'Insights from Thomas Williams - Disability Consultant' - March 2016


TWA RGBIn this issue, I have been asked to consider the effects security has on those with disabilities, especially wheelchair users, in light of the tragic Paris events last year. Let’s face it: it is a simple fact that there are more hiding places for terrorists to implant devices, or opportunities for collusion, if you use a wheelchair or its incumbent, as a mule, to commit an atrocity.


This is a very controversial view. The policy set out in the ‘Accessibility Guide: An Inclusive Approach to the Olympic & Paralympic Games’, written by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), states that ‘Persons who have a disability are equally subject to security screening as any other constituents of the Games’. However, I believe that this does not go far enough and is contradictory to other elements of the policy, which states that (remember that I am wheelchair user): ‘In all spectator entry points, at least one gate should be at least 1000mmwide and without a magnetometer device. Security checks in this gate will be performed via a portable magnetometer’. Whether portable or not, this is fraught with problems as the wheelchair will set it off! Additionally, this is already separation, which seems to contradict the policy of equality.


Taking the notion of separation further, the document also states that procedures need to be adjusted to take account of a person’s needs: ‘As measures that apply to other populations are not effective in cases such as wheelchair users or people who use a prosthetic limb, an adapted control protocol is required’. In no uncertain terms, this, in my opinion, is giving the operative, whether volunteer or paid, the required authority, to be more invasive, in a dignified manner. Stephen Frost, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for London 2012, in his book ‘The Inclusion Imperative’ informs us that ‘Pat-down checks were mandatory for all wheelchair users (inclusion is a two-way street) and staff were trained to ask permission first and ask whether there were any sore or delicate areas on the person’.However I disagree with this protocol because whilst the utmost care should be taken, the over-riding concern of the operative should be to check for risk factors that pose a threat to the entire population of the Games community, not just one individual’s comfort. This sort of question leaves it open for the terrorist (carer or user) to have an area avoided on the pretence that the search would cause them pain or even that any search devices can’t be used due to inaccessibility. As Frost alludes: a pat-down search is most appropriate here. In order to achieve this: ‘special training needs to be provided to security personnel (police, volunteers) in order to perform this task with both dignity (for the customer) and efficiency (for security (IPC).  


Whilst a perceived lack of knowledge may leave organisers open to the potential of accusations of discrimination, I, quite controversially, think that the disabled should go through a more thorough investigative procedure, as it puts them at the heart of feeling safe. Mitigating risk is the whole point of security policy and practice by being perceived to have a greater level of scrutiny, the disabled become part of the deterrent rather than the risk. The Olympics is a major target for terrorism and arguably, if an atrocity happens, whilst this may at first reading appear discriminatory, I feel that it is the only way to adequately ensure that the general public do not perceive the disabled as ‘getting away with it’. In London 2012, I was witness to a number of disabled spectators being waved through or not appropriately screened through lack of knowledge and fear of accusations of discrimination. It is my belief that it is discriminatory to the general public not to check those with additions (i.e. wheelchairs or limbs) thoroughly.


In the next ‘Digest’, I will consider further levels of security around additional equipment and requirements needed for a disabled person to be safe and comfortable at a Games that may also pose a risk if used in a clandestine manner.

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