Victory for Disabled Mother-of-Two as Emerald Park Pays €3,000 in Discrimination Case

"Disabled Mother-of-Two Awarded €3,000 by Workplace Relations Commission for Discrimination by Employer"

A mother-of-two who suffers from spina bifida and neurosarcoidosis has been awarded €3,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) after it found that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of disability by Emerald Park. The WRC adjudicator, Marie Flynn, heard the case, which centred around the fact that Alison Walsh was refused a Ride Assistance Pass despite possessing a driver’s license designating her as disabled, her public services card and a blue badge. Emerald Park told her that she would not be given one without a written letter from a doctor.

Ms Walsh, who is unable to stand or walk unaided, had attended the formerly named Tayto Park with her husband, her two children, then aged 6 and 3, her sister and her family, and their nephew. She used her mobility scooter to navigate the park, staying mostly within the Junior Zone with her younger children. Ms Walsh was born with spina bifida and was more recently diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis, which causes severe nerve damage and makes her fully reliant on mobility aids including her scooter, wheelchair, walking frame, and/or crutches.

As the park’s footfall picked up, Ms Walsh, who was waiting in line with her family, asked a ride attendant if she had to queue and was advised to attend the Customer Service area where she could seek a Ride Assistance Pass. While at the Customer Service area, Ms Walsh was told that she needed a doctor’s letter stating her exact diagnosis in order to avail of a Ride Assistance Pass and that her driving license, blue badge, and public service card did not provide sufficient evidence of her disability.

The Complainant asked to speak to a manager but was told there was none available, with the mother-of-two being advised that the policy relating to Ride Pass Assistance was on the Emerald Park website, a claim Ms Walsh later refuted, telling the commission that the policy available on the website in September 2021 referred only to cognitive disabilities and not physical ones. Ms Walsh also added that due to the situation, she did not get the same experience throughout the day as her sister did with her children as they enjoyed the park and attractions together whereas she was excluded and sat to the side waiting and watching.

Later correspondence between the complainant and Emerald Park was described by Ms Walsh as “defensive and unhelpful,” with the park at one point incorrectly referring to her grandson as the disabled party and not her. Representing Emerald Park, MP Guinness BL instructed by Caoimhe Connolly, Moran & Ryan Solicitors LLP regretted the upset caused to Ms Walsh but denied that she had been discriminated against.

Giving evidence, Charles Coyle, Managing Director of Emerald Park told the commission, “Emerald Park had 730,000 visitors in 2022 of whom 8-10% had a disability. The park has had previous experience where those in the Queue Assistance Pass queue have had to queue for between 15 and 20 minutes and this is why people need additional documentation to prove their inability to queue.” Adding that they have no medically trained staff who are able to make such decisions, Mr Coyle said they wanted all visitors to be treated equally.

In her decision, adjudicator Marie Flynn found that Ms Walsh was discriminated against on the disability ground and ordered Emerald Park to pay her €3,000 in compensation. The case highlights the ongoing struggles faced by people with disabilities who are often excluded from activities that others take for granted. It is hoped that the ruling will serve as a wake-up call to all businesses to ensure that they are not discriminating against people with disabilities and that they are doing everything possible to make their premises and services accessible to all.

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