WATCH: When Sonia Commisso tried to buy three tickets for her daughter Alessia, her daughter’s friend and herself for a Parapan Am swimming event, she was told it was impossible as venues could only accomodate one companion to one guest who uses a wheelchair.
Editor’s Note: We have removed a quote that was erroneously attributed to Teddy Katz, director of media relations and chief spokesperson for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.
TORONTO – When Sonia Commisso was told she couldn’t get an extra ticket to take her 12-year-old disabled daughter, Alessia,to see a Parapan Am Games swimming event with a friend, she was shocked.
“I said this is ridiculous, this is absolutely ridiculous. Do you hear yourself? Do you hear what you’re saying? We are wanting to watch swimmers with disabilities swim. I have my child who’s in a wheelchair, who wants to bring her friend, this doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said from her home in Mississauga.
“It’s 2015. We’re trying to make our cities accessible, were trying to break down barriers and we bring in the Parapan Am Games to show we’re breaking down barriers and we’re just creating other barriers,” she said.
“We’re not really providing an inclusive environment, an inclusive community, and this is what I want to see for Alessia.”
Commisso was told by Ticketmaster that they could not accommodate her request to buy three tickets in an area for disabled viewers – one for her, Alessia and her friend – because the venue only allows one companion ticket with a disabled seat.
She said she has been able to circumvent this regulation in the past, most recently at a One Direction concert earlier this year and for an upcoming Taylor Swift concert in Toronto, so she can’t understand why an event for both able-bodied and disabled athletes would not allow her daughter to view the event with her friend while Commisso supervises.
“Two 12-year-old girls can’t be sitting by themselves, that’s unacceptable. A typical developing child, their parent would never let two 12-year-olds sit in one area by themselves and a parent in a different area,” she said.
Commisso said that even if she was sitting at a nearby seat, there are issues of safety, health and accessibility that she would not want to risk with her daughter on her own.
Alessia suffers from Leigh’s disease, a condition that affects her central nervous system and prevents mitochondria in her cells from working at full capacity – affecting the development of her muscles and organs and requiring constant medical supervision.
She uses a wheelchair and remains active in activities such as swimming, wheelchair tennis and horse therapy, in addition to doing weekly physiotherapy to keep her growing as healthily as possible.
Alessia said she was excited to see disabled athletes competing for the first time and has hopes of being a Parapan Am Games athlete herself in the future.
“I was excited and everything, but when she told me I wasn’t allowed to bring a friend I was a bit sad because I usually always bring a friend to these things,” she said.
“I wanted to see the Parapan Am Games but I didn’t want to see them by myself. I wanted to see them [with] me, my mom and a friend.”
In an email to Global News, a spokesman for the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games said the issue is one of protocol.
“People can purchase one companion seat directly adjacent to an accessible seat. Where it is possible, the rest of the party will be seated as close as possible,” Teddy Katz, director of media relations for the Games said in the email.
Katz added that the one-to-one ratio of accessible and companion seats is done in order to maximize the number of accessible seats within a venue.
“We will follow up with her family,” Katz said.
“We’d like to see what we can do to make sure the games experience is a positive one for her and her family.”
For Commisso, she said she was “incredibly disappointed” by the news and hopes the situation was just an oversight and she is allowed to buy another ticket in order to attend with her daughter and her friend.
“This should never have been an issue. This is the Parapan Am Games, the games with athletes with disabilities, I should never have come across this. There should have been understanding, empathy and compassion and they should have said ‘Yes, absolutely here’s your extra ticket,” she said.
“I want Alessia to know that she can do anything and everything and she has to just, when a barrier like this comes across, she just has to learn to escalate it to use different avenues … to get what she needs when she knows that something is right.
“And I truly believe what I’m standing up for is very important, not only for Alessia but for everyone who has a disability.”