Special needs

How the Parapan Am Games almost let my family down

"I was frustrated. I was hurt. I was tired. I just wanted to attend a sporting event with our family—and I didn’t want to have to fight to make it happen."

Syona-special-needs

Photo: Syona (left) will attend her first Parapan Am event after all

The moment that the tickets for the Parapan Am Games went on sale, I purchased a total of seven seats for wheelchair basketball, including one accessible seat for my four-year-old daughter, Syona, who has cerebral palsy. I was so excited about the Games: The organization had even promoted the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games equally, which made me so proud to live in Toronto. I bought the tickets, marked the date on our calendar and moved on, thinking it would be a great opportunity for our family to do something as a group.

But then, a few weeks ago, I caught a news story involving family friends of ours who also have a daughter who uses a wheelchair. Sonia Commisso purchased three tickets for herself, her 12-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend to attend a Parapan Am swimming event. She was informed they couldn’t sit together because the venue only allowed one companion per wheelchair-accessible ticket. Eventually they resolved the situation, but it required a lot of back-and-forth phone calls.

I was worried that we’d run into the same issue for our event, so I sent the ticketing agency an email to confirm that our entire party would be seated together at the basketball game. Much to my surprise, I discovered that they’d moved five of our tickets four rows away from the other two without notifying us—this meant that Syona and one companion would be separated from the rest of our party. I spoke with a supervisor, a very helpful woman who was baffled that the order had been changed without our consent. I was forwarded to another individual based in the U.S. who proceeded to tell me he couldn’t change the order and wasn’t even sure if the tickets could be refunded, despite the fact that we hadn’t been made aware of the seat changes.

By this point, I was pretty direct in voicing my frustration. I was being told my child would be separated from her cousins and the rest of her family. As a result, an event designed to celebrate inclusivity would end up leaving Syona excluded. That’s when the customer service representative (and I use that term loosely) started talking about how we would break the Americans with Disabilities Act by sitting together, as we would be preventing other viewers who require wheelchairs from watching the event. I asked if he was aware that the event was held in Canada this year and he responded that the Act still applied. I asked for the situation to be escalated once again. I was told he would look into it and get back to me.

I hung up the phone and blinked away the tears. I was frustrated. I was hurt. I was tired. I just wanted to attend a sporting event with my family and I didn’t want to have to fight to make it happen. Later that morning, I got a call from the ticketing agency. They apologized and resolved the situation. We’re going to be allowed to sit together after all.

As parents of kids with special needs, we spend a lot of our time advocating. We spend time teaching our kids to advocate for themselves. Sometimes it turns into a battle and I just don’t want to fight. But I do—each and every time. I do it in a way that I hope is respectful and honest, but I do it so that Syona learns how to advocate for herself. I also do it because I want (and hope) to make the path a little easier for families who follow the same road.

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary preschooler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.

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Why I’m proud of my daughter’s self-advocacy skills>