Anger at carers’ charge to swim with disabled

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THE mother of a disabled child has poured scorn on a sports centre for making her daughter’s carer pay to swim.

Owners of Sportspace will not let nine-year-old Orla O’Brien use the Berkhamsted pool alone, because they say she is a “liability”.

The pupil of Brakespeare School in Abbots Langley suffers from autism, epilepsy, behavioural issues and very severe learning difficulties.

She has a mental age of around two and cannot speak very well, using sign language instead.

She swims with mum Nyree, twin sister Ishbel, dad Richard and carer Emily Purvis each week.

Until two weeks ago, Emily could swim for free while with Orla.

But now Nyree, 38, says carers have been made to register for sports passes and must pay a discounted entrance fee of £2.50 for each swimming session.

She says Sportspace have argued that because the carer is participating in the activity she should have to pay.

Nyree says: “Although she does go in the water, she does not swim. She just makes sure my daughter is safe and not endangering herself and other people.

“The carer is there to help my daughter, not for fun. She’s there to do her job.”

She says she has not heard of this happening in any other sports centre.

The charge was reduced in April 2010, but staff have only just began to enforce it.

Nyree says the least Sportspace could do is issue the sports pass to the child, so carers do not benefit from cheaper swimming in their spare time.

She says: “The whole system is completely wrong. They are giving a perk to the carers, not the disabled person.

“On their paperwork, Dacorum Sportspace say any child over the age of eight can swim unattended by an adult.

“The paperwork does not say it’s dependant on disability – it says any child over eight.”

She claims Sportspace have broken law of the Equalities Act.

Dacorum Borough Council give £500,000 per year to Dacorum Sportspace – but the O’Brien family, from Greenway, Berkhamsted, say it is not meeting the necessary targets to continue receiving this.

Rebecca Hemmant, Sportspace business development manager, said: “We are reviewing the policy as it stands and will feed new information back as soon as we can.”

> Do you look after a disabled person who has been affected by the new charges? Contact the Gazette – phone 01442 898451 or email david.o’neill@jpress.co.uk.