A disabled mother-of-two claims Tayto Park discriminated against her by refusing to give her a special queue pass without seeing a letter from her doctor.
Alison Walsh from Enfield, Co Meath, told an equality hearing on Wednesday that she showed staff her disabled driver’s badge, her driver’s licence for an adapted car and her Public Services Card, but couldn’t find medical correspondence on her phone on the day to satisfy the requirements of the park’s policy.
Tayto Park’s position was that a “queue assistance pass” could only be issued on a limited basis to those who could show medical evidence of an “inability to queue”.
It was stated on behalf of the complainant that Ms Walsh was told by workers she had to produce a letter “stating an exact diagnosis”.
“I was excluded and sat at the side, waiting and watching,” Ms Walsh said.
Her discrimination complaint was called on for hearing before the Workplace Relations Commission just over six weeks before the Co Meath theme park and zoo is set to reopen after a high-profile rebrand to Emerald Park for the 2023 season.
Presenting her own case under the Equal Status Act 2000, Ms Walsh said her ability to queue was “severely impaired” as she suffered from muscle seizures, spasms and incontinence as a result of spina bifida and neurosarcoidosis.
This left her to rely on mobility aids including crutches, a wheelchair and the mobility scooter she brought to Tayto Park for a family day out, she said.
“I was excluded due to the outright refusal to provide me with an accommodation that was available,” she said, adding: “I find the policy extremely difficult to understand – it seems to disable rather than enable.”
Charles Coyle, the firm’s managing director, said in evidence that out of 730,000 visitors to the park last year, “between eight and 10 per cent had a disability”.
He said one of the main reasons for providing the queue assistance pass was to make sure all patrons could enjoy the attraction.
“Certainly that was not the case on the day and I do apologise. The purpose of the reasonable accommodation policy is to ensure those who need it will get it. We had instances where the ride assistance pass queue was 15-20 minutes long,” he said.
“We had to bring in the additional layer to ensure the queue was kept for those who need it most and so that the queue could be kept to a minimum,” he said.
The theme park’s barrister, Mary-Paula Guinness BL, who appeared instructed by Caoimhe Connolly of Moran & Ryan LLP asked Mr Coyle whether his staff were “medically trained”.
“They’re certainly highly trained but they wouldn’t be medically trained,” he said.
He said that when the theme park reopens next month, people with a disability would be able to present a blue badge to a manager, who would be “able to use their discretion” on issuing a queue pass.
The tribunal heard the queue policy as it appeared at the time referred to a “cognitive disability” and stated that visitors with a card issued by groups including the autism charity AsIAm and Irish Autism Action could avail of the pass without a doctor’s letter, it was submitted.
The complainant’s sister, Linda Walsh, said this was “completely skewed” towards cognitive disabilities and the management ought to have consulted with groups representing people with physical disabilities.
Cross-examining the complainant, Ms Guinness asked whether she accepted that an “inability to queue” would be evident to staff in every person who was obviously disabled.
“Yes, but from both sides – you can’t just present an AsIAm card and get a pass,” Ms Walsh said.
Ms Guinness said the park’s old policy had stated that a person looking for a queue pass in relation to a cognitive disability who did not have a card from one of the organisations could also present a doctor’s note.
“They very much regret the experience the complainant had, but you weren’t discriminated against,” Ms Guinness said in closing.
“I wasn’t asked for something stating I had an inability to queue – I was asked for my diagnosis,” Ms Walsh said.
“The park’s great, the children loved it, but we haven’t returned, and we didn’t because of the treatment we received,” her sister added.
The adjudicating officer closed the hearing to consider her decision, to be delivered in writing to the parties in due course.