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Friday, 31 December 2010

Disabled man denied entry to Singles club New Year's Eve dance

Ah 'Tis the season of Goodwill - except it seems in the eastern French city of Dijon, where the apparent decision by a Singles club not to allow a handicapped man to join in the New Year festivities has upset both the man and his mother and put a definite dampener on their end-of-year fun.

Sébastien Mertel is 30 years old. Although he is physically disabled and his face is partially paralysed, he can get about quite easily, isn't confined to a wheelchair and is fairly independent.

Sébastien Mertel (screenshot From France 3 television report)

His only problem, according to his mother Danièle, is that he doesn't find it easy meeting new people.

"So we decided that we would both spend the New Year at the Singles club dance," the divorced mother of three told the regional daily Le Bien public.

"It would be a good way we thought of spending a pleasant evening."

She contacted Sylvie Frelet, the director of the Association Effervescence - the club organising the evening's event - to try to register and that's where the problems began and the version of what happened differs.

Sylvie Frelet "I never said he couldn't come to the dance" (screenshot from France 3 television report)

According to Sébastien's mother she was told her son wouldn't be welcome because his presence would make other participants feel uncomfortable; something Frelet hotly denies ever having said.

"I never said he couldn't come to the dance," she insisted in an interview with France 3 television, saying that she had advised his mother that it perhaps wouldn't be the best way for Sébastien to meet new people.

"I suggested that he might like to participate in some of our other events such as those where we have workshops and are in much smaller groups," she said.

"That way it would be easier for him talk to people and to express himself rather than at a dance where it's more of a festive occasion."

Aha so Frelet is indeed a kind soul and her decision had been in the interests of all concerned and not in the slightest bit discriminatory.

Except according to Sébastien's mother, he had already been refused membership of the club a couple of months ago when he made inquiries to join the very same "smaller groups and workshops" that Frelet was now recommending.

The reason given at the time? "Because his disability could inconvenience other members of the group," said his mother.

She and Sébastien have decided to lodge a complaint with La Haute Autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l'égalité (The French Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Halde).

Happy New Year Madame Frelet!

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