continued: “We do, however, offer visitors an opportunity to visit these attractions in a regular wheelchair instead. We deeply regret that Mr Fisher was misinformed about the shop policy, and have reiterated our disability policies with all members of staff and volunteers following this. We have also reviewed the information on our website following Mr Fisher’s complaint, and have corrected the access information to reflect our policy across the Gardens.”
Mr Fisher, who received his MBE for services to charity and the British Polio Fellowship, has worked tirelessly to change perceptions of disabled people in the North East, masterminding a Polio hostel and training centre in Jesmond, Newcastle, in 1954.