Disabled dancer Fred Walden, 54, is suing an events company after he was barred from taking part in a dance event following a row over his wheelchair.
At the event, which was organised by Jive Addiction and took place last October at a West London hotel, a member of staff took Mr Walden aside and told him to stop dancing amid claims his wheelchair was marking the surface of the dancefloor.
Mr Walden says he initially thought it was a joke. “I was taken to an area of the dancefloor I hadn’t been on and shown a black scuff mark which rubbed off easily. I explained that my wheelchair had been specially constructed for dancing with able-bodied partners and was fitted with wheelchair sports tyres that are specially made not to leave marks.”
Appearing on the Victoria Derbyshire show, he explained, “If I had thought I had damaged the floor in any way, I would have been mortified, but that wasn’t the case. It was an embarrassment for me. I was there with people I wanted to dance with and I was told I couldn’t. I was also being accused of vandalism.”
Mr Walden, who is paraplegic following an accident in 1984, said he was left feeling humiliated. He is now suing Jive Addiction for discrimination under the Equality Act.
The company are, however, disputing the case. In a defence statement, they stated that their representative showed Mr Walden “an area of the floor which had been damaged by the wheelchair whilst he was dancing on it. The [company’s] bespoke sprung portable dancefloor is highly susceptible to damage caused by contact with inappropriate objects”.
The company maintain that their policy is not discriminatory, since it applies to anyone who may be damaging its dancefloors, and not solely to people in wheelchairs.
Mr Walden’s solicitor, Chris Fry from Unity Law, disagreed. 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. If you have a policy which says that wheelchair users are not allowed on a dancefloor, then essentially you are preventing disabled people from participating in this activity.”
Before his accident Mr Walden was a keen disco and northern soul dancer. He took up dancing again 15 years ago and now travels the country going to jive, blues and swing dance events and competitions. “I think if I hadn’t found jive dancing I would probably be dead,” he said, adding that dancing allows him to keep fit and to keep his weight down. It also helps him to fight off the lung and kidney infections he was susceptible to before his accident.
He says the issue is of importance to other wheelchair users as companies should consider the consequences of their policies on disabled people.
The case will be heard in a civil court sometime next year.