Parliament: Interesting Speeches

Inaccessibility of the Arts in South Australia

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: There is a symbol which you may recognise as the international symbol of disability access but, sadly, as another Mad March fades into the sunset of the South Australian calendar, it is clear that the meaning of this international symbol does not seem to apply to arts events in our state because, if it did apply, then a wheelchair user booking some theatre tickets, for example, would be safe in the common understanding that the venue where the theatre performance was to take place would be one that would welcome and accommodate wheelchair users and users of other mobility aids.

Every year, following the month of March, I hear feedback from people with disabilities, in particular, about the inaccessible nature of events, even those which purport to be accessible. The arts is, of course, an important sector of the South Australian economy, creating thousands of jobs, attracting visitors from interstate and overseas, and generating positive social and financial benefits; yet the lack of knowledge and understanding and responsibility for ensuring access to arts events is astounding. Sticking the little blue access symbol on a venue, program guide or a website without also explicitly checking that the performance is actually accessible is, sadly, commonplace.

To maintain our progressive lead in the arts in our ageing society we must work on making all venues, materials and shows accessible to all. As an example, I attended one event recently marked as accessible only to find, and not for the first time, that while I could get into the foyer of the building with my wheelchair there was a significant step up to the actual theatre where the show took place. This is embarrassing. It is 2017 and it seems our state fails to learn from festival to festival. With every complaint the buck is passed from booking agency to venue to event organiser. Without consultation with people with disabilities this situation will never be properly rectified.

Angry and disappointed constituents contact my office because they have saved their money, booked tickets for a concert and anticipated a great time out, only to have their reasonable expectations of equal access dashed when they are informed that wheelchair users cannot be accommodated, sometimes at the 11th hour. We need to avoid buck-passing and ensure a consistent, holistic approach, from the booking agency to the venue to the event organiser.

To have concertgoers unable to use supposedly accessible Portaloos because there were no lights installed is another shocking example. There was power and there were plenty of lights—yea, even decorative fairy lights—festooning the toilets for ambulant people but not even a flickering candle to light the way to the accessible toilet. It is shameful, and it is still part of the daily reality of living with a disability in this state: that you cannot expect your right to have equal access to a venue that you have paid to attend upheld.

People with disabilities cannot even hop onto a website and book their tickets necessarily, if we require a wheelchair seat, for example. Instead, we are instructed to telephone during office hours and even then there are no guarantees that such places will be available, especially since by the time we get through tickets could have sold out for popular events through the online sales. This also raises significant concerns for what happens to people who cannot communicate on the telephone or who have no internet access.

The Dignity Party calls on the government to tackle this issue through public education campaigns, by working with event organisers, venue operators and booking agencies alike to ensure an inclusive approach to selling the amazing arts festivals and events that make our state so proud. Everyone—people with disabilities, elderly people, families and friends alike—could benefit from having a variety of booking and viewing options available to them. It is time to lift our game to ensure that, both here in our state and on the world stage, our wonderful festivals and events are fully accessible to all.