Today in Ableism: The Perth Writers Festival, Part Two.

This morning I was at the Perth Writers Festival, part of the internationally-renowned Perth International Arts Festival. I wrote about this festival before, in “Perth Bipedal Writers Festival”.

I was there today, and accessibility is a utter shambles, despite the protestations of the organisers in the leadup that it is all going to be totes accessible, guys! (Note that this was after they had put up all the programmes and information about the Festival — minus any information about accessibility.)

The rows of information and ticket tents, the coffee and drinks tents, the tables and chairs, the bar, the water refill stations – these make up Writers Central, the busy hub of the Festival. The tents are all placed facing a large area of bumpy grass with sand traps. This row of tents all have their BACKS to a flat, very wide paved area. I will not mince words here. The organisers are clearly complete arseholes, since they know this is a problem and have failed to fix it. It would have cost them nothing to set up this area such that the tents and vans were accessible, and such that there were a couple of tables and chairs on a paved surface. Words cannot express how angry I am about this setup.

I saw an older woman attempting to push a man in a manual chair in this boggy, bumpy area, and really struggling with it. There was also a woman with a wheelie walker similarly getting around with far more difficulty than was necessary. All this in the few minutes I spent there. There were a variety of other wheelchair and mobility aid users at the festival, who clearly the organisers care nothing about.

Later, I tried to get into an event at the Romeo Tent. I had specifically asked the festival about the Romeo Tent in advance, and been assured it was fully accessible.

It was not accessible.

There was a slippery painted sloped board at the entrance, instead of an actual ramp. There was no rail or pole nearby so that I could assist myself in.There was a sharp transition, down to grass, with a lip. I tried to get over it forward – my front wheels stuck fast on the lip, and I somehow managed not to tip forward onto my face. I then tried it backward. I got over the bottom lip this way, but could get no traction on the glossy-painted board, so my wheels started spinning and I couldn’t get up the board. I ended up having to get an assist from a stranger not trained in manual handling. It was all fairly scary and difficult, and I ended up a spectacle for the passers-by. At the end of the panel, despite the heat inside the tent, I waited till everyone had left so as to not be a similar spectacle on the way back down (where I also needed an assist so that I wouldn’t end up with my wheels catching and fall on my face). As well as the risk to me, this also created a risk to the staff who had to physically assist me. This is not their job, they have no training in it, and I wonder whether they are insured for injury should this handling go wrong.

At this point I cut my losses and left the Writers Festival. I was in a world of pain from all of the jolting over grass and sand, and from being hauled about by well-meaning and kind strangers – simply because the festival couldn’t be bothered.

After the years of critique and education the Festival has had about accessibility, at this point I can only assume they are doing it deliberately. There are two days of the Festival to go. If the organisers had any decency, they would tear down the tents overnight and place them in an accessible way, and/or lay access matting over all of the grassed areas, and install an accessible ramp at the Romeo Tent. All of this is doable. But they won’t do it, will they?

It’s nothing less than able-bodied supremacy in action, and I’m tired of it.

[Kudos to The University of Western Australia’s Unipark department, as an aside. I called them to report a car illegally parked in the accessible parking spaces. They had a person in the area and said they would send them over immediately.]

Categories: arts & entertainment, disability

9 replies

  1. Oh gods, that sucks. I’m so annoyed you had that experience. As you say, this isn’t something which should be hard for this particular festival, since they’ve been running for years in the same blinkin’ spot, and should be able to build on previous feedback – the whole “not using existing paved walkways” strikes me as particularly daft, quite frankly. It’s just rude – it sends out a very clear message to ANYONE who is less than 100% mobile that “you aren’t welcome here”, and that doesn’t just mean people who are wheelchair users, but also people who aren’t as young as they used to be and therefore need some form of assistance to negotiate grassed spaces. So it’s ageist as well as ableist.

    Possibly a solution to such things would be that if an organisation is going to use a venue’s accessibility profile as their selling point (for example, the Writer’s Festival uses the accessibility profile of the University of Western Australia as their starting point – and UWA has to be accessible as a legal requirement of being an educational institution) then they have to co-operate with the venue in order to best exploit that accessibility (for example, using existing walkways and paved spaces, using existing lecture spaces for discussions and so on) or be held in breach of the law. Yes, even if it costs them more money.

    (Or maybe the rule should be that if you’re going to hold a festival event of any kind on a grassed surface, you CANNOT legally say it is going to be accessible without actually getting it assessed and certified as same. Said assessment and certification should have to occur multiple times if this is to be a prolonged or busy event, since wear and tear changes the profile of grassed areas).

  2. It’s wilful, bloodyminded exclusion.

    UWA has significant accessibility issues, btw. I had to negotiate two fairly steep ramps that had no handrails. The lift to the Arts toilets is tiny (would not take a mobility scooter). The ‘accessible’ toilet was similarly tiny, no handrail, inward-opening door.

    The tent was a perfectly fine place to hold a talk, if a little hot – all they needed was a proper ramp and maybe a railing.

    Feel free to join me on twitter. @perthfest is the festival, #pwf is the hashtag, I’m ilauredhel.

  3. And a grassed surface is never accessible, unless it has access matting laid upon it.

  4. Ugh, absolutely no excuses – especially when you had poked them repeatedly about access.

  5. Jaysus. It’s extraordinary that accessibility isn’t a basic requirement of holding an event, running a business etc. People who have different requirements for accessibility are hardly rare, from the very young, to very old, the ill and both the temporarily and permanently disabled. Premises should be inspected regularly by an independent body that knows their stuff, breaches of standards and remedies of same made clear, as well as enforced.

  6. Arcadia: I still find it astonishing that we have no body to enforce premises accessibility in this country. It’s a national disgrace.

  7. I’ve had word from another festival patron – she was at an event when an attendant TOOK HER WALKER AWAY FROM HER.

  8. Ack, I’m still dealing with this nasty pain flare today, and probably will be for a while yet. Flattened.

  9. Wow. I have no words. That’s just incredible. It makes me so angry. I’ve heard from other Perth friends that the festival had had accessibility problems — predominantly of lack of communication about accessibility requirements and standards to staffers, leading to venues being called accessible, but having no access for those with mobility issues, etc.

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