An exasperated disability advocate is calling on Aussie music festivals to "please do better" after a series of "microaggressions" at a major event last week left her "disappointed and very frustrated".
Victorian woman Zoe Simmons, who is a wheelchair user, attended the Good Things festival at Melbourne's Flemington Racecourse on Friday and said she was confused and disheartened over an apparent lack of consideration for guests with disabilities, even though she paid $225 for a ticket just like everyone else.
Melbourne woman calls for festivals to 'do better' for people with disabilities
Simmons said that despite her repeated attempts to contact the festival's organisers prior to the event, to ascertain what protocols were in place for attendees with disabilities, she was ignored or given generic responses up until just two days beforehand. The Melburnian said she tried to contact management over four times in the weeks in the lead-up to gauge an idea of the set-up — to no avail.
When she arrived on the day, Simmons recalled that it was immediately apparent little thought had been put into the needs of those with disabilities. She was met with stairs to a bar, some accessible toilets were "hidden from view" and at least one differing from its assigned position on the map, and, of the two accessible viewing platforms, one was "so far away I couldn't see or hear, even with my phone camera zoomed all the way in".
"I emailed them weeks beforehand, because I knew it wouldn't be fantastic based on my other experiences. There are always issues when there disabled people aren't involved in the organisation, planning and execution of these events," Simmons told Yahoo News Australia. "You can't expect disabled people to only have access to the information a week before or the day before, or not at all, that's really quite poor form."
Lack of communication a concern, Zoe Simmons says
Explaining that it's essential for all disabled people to have clear pick-up and drop-off locations, Simmons said specifically, she had sought to seek clarity from the festival over whether or not there was such a spot on the day. But was again given a vague response.
"I was really, really panicking," she recalled. "I was lucky enough that it was a sunny day, that I was able to take my wheelchair because if I couldn't [get to those] those pickup and drop off points — which according to them were a short walk — for someone that's disabled, with chronic illnesses, or any kind of physical disabilities, chronic pain, energy impairment, [that] could've been really, really painful."
Conceding there "were some efforts made" to cater to those with disabilities, and she still "enjoyed the music and vibe that I did get to experience", Simmons said a number of small, simple fixes could've vastly improved the day.
"Even just really small things like waiting to line up outside — there were no disabled toilets. There were non-disabled toilets, but no disabled. So if you're disabled — sorry, you have to wait," she said, adding that there was scarce signage for disabled toilets inside as well. "One of the bathrooms, you had to go through the medical tent and go around the corner to where the ambulances were."
Accessible viewing platform 'far away from stage'
Of the five stages, only two accessible viewing platforms existed. Simmons said one platform "wasn't too bad" comparatively, but the other — which doubled as a 'VIP area' — was "very far away", though it did have a wheelchair lift, which was "awesome".
"It was so far away that you could barely hear it, and instead, you could just hear everyone talking around you," Simmons explained. "It wasn't like being in the concert. It just felt really different to everyone else's experiences, and the fact that it was a 'VIP area' as well kind of just makes me think it wasn't 'accessibility' to begin with, they just tacked on accessibility— who could call that an accessible viewing platform? It was so far away.
"Even with my camera on zoom, I could barely see the big screens. It just wasn't fun." Eventually, Simmons said she decided to venture into the grass, where people were standing, just to try and experience some of the action.
When the festival ended, Simmons noticed the exits had changed in contrast to the plan, resulting in chaos and mass confusion. "So instead of being able to go out the way we came through, we actually had to go all the way back through the venue," she said.
'We face these issues every single day'
"Multiple groups of staff members had no idea where to go or what to do and that's really not good enough." Simmons said the delay in exiting the grounds resulted in an additional fee from her support worker, who was forced to wait to pick her up.
"I would just really like to see them prioritise all different kinds of accessibility into actual care. I think that needs to be in the form of a disabled accessibility consultant, maybe a couple with different disabilities so it could be a really cool day. They are trying — which is nice. But it's just, you can really tell that nobody involved is disabled, because they would've pointed out all of these things.
"These microaggressions happen to us every day, every time we leave the house. I just want to highlight that, we're not being dramatic by asking to have the same access that other people do, especially when these organisations and events are earning money."
Yahoo News Australia has contacted Good Things for comment with regards to Simmons's claims.
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