Man In ‘Fire Hazard’ Wheelchair Forced To Leave Cinema

Posted in: 4th January 2011 by erica

A QUADRIPLEGIC with a metal plate in his neck claims he was forced to leave a Sunshine Coast cinema because his wheelchair was deemed a “fire hazard”.

Richard Byrne, 37, and his mother, Wendy, bought tickets to the Monday, December 26 session of The Chronicles of Narnia at Noosa 5 Cinemas.

Mr Byrne parked his chair off to one side, towards the rear of the cinema, exactly as he has done every few months for the 15 years since a surfing accident at Sunrise Beach left him unable to walk.

However, as the movie began he says he was approached by an usher and told to either move down the front or leave.

“I told the usher I could not sit in the designated disabled seating at the front of the cinema because of the metal plate in my neck,” Mr Byrne said.

“I explained that I can’t look directly upwards and this is where I always sit.

“The usher then went and spoke to the management who said the wheelchair was a fire hazard because it blocked the aisle.

“I told them people could still easily get past me and that my mum was right here, ready to help move me if needed.

“They did not listen and said I would have to go if I didn’t move.

“I was left with no option but to leave.”

Mr Byrne said he got a refund for the movie ticket but the incident left him feeling embarrassed and disrespected.

“Everyone in the cinema was looking at me,” he said.

“I have never been treated like that before.

“I was really red-faced and mum was upset and disappointed.

“Usually people in Noosa are accepting of my disability.

“It is not like it was the first time I had been to that cinema, I am a loyal customer.

“Why the sudden change in attitude? Is it because it is tourist season?”

A spokesman for Noosa 5 Cinema said there was specified disabled seating in the front rows.

He said blocking aisles with anything was a fire hazard but was “too busy” for further comment.

Mr Byrne said he intended to take his grievances to the disability discrimination board once it re-opened in the new year if he did not get a proper explanation from cinema management.