′I am not a child,′ says blind woman restricted from thermal bath | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.02.2015
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'I am not a child,' says blind woman restricted from thermal bath

How many years can one woman swim, before she has proved that it's safe? Rhetorical or not, this is the question being posed to authorities in Germany at the moment. It concerns a spa in a pastoral Bavarian town.

It's a 20-minute bus ride from Horgau to the Titania station in Neusäß, a trip Angelika Höhne-Schaller knows like the back of her hand. The 55-year-old has been making the trip between these rural towns near Augsburg for almost 10 years now, because there's a thermal bath at the Titania Spa with the perfect temperature for her degrading arthritic condition.

"I need this bath multiple times a week for treatment," Höhne-Schaller told DW, "and I won't be told when I can use it," she added.

Or with whom, to be more specific.

Höhne-Schaller is blind. And the spa, which has just changed hands and is now under the control of the Neusäß municipality, says she can't use the thermal bath on her own. With reference to ordinance rules, the spa says Höhne-Schaller must be accompanied by a "responsible adult" because of her disability.

"I am a responsible adult! That's the thing they don't get. I am not a child and will not be made into one just because of my vision problems," an emphatic Höhne-Schaller said.

'Not just any old pool'

Indeed, apart from the blind, the only other people who aren't authorized to use the spa on their own are those under nine years of age. "We have a certain sense of responsibility for our patrons," said Dietmar Krenz, Neusäß's building authority representative, to the German press agency (dpa).

Krenz was unavailable to comment on whether Höhne-Schaller reserved the right to "take responsibility" for herself; from his statements to dpa, it appears the Neusäß municipality is simply concerned for the safety of blind patrons at Titania because of its unconventional design.

Screenshot: Titania Therme

The municipality says the unorthodox nature of the spa puts blind patrons at risk

"We're not talking here about a normal swimming pool," he explained. "And for blind people, this can be a serious problem. There might be a bag on the floor, for instance, or on the stairs, and there are also dangers posed by waterslides," he added.

"We cannot protect blind patrons on their own with our personnel," Krenz concluded, saying also that the size of the pool, which has a maximum capacity of 1,000 people, makes it unfit for blind guests.

'Clear case of discrimination'

Before taking any steps in the matter, the municipality has ordered a risk assessment by an independent firm, which could take up to six months. And before those results are in, Höhne-Schaller says she is going to pursue any legal avenue she can.

"If this goes to court she will most likely win," Andreas Jürgens, perhaps Germany's leading political authority in disability matters, told DW. "It won't take long for any judge to see that she can manage herself safely. She's been doing it for 10 consecutive years without problems," he added.

Jürgens, who is credited with having forced the inclusion of the disability-equality clause into the German constitution, "No person shall be disfavored because of disability" (Basic Law, Article III), called the Neusäß case a "clear contravention" of that law and perhaps even the UN Charter on Human Rights.

"I'm furious. That's why. I'm just furious," Höhne-Schaller told DW when asked why she was taking her municipality to court.

"As far as German law is concerned, I could be president here. There is no reason why I couldn't become president of this country. But can I go swimming in the next village over? No."

Conceding that she most likely wouldn't be campaigning anytime soon for the desk in Berlin's Bellevue Palace, she did say there wasn't any hurdle she wouldn't consider jumping over to win her fight.

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