IT was supposed to be the greatest Paralympics of all time, but one wheelchair user almost never made it.
Jo Newall and husband Jeff were left stranded at Central Milton Keynes station at 4am on Saturday, September 1, after the official travel agents of the Games, First Direct, sent a coach that was not wheelchair accessible.
The coach company booked the couple a taxi, but forced Jo out of her powered wheelchair and into a manual one – her powered wheelchair was too tall for the taxi.
“I wanted to go home and we hadn’t even left Milton Keynes,” said Jo. “Our trip was already ruined. We spent the rest of the day worried about how we were going to get home rather than enjoying the athletics.
“Our taxi driver dropped us where the Games Makers told him to but he was from Milton Keynes so he wasn’t to know, but he left us at the media centre, miles from the stadium.
“You’d think the Paralympics was the most important moment for a company to make sure they’d have the facilities for disabled people.”
After raising the alarm, First Direct ensured the subsequent trip the Newalls had booked, on Thursday, September 6, was fully accessible for Jo. They also sent a member of staff to ensure there were no other issues along the way.
Tim O’Toole, chief executive for FirstDirect, apologised to Mr and Mrs Newall, pointing the finger at one of his own members of staff.
He said: “I have investigated the cause of our failure to provide an accessible coach. This has shown that one member of staff failed to recognise that an accessible coach was required for this particular journey.
“He hasn’t been able to explain how this mistake occurred as other accessible coaches were organised by him at the same time.
“We have apologised to Mr and Mrs Newall and are currently in the process of compensating them for the coach journey, taxi fare and unused tickets to the Orbit.”
An Olympic Delivery Agency spokesman said: “We apologised to the passenger the same day and made every effort to rectify the mistake by arranging for a taxi home. In the event, they arranged their own taxi home. Our contractors, First, are reimbursing the cost of the original journey, as well as transport home. The same passenger subsequently took a second trip by direct coach, five days later, which we are happy to confirm was trouble-free.”