Image: A group of smiling Hoydenizens standing on the steps of Sydney Town Hall, holding a sign that reads “Hoyden About Town for Marriage Equality”. In the background, we see people waving rainblow flags.
I’m happy to report that a group of Hoydenizens had a lovely time at the CAAH rally for marriage equality in Sydney today. It was great to see so many people passionately supporting equal rights for everyone — and also great to know that so many people who couldn’t be there were supporting equal marriage too.
Many passionate speakers from diverse backgrounds spoke at the event, and it concluded with an illegal wedding ceremony — although we Hoydenizens were at the back of the crowd and couldn’t see much, the atmosphere was very joyful (tempered, of course, by the sadness and anger that these unions would not be legally recognised due to the homophobic policies of our state and federal governments).
Inspired by the work of the wonderful
women people at FWD/Forward, we were thinking a lot about accessibility today. We noticed that the organisers had arranged for an Auslan interpreter to be on stage at all times, and route of our march was relatively short and along level ground, so it would have been easily navigable by wheelchair, scooter, and pram users. The police kept the roads clear for us, and the pace of the march was relatively slow, and while marching, at least, the crowd was not too dense.
There were, however, a few problems, mostly relating to crowd management. Around the stage outside of Town Hall, the crowd was very thick, and it may have been difficult for a person with hearing difficulties to get close to the stage to see the Auslan interpreter — in fact, as the sound equipment being used did not project very well at all, it was quite difficult for anyone to hear what was going on unless they were towards the front (of course, we recongise that this was probably a funding issue, and not the fault of the organisers). The stage itself was set up very close to the street, which meant that the thickest part of the crowd covered the pathway most used by pedestrians — the organisers did ask us to keep that area clear, but unfortunately, people didn’t listen. Consequently, pedestrians who were not part of the rally were forced to go underground via Town Hall Station, and we witnessed one man who had a great deal of trouble using the stairs, which were the only means of access on that side of the road. Furthermore, when the crowd got moving for the march, it would have been difficult for wheelchair/scooter/pram users to find the dip linking the curb to the road amongst all the people.
The weather was very hot (over 30 degrees celcius), which does, of course, affect accessibility, but we weren’t sure if anything could be done about that. There were shady areas to sit and stand outside of Town Hall, and some (but not all) of the march route was shaded by buildings. We briefly considered the extent to which water stations along the marching route might increase accessibility, but that would also need to be considered in terms of environmental impact — at the very least, it would involve a lot of disposable cups. CAAH does, however, run rallies throughout the year (the last one was in August), so it might be possible for people who have heat-related accessibility problems to participate in rallies during the cooler months.
Not related to the organisation of the rally itself, but we also noticed that the toilets in Town Hall station were out of order. There was no clear signage directing people to the alternative portable toilets, above ground outside Town Hall, and those portable toilets would not have been accessible to many wheelchair and scooter users.
Please note that I’m not making these observations in order to point the finger at the organisers of this rally. Overall, I think that CAAH did a great job, and I think that the presence of the Auslan interpreter shows that they were definitely thinking about accessibility. The point of this report is to encourage us all to think about accessibility in a variety of contexts, including those that aren’t usually considered in terms of disability access.