Thursday, February 26, 2015

Still fighting the good fight

I just had to send an email to the Comedy festival and Arts Centre, fighting the good fight....still. I thought I would post it here as well, just in case they don't check their emails often.
Hello @ArtsCentreMelbourne , @MelbourneComedy and @KittyFlanagan 's management,
I intended to book 6 tickets to see Kitty Flanagan at this year’s Melbourne comedy festival, of which one person in our party (me) is a wheelchair-user. The Comedy festival website indicated that the playbox theatre has wheelchair access, and when I rang the Arts Centre, I discovered just what they meant by that.
Rather than sitting in the auditorium with the rest of the audience, my party and I would be sitting in a separate room, looking at the auditorium through a large window. A disabled ghetto. A circus side-show. A wheelchair zoo. But worst of all, the room they reserve for crying babies.
Now, I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you how I believe this contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, where equal participation is emphasised. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you how this theatre’s version of “access” is not an equitable …but I will anyway:
Firstly, the “”equal” in “EQUAL PARTICIPATION” means just that. It’s not 1952. This is not a leper colony. “Wheelchair” is not catching. In short, segregation is not acceptable
Secondly, the “participation” in “EQUAL PARTICIPATION” means just that. Part of the enjoyment of seeing a live show is being part of the audience and soaking up the atmosphere. However, in a different room, separated by a window, this would be more like a “live” television performance. In short, you can’t participate if you’re not there.
Thirdly, really. Just really….would this be ok for you if the tables were turned and you needed wheelchair access?
So, I’m emailing all of you key stakeholders because:
Arts Centre – I suggest you need to think about what you mean by access. If in doubt, I’m sure the Human Rights Commission could help explain it to you.
Comedy Festival – I’m not sure that the accessible symbol is warranted for this show.
Kitty’s management – As you can imagine, if I wanted to sit in a room with screaming babies, I probably wouldn’t be the type of woman who shares many of Kitty’s views, and is keen to see her show. I think it’s about time that artists and management join the fight for accessibility by putting pressure on venues to comply with quite straight-forward guidelines.
Luckily, there are other performers, in actual accessible venues at the comedy festival, so I shall choose to see them.

Update: I have just received a phone call from the Arts Centre. I was not given all the options about wheelchair access when trying to book. In addition to the "crying room", there is also another room not behind a window (but still segregated), and two places within the auditorium itself in a separate row to friends/family (or as they were repeatedly called during my phone conversation when trying to book, "my carer" (nb. not everyone's reality!!!)).
This still isn't ok.
I understand that the building was completed in 1984, just 2 years before access became part of legislation, and retrofitting can be expensive. However, given this is our state facility, and not some backwater local theatre group, and they found money for Hamer Hall's  multimillion dollar facelift a few years ago, I think "we have no funding" is a pretty weak excuse.
I'm still not going to see Kitty Flanagan. I'll have a stiff drink instead (in fact, I might have one now)