Alton Towers has confirmed that a woman with cerebral palsy is to be involved in the resort’s updated disability training after she was left in tears over treatment by staff.
Hannah Cheetham – who requires the use of a wheelchair – was “embarrassed” and distraught after a visit to Alton Towers with her sister Becky last week, where she was publicly removed from one of the resort’s rides and was left “angry and fed up due to the ignorance of staff”.
Despite being in her thirties, Hannah was only allowed to ride children’s rides.
A open letter detailing their experiences at the park went viral upon posting to social media last week.
During the trip on 28th September, Hannah – who visits the park annually as an “adrenaline junkie”, and has previously gone on every ride she wished – obtained a disability access band and then headed for the Smiler, but her sister Becky spotted a sign by the rollercoaster which said that users must be able to walk 25 metres unaided.
She mentioned it to a member of staff.
Becky said: “The lady then turned to her co-worker and shouted across, ‘She can’t walk’, and shut the door behind us. My issues with this situation is Hannah is a human. Please speak to her directly. Do not embarrass her by shouting out her insecurities across the ride for a crowd of people to hear.
“We passed three lots of workers, and not one of them thought to explain the rules of the ride before we got up there and had to turn around.”
Then they headed to Rita – where Becky lifted Hannah into a seat and workers strapped her in – but just as the ride was about to start, a member of staff asked if Hannah could walk unaided in case the ride broke down and she was told to get off the ride in front of everyone else.
They were later offered a refund after spending £40 per ticket.
A petition started by the pair online – who are both from Greater Manchester – now has close to 50,000 signatures.
The petition calls for: “All public facing staff should therefore undergo disability awareness training to prevent the distress we experienced yesterday and to enable all people, including wheelchair users, to have the same wonderful experience and fun day out.
“If disability awareness training already exists, this needs to be significantly improved.”
Now, Alton Towers has issued a public apology and has invited Hannah and Becky to contribute to improving staff disability training going forward.
Katie McBirnie – Head of Product Excellence at Alton Towers – said: “We are deeply sorry for this incident, which falls well below the high expectations we have for our employees. At Alton Towers Resort, we pride ourselves on being an inclusive resort and we really value the feedback that Hannah and Becky have given us.
“We have certainly listened and we want to do better.”
A spokesperson for the park added: “We have invited Hannah and Becky back to discuss the changes we can make, and we look forward to showing them how committed we are to making sure that their experience is not repeated.”
In response to the invitation – which has been accepted by the pair – Becky Cheetham said: “We feel excited about the prospect of changing attractions for the better [and] we hope to help public facing roles improve their disability training and give disabled people a better experience.”
Becky also said that she had been told her YouTube video about the ordeal would form part of staff training.