“You have the run of my home” said Lady Howlett ending her welcoming speech and sweeping gracefully from the room.
The run of this house? If only. Claire thought.
The idea of spending a night in a haunted house and winning £1,000,000 for doing so had seemed a great one. An easy way to make a lot of money and probably have a laugh as she did so. The night had barely begun and already it seemed there was a problem.
They’d known when she applied that she was a wheelchair user. She’d been assured that there was access. Even when she’d asked pointed questions about ramps and whether she’d be able to get her wheelchair into the disabled loo, they’d stuck to their vow that they could accommodate her.
All she needed to worry about, they told her, was whether she really could spend the night in a certified haunted house. The fact that they made such a big deal of it being “certified” had amused her. How did they get it certified? Claire didn’t believe in ghosts and she’d hoped to prove they didn’t exist. The people who certified it as haunted weren’t trustworthy. It wasn’t as if the council had rules and regulations (no less than two sightings a week, for a year) and an official haunted house inspector who had to sign off on these things. She'd thought it would be easy.
Claire hadn’t been surprised that the access wasn’t exactly as she expected. It rarely was. However, this was something she hadn’t encountered before – surprising given she’d been in the chair for 42 years and thought she’d seen it all.
The gravel entrance hadn’t phased her, nor had the steps. Ramped access is often around the back, by the bins, or otherwise out of sight. So she’d waited.
Angelo had returned about half an hour later and with the help of another silently hulking man had carried her up the steps into the house. She’d protested that a lot as there’s nothing worse then being in somewhere you can’t get out of and knowing you’re trapped. Her words had been ignored and she’d been taken against her will into the house.
There she was, apparently, she had the run of the house, but in truth, she probably didn’t. It looked as though she wouldn’t be able to get out of the room she was in without help. Everyone else in the room was milling around looking at the windows and heading towards the door. They were all ignoring everyone else as well. This was going to be a long evening. A boring evening it seemed. Just one hour later Claire realised just how wrong she’d been.
First, she’d decided to have a good look around the room they were in. It was a big room with lots of art on the walls so that took a good 15 minutes. She was one of two people left in the room at that time – the other person was steadfastly ignoring her so she simply did the same. That was unlike her; she was an extrovert and found it very hard to shut up. Something told her however that this wasn’t the place to go making friends and being nice, it wouldn’t go down very well with the other contestants. Getting out of that room proved easier than she expected. The step she thought she’d seen turned out to be nothing. Strange, but she accepted it. It wouldn’t be until later that she realised just how strange that was.
Then Claire had figured that seeing as she was going to be there all night she’d go find out where the loo is. It’s always worth doing these things ahead of time. Particularly when you need a disabled loo – don’t want to be discovering that it’s locked and no one knows where the key is when you’re absolutely bursting for a wee.
She didn’t expect that this was the sort of place where it would people would be having sex in it if it wasn’t locked (why was that, was there some sort of weird places to have sex scorecard doing the rounds? 50 points for a disabled loo!) but you never know.
That was the first sign that the steps weren’t the only problem she was to face that day. She never found the loo.
She spent thirty minutes looking for it. To be fair, it wouldn’t have taken that long to search all the places she did but she kept getting distracted. Firstly, by all the art and other things she spotted. Lady Howlett had some really unusual – and unexpected – items in her home. And secondly by a really strange feeling. It was creepy – a cold sort of tickly sensation crawling up her back and making her hair stand on end. She shook it off – she had to, she didn’t believe in ghosts! There would be an explanation she knew, she just needed to find it. But first to find the loo.
At the end of the thirty minutes, she came across Angelo standing silently at attention in the hall. Claire wasn’t sure why he was stood in that particular spot in front of a blank piece of wall (she was later to realise, the only blank piece of wall she saw in the entire house). Wandering over she spoke to him
“Hi Angelo. It is Angelo, isn’t it?” He didn’t answer, didn’t even blink. Unnerved she continued “Um, well, anyway. I was wondering if you could tell me where the disabled loo is? I’ve been looking for a while and I’ve been everywhere I can see. But I can’t find it.”
Angelo shrugged as though he didn’t care. It was a strange sight and it infuriated Claire.
“Maybe you could go find out where it is if you don’t know?” she asked, she’d experienced this lack of knowledge from staff members before – too many times to count. “Only I know there is one because I asked before I came. The person I spoke to told me there was one and I’d be fine.”
Angelo stared at her for a full minute. Just when Claire was beginning to think this was useless he suddenly moved his left arm and pointed. He didn’t say a word and after waiting briefly to see if there was more to come Claire simply turned and started going in the direction he pointed.
She was very confused and more than a little angry not least because he had pointed back the way she came where there definitely wasn’t a disabled loo. It seemed she had no choice but to do that.
A few minutes later she was beginning to calm down and she suddenly realised that she’d come further than she had before. In fact there hadn’t been enough building to go this far before.
Claire didn’t believe in ghosts. She really didn’t. But she was beginning to get a little bit freaked out by all of this.
Suddenly a little bit ahead she spotted that familiar sign that signifies disabled parking and disabled loos worldwide. The little guy in the wheelchair with his arms out in front like a zombie. She was pleased she’d started looking for the loo when she had because now she really was heading towards the desperate stage of things.
Opening the door, Claire couldn’t see any of the usual items you’d expect in a disabled loo. No bins or grab rails. And, no loo. She figured that maybe it was a bit further on so she went in. The door slammed behind her ominously.
Wheeling back and then back further Claire was astounded by how far she’d come. She’d been able to see that this was a big room but hadn’t expected something as big as this.
All of a sudden, Claire felt a weird buzzing sensation surround her. Her vision went fuzzy with lines all across it. That lasted about two, three minutes (although it felt a lot longer). Her ears will filled with a loud ringing sound something like church bells. The result was that Claire was very disorientated. As quickly as it had started, the sensation finished. Claire shook her head to clear the residual feeling. And realised that somehow, unexpectedly, she was back outside the house on the gravel driveway where this had all started.
Screw scared of the ghosts, Claire was scared by what had just happened. And more than a little pissed off. She shouted and shouted for help, shouting herself hoarse in the process. But no one came.
Claire waited all night. It wasn’t until just after dawn that anyone came. Angelo turned up at that point along with his hulking companion. They carried her, protesting, back up the steps into the house and deposited her in front of Lady Howlett.
“Well, Claire, yet another failure to spend the night in my house. I am disappointed. No million for you.”
She explained to Lady Howlett that this wasn’t fair, she hadn’t wanted to leave the house, she’d just wanted to go for a wee.
Lady Howlett made no response to Claire. She just turned to the two men waiting and said
“Get this waste of space out of my sight.”
They picked her up and carried her from the room once more.
Lady Howlett had expected that to be the last she heard from Claire. After all, she’d never had anybody come back at her for failing to win the million before. She’d also never had a mouthy, independent wheelchair user as one of her contestants before.
Claire, however, believed in complaining. Spending most of her life in a wheelchair had taught her that you often were treated badly for being different and that you were just expected to “put up and shut up.” The way she’d been treated by Lady Howlett and her staff was appalling. If she didn’t do something about it, some other wheelchair user was going to have the same horrific experience at some point in the future.
First, she’d tried writing a letter, and then a second when the first was ignored. Unfortunately, that didn’t get a reply either. Unfortunately for Lady Howlett, that is.
Claire’s next step had been to speak to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They’d been shocked to here of what had happened and had helped her to put in a case for disability discrimination.
Seven months after that, the case came to court. Neither Lady Howlett nor Angelo appeared to dispute the charges. That resulted in Claire automatically winning her case, which the tribunal described as “one of the worst cases of disability discrimination in years”
Claire learned that it really is worth making a stand when you need to. She won £2.1 Million pounds for the discrimination and because she lost the chance to win the original £1 Million prize.
As for Lady Howlett? She never held another of her “Haunted House Nights” nor was she ever heard from again. Claire liked to think that was because she’d learned the lesson of treating people with respect, and that you should, always, always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate people who are disabled. Truthfully, however, she’ll never know.