Imagine that you are an event organiser. You are arranging a special event for people with a disability. The event is to be a celebration of all things that are good about disability. Awards will be given to inspiring, innovative and passionate people with a disability. These people have taken on the world and achieved great things. This is despite living in a world that is largely not accessible or inviting to people with a disability. The big moment comes to announce the award for Disability Employee of the Year.
The winner is Joe Wheelie, a wheelchair user. Mr Wheelie has risen to be the boss of one of Australia’s premier IT companies. He take’s every opportunity to promote people with a disability as a marketable pool of employment with skills of value to employers. Mr Wheelie is known all over Australia for his passionate advocacy. A flamboyant Mr Wheelie lets out a whoop as his name is read out as the winner. He wheels himself excitedly up to the stage. The problem is that he cannot get up on the stage because event organisers have neglected to consider access to the stage for wheelchair users. Oh the embarrassment!
And although the scenario that has just been described is entirely fictional, a similar scenario actually happened a few years back at an event organised by one of Australia’s premier disability groups. One can almost forgive an organisation that has no experience in disability for this type of faux pas; but when it happens at events that are organised by so called disability experts, there can be few things more humiliating and embarrassing.
Sadly it happens all too often. We people with a disability are constantly required to check whether an event is accessible. As a deaf person I have to constantly ask whether captioning or Auslan interpreters will be provided. More often than not, even at events that are targeted towards disability audiences, they are not.
What is worse is that I am often asked to pay my own way. Disability event organisers will say – “Oh but Gary, surely that is the responsibility of your employer, can you not ask your manager to cover the cost.” Or they will say – “I am sorry but we cannot possibly cover the cost, it will affect our profitability and we cannot run a business like that.” They will then proceed to offer me free registration. The free registration is on the proviso that my employer pays the cost of interpreting. The cost of the registration is sometimes actually more than what the interpreters might cost, it’s crazy.
What really pisses me off is that people seem to think providing access to people with a disability is some kind of charity. Let’s not forget that when people with a disability attend events that they bring with them considerable knowledge and skills. They have something to contribute that is of value to all participants at the event. Be it professional or personal experience, people with a disability have walked the talk. There is much that can be learnt from participants who have a disability. It’s a reciprocal relationship and the cost of access is an investment to tap into the knowledge and skills of people with a disability.
Organisations and programs that have the objective of promoting and supporting people with a disability need to walk the talk. When they organise events they need to ensure that these events are accessible. They need to be demonstrating what disability access is all about. It is not always a cost, sometimes it is simply about good planning. Like ensuring there is a ramp to the stage!! How many of these organisations will budget each year for catering at events but not for access? Far too many that is for sure.
The mind boggles really. Food is always seen as a way to attract people to events. Every budget will always have X amount of dollars for food. Often the catering for events is actually quite extravagant. There will be finger food, salmon wraps, wine, beer and an assortment of enticing cakes. Make no mistake the first thing that most people look for when they are attending an event is whether it is catered. The smart event organisers build the catering into the cost of an event so that registrations cover the cost. Why not build the cost for disability access into the budget of events? I can tell you, it rarely happens. Access is an afterthought.
And why should we limit access just to events that are arranged for people with a disability? Why do we not push hard to ensure mainstream events have access too. Many events receive funding from Governments – Federal, State and Local. A pre-requisite to receive funding for these events should be to demonstrate a disability access plan. Can’t demonstrate it – No funding – Simple as. This would mean events like film events, arts events, festivals and the like are all providing access.
It’s simple really. You plan a head. If a fee is going to be charged, add a levy to that fee so that disability access costs can be covered. If you have an event where 5 thousand people may attend then $2 a head will generate $10 000. If it is a smaller event just for an hour or two, perhaps a levy of $5 will help to meet access requirements. This levy will not always be used, bank it and invest it for the next event. It can be used for accessible toilet hire, accessible transport where required, interpreters, captioning and so on. We really have to think smarter.
But accessible events are not just about money. Sometimes it is just about thinking laterally. For example one parent asked me to ensure there was a quiet area where they could take their autistic child should distress occur. Issues like accessible parking, accessible toilets, ensuring access to rooms, buildings, doors and so on do not require money – they just require good planning and foresight.
So next time you are planning an event think access – Most of all plan ahead! If you know that you will hold events, budget for access requirements as early as possible. If there is going to be a charge, consider adding a few dollars to each registration to cover the cost of access. If need be start applying for grants and sponsorship to cover disability access and do it early. Think forward, think smart!
It is simple really. Let’s make our world more inclusive. It really is not that hard!
For more information on planning accessible events go to: