Former Home Secretary David Blunkett was invited to the Paralympic opening ceremony as a guest of Channel 4 But when Mr Blunkett arrived, he was told he couldn’t take his seat because he was with his guide dog Cosby
An official then gave him alternative seating in an ‘exposed, blustery gantry’
By Rebecca Evans
PUBLISHED: 21:10 GMT, 31 August 2012
Barred: Former Home Secretary David Blunkett was prevented from taking his seat at the Paralympic opening ceremony because he was with his guide dog Cosby
It is the world’s biggest showcase of equality for the disabled.
But that didn’t help David Blunkett when he arrived at the Paralympics opening ceremony with his guide dog.
The former Home Secretary, who has been blind since birth, was unable to take his seat because he had his dog in tow.
Mr Blunkett was shocked and angry after a ‘stroppy and insensitive’ Games official refused to let him sit in his allocated spot.
After a frank exchange, a makeshift seat was eventually arranged for the Labour MP on an ‘exposed, blustery gantry’ for the three-and-a-half hour show.
Mr Blunkett, 65, one of the country’s most high-profile guide dog users, decided not to ‘have a hissy fit’, insisting he did not want to detract from the spirit of the Paralympics and its ‘demonstration of equality of opportunity’.
But he has now spoken out to ensure that others with guide dogs do not endure the same humiliation.
He told the Daily Mail: ‘This isn’t just about me. This is about getting it right.
‘I want Games organisers to learn a lesson for the future so that people with guide dogs can be treated as equals.’
Mr Blunkett said he had to ‘bite his lip’ after he was told that his seat was unsuitable for assistance dog Cosby, a black curly-coated retriever cross.
He said that up until that point, Games officials and volunteers had treated him with the utmost respect – but things changed when he tried to take his seat.
He added: ‘What happened highlights how far we still have to go in changing attitudes towards the challenges faced by people with disabilities.’
Mr Blunkett said that on the night in question, he had been invited as a guest of Channel 4, and Games organisers Locog knew he was coming.
Shocked: Politician David Blunkett, pictured with his two guide dogs Cosby and Sadie, campaigns for equal rights for guide dog users
Flaw: Much of the seating in the Olympic stadium is not guide dog friendly
He went on: ‘They should presume that because I can’t see, I will bring a guide dog as it gives me independence when getting about the park and stadium.
‘As I walked to my seat, an official said “Sorry, you can’t take your dog down there.”
So I asked why not, and he said, “It’s just not suitable.” I said that was his judgment not mine, and asked why we didn’t make a decision together instead?
‘That was the point when the official got quite stroppy. He said to me, “You are not taking your dog down there. We will find you different seats.” I had to draw a breath and decide whether or not to have a hissy fit.
‘I would have done on a different occasion, but I bit my tongue. As a high-profile guide dog user, I very rarely have a problem.
‘It was quite novel actually, as usually I am taking up the cause for other people who have suffered prejudice or discrimination by having their dogs refused entry to taxis and restaurants. I haven’t had a problem for many, many years, which is why I find it quite shocking.’
He added that Wednesday’s experience was ‘an indication of just how insensitive some individuals can be’ and believes that instead of a flat refusal, the official should have discussed the situation with him.
He added: ‘After a while, they magicked up some chairs and said we could sit on those. But it was behind the TV cameras and was very exposed and windy. It wasn’t what we had envisaged at all.
‘Before we walked into the stadium, we had been treated very well. I cannot fault it. It is such a pity that it happened.’
Ironic: Mr Blunkett says he was forced to sit in a ‘blustery gantry’ because his seat was unsuitable for a guide dog