Disabled girl’s family hits out at Balmoral Show over full admission price from carers
The mother of a 12-year-old girl with special needs has spoken of her anger that the Balmoral Show does not offer concessionary admission to carers at its gates.
Tina Ferguson, from Newtownards, said other attractions in Northern Ireland, such as Belfast Zoo, cinemas and concerts, offered either free or discounted admission for carers.
She said she needed to be there for her daughter Poppy, who has spina bifida, to help her with her mobility and with going to the toilet, but charity volunteer Tina is also concerned that carers for disabled adults and the elderly are affected.
Show organiser The Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) said that while it would not be changing its on-the-day policy, it would consider offering concessions if an application was made in writing with supporting documentation.
Tina said: "I was in contact with the Balmoral Show for other members of our special needs groups - adults who are in wheelchairs and don't have a choice but have to travel with carers for personal needs.
"There are things like hoisting and toileting needs, so they have to travel with somebody.
"Most places do either carer concessions or free tickets for carers to attend with the disabled person. They (the Balmoral Show) said they weren't doing concessions and weren't changing it until there was some sort of nationwide registration.
"To me, there already is one because if you're a carer you get a government-issued benefit. That's your registration really, but they won't accept that."
Tina said she and husband Gareth had been given discounted tickets upon entry at other attractions in Northern Ireland, which is why she was disappointed that is not the case at the gate at the popular Balmoral Show, which this year runs from May 15 to 18.
She added: "Belfast Zoo does concessions if you bring your benefits letter. I know that the SSE Arena does free carer tickets for all concerts (and so do) Streamvale Farm, the cinema - all those big family places. They all do carers' concessions. You can bring proof - it's normally your carer's benefit letter.
"There isn't any nationwide carers' registration in Northern Ireland, but that's mostly because we're separate from the mainland. We always provide our carer's entitlement letter.
"I volunteer for a local charity called the Mae Murray Foundation. They are Northern Ireland-based and they're all about inclusion for disability, age and so on.
"A lot of those people do need carers for various reasons and not everyone can afford to pay.
"If you bring a carer with you, that carer is probably not going to want to pay the price to get in if they are just there for you."
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said: "I have been contacted by a number of very upset disabled people and their carers and have been on to the RUAS on their behalf.
"I don't understand why the Balmoral Show can't operate the same policy as other big events and organisations and offer a discount to carers.
Carers work tirelessly, are paid very little and rarely have any time off. Without their company, many experiences and events would be out of reach for disabled people. This policy is unfair and needs urgently reviewed."
A RUAS spokesman said: "To ensure that the Balmoral Show does not discriminate, standard admission rates are charged for all visitors.
"The society is very aware that not all disabilities are visible and also that individuals may not wish to discuss their particular circumstances at a crowded public admissions gate.
"Unfortunately in Northern Ireland there is no standard registration for disabled people requiring a carer or assistant.
"However, if a visitor requires a carer or personal assistant to enable them to visit the show, the carer should apply in writing with supporting documentation.
"The society will ensure that a reasonable adjustment is made.
"The Balmoral Show provides reduced rates to special needs and hospital groups through its group booking partners, balmoralkids.co.uk."