A popular tourist destination in the Moorlands has admitted that it has “failed to live up to the high standards we set ourselves.” The statement from Alton Towers came after sisters Hannah and Becky Cheetham, from Manchester, spoke of their concerns about their recent visit to the resort with regards to issues surrounding poor ride accessibility as well as how some staff members were “discriminatory and ignorant” towards Hannah, who has Cerebral Palsy.
A popular tourist destination in the Moorlands has admitted that it has “failed to live up to the high standards we set ourselves.”
The statement from Alton Towers came after sisters Hannah and Becky Cheetham, from Manchester, spoke of their concerns about their recent visit to the resort with regards to issues surrounding poor ride accessibility as well as how some staff members were “discriminatory and ignorant” towards Hannah, who has Cerebral Palsy.
At one stage during their visit, a member of Alton Towers staff shouted across to a colleague: “She can’t walk” after Hannah and Becky had gone up a disabled access entry point lift to get to The Smiler ride only to then find out Hannah could not go on the ride; while later, after reading on the Alton Towers leaflet that the Duel attraction had disability access, they spent some time looking for such access only to then be told by a member of staff: “Oh yeah we used to have disabled access, but we don’t anymore.”
Hannah and Becky’s description of their visit listed further experiences of poor ride accessibility as well as poor customer service at Alton Towers.
The sisters posted their concerns about their visit on September 28 on social media, produced a video on You Tube and also started up a petition through the change.org website, about “disability awareness training for public facing staff members” at Alton Towers, which, as of 6pm last night (Tuesday, October 6), had gained 48,201signatures.
Hannah and Becky told the Times & Echo of the reasoning why they made their concerns public: “This is about us making a difference for future customers and working with Alton Towers themselves to help make it a better experience with more disability awareness training.”
Alton Towers Resort has stated they are “deeply sorry” and that they have put in place additional staff training surrounding the Cheetham sisters’ concerns.
The resort has also confirmed that they have invited, and that the sisters have accepted, for them to visit Alton Towers again to talk to resort staff “to discuss the changes we have made and will continue to make.”
In a statement from Kate McBirnie, Head of Product Excellence at the Merlin attraction, she 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.
“We have already put in place additional staff training that focuses on communications around ride restrictions to guests with disabilities.”
Kate added: “We are delighted that Hannah and Becky have accepted our offer to come back to discuss the changes we have made and will continue to make.
“We look forward to showing them how committed we are to making sure that their experience is not repeated.”
A spokesman at Alton Towers also set out the following background: “At Alton Towers Resort, we aim to provide memorable experiences, and a safe and enjoyable day out, to everyone who visits our attractions.
“Our priority is always safety, which means there are some restrictions on certain thrill rides that are set by the manufacturer of the ride and are there for the safety and wellbeing of guests and our staff.
“All staff do receive training in this area and we have put a lot of energy and money into it. As such we are deeply frustrated as well as disappointed that this unacceptable treatment occurred.
“However, we are determined to try even harder because, as a company, it is something we are passionately committed to.
“Our teams are trained in the accessibility arrangements for guests with disabilities and also how to communicate them in a helpful and respectful way. We try as best as possible to communicate these restrictions prior to and during guest visits.
“On this occasion we failed to live up to the high standards we set ourselves, for which we have apologised to Hannah and her family, and we have reminded our teams about communicating with all guests appropriately.
“However, we always understand there can be more to do. We gather feedback through our guests and commission our own surveys, as well as consult with third party experts like the Business Disability Forum, to employ best practices in the way we accommodate people with any disability. These are factored into new attraction commissions and operating procedures.
“We are always looking for ways to improve our resort facilities and in 2017 we invested in accessible Changing Places facilities on the theme park for guests with disabilities to use.
“As part of Merlin Entertainments, we have always recognised the need to support guests with disabilities, which is why a more than decade ago we set up Merlin’s Magic Wand. To date we have provided half a million tickets and travel arrangements to children and their families who for whatever reason find it difficult to come and enjoy our attractions. It is something we are incredibly proud of and committed to continuing.
“We work closely with Open Inclusion and are an active member of the Business Disability Forum (BDF) who we work closely with to drive continual improvements and support and utilise their advice service and training courses.
“We also worked with BDF on their Welcoming Disabled Customers guide, which offers clear and useful information to businesses about how best to cater for guests with disabilities. Merlin also became of member of The VALUABLE 500 in May 2019 which is a global movement putting disability on the business leadership agenda.”
Hannah and Becky have confirmed that they are in contact with Alton Towers.
They said: “Alton Towers have invited us back to chat more. They have updated their disability training to include our YouTube video, and have started to roll that out. We have been put in contact with Merlin Group Head.
“So here’s hoping we can use our experience to change Merlin Parks for the better.”
They went on to thank everyone who has shown them support of their campaign and added: “We have read your stories and experiences and we will use them to strive for change and love and awareness.
“Thank you, again for all your love and support.
“Together we will make this world a better place for disabilities.”
The Cheetham sister’s You Tube video about their recent visit to Alton Towers can be found at https://youtu.be/c0HZwlt0CbY; while the petition they have set up can be viewed at https://www.change.org/p/alton-towers-disability-awareness-training-for-public-facing-staff-members.
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