A one-legged Australian woman, who was denied entry to two tourist attractions in France due to safety concerns, is angry after being told that granting her entry to one of the landmarks would be like “letting a blind person fly a plane”.
Roya Hosini, a performer from Melbourne, was born with one leg and has not used her prosthetic leg in years because she says it slows her down and hurts after just a few hours.
Ms Hosini travels the world working as a performer and is now living in Brussels, where she is taking part in theatre production FRONTX and uses her crutches to send her spinning and spiralling into the air.
And while she has no problem rollerblading the streets of Paris on just one leg, getting into the City of Love’s tourist attractions has not been as easy.
Last year she was barred by guards from heading to the top level of the Eiffel Tower, despite buying tickets at the bottom with her crutches on full display.
“They said it was narrow and not safe and in case of an emergency … [I might be] blocking the traffic because I’d be going too slow,” Ms Hosini said.
She said having to descend the tower in full view of everyone was humiliating and made her feel “like s—“.
This month, Ms Hosini was barred entry into the city’s catacombs, again over safety concerns.
“They’re just so fixed on the rules and it’s so ridiculous because it’s not like humans come in [one] exact shape, size [and] ability,” Ms Hosini said.
The catacombs are an underground chamber of tunnels decorated with the skulls and bones of French citizens removed from parish church graveyards when the city was largely re-built in the 19th century.
The distance covered at the tourist site is 1.5 kilometres with 130 steps down and 83 steps back up to street level.
“You can’t just give one rule for people, especially people with disabilities,” she said.
“Every case is unique, even every case that has one leg or every case that’s in a wheelchair. Every case is separate. You cannot just generalise that rule.
“That’s what made me furious.”
She said she had to watch on while larger people, older people, younger people and children were all allowed entry.
Ms Hosini tried to argue her point with one of the guards, only to be told that granting her admittance would be like “letting a blind person fly a plane”.
She said she spoke with a manager on the phone but that he hung up on her.
She said the guard refused to give his or his manager’s name.
Ms Hosini said while she understood there were safety concerns in the event of an emergency, she wanted tourist officials to be able to exercise greater discretionary powers when it came to granting entry to people with disabilities.
Guard’s behaviour ‘deplorable’
A spokesperson for the catacombs said the matter was only raised with them when they were contacted by the ABC.
“This is an unfortunate event that we deplore,” they said.
“We do not tolerate this kind of behaviour; on the contrary, we try to welcome everybody in our sites.
“In case of a conflict with a visitor, the policy stands that the guard who has to enforce rules and procedures has to refer to his direct manager or to the site manager, which in this case didn’t seem to have been done.
“Our official will take any measure necessary to start a disciplinary action.”
The spokesperson said the physical aspect of the visit didn’t allow disabled visitors. That included people with heart or respiratory problems, those of an anxious disposition, young children, and persons with reduced mobility.
The catacombs spokesperson said those details were conveyed on entrance boards, as well as on the website and brochures.
The catacombs spokesperson urged Ms Hosini to contact them so they could apologise to her directly.
The Eiffel Tower has not responded to a request for comment.
Varying levels of accessibility overseas
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said there was information on its Smartraveller website to assist Australians with disabilities to prepare for overseas travel.
DFAT said it did so, recognising that accessibility provisions and regulations varied throughout the world.
Lonely Planet’s accessible travel manager Martin Leng said while extra planning for people with disabilities was essential, tourism staff also needed to play their part.
“Disability awareness training among staff at tourist hotspots goes an awful long way in making the lives of people with a disability easier,” he said.