Last Saturday night, our family attended the NSW Schools Spectacular held at Qudos Bank Arena, at Sydney’s Olympic Park. Schools Spectacular is the largest variety show in the world and features students from NSW Public Schools and guest artists. Our daughter was performing in the 3,500 strong mass choir and I was really looking forward to a fantastic night out.
However, as a someone living with disability and chronic illness, I naturally had some reservations. Large crowds throw up all sorts of unpredictablities for me. It doesn’t take much for a simple fall to have major consequences…a broken foot a few years ago being case in point.
However, despite these hazards, I carpe diem and seize the day. I get out and about and I would move heaven and earth to see our daughter perform.
There were simply concerns about THE HOW and that meant reducing all the unpredictabilities. It’s not rocket science. It’s just like making sure you pack a water bottle on a hot day. However, I usually have a lot more variables to consider and most of them are unpredictable. We have to think on our feet.
That’s also because I’m on my feet using a walking stick, not in a wheelchair. I thought I’d better point that out because it makes quite a difference to the types of accessibility problems I face.
The Finale.You can feel he electricity, can’t you!!
As much as we all loved and enjoyed the performance and can’t wait to see it all over again on TV next weekend, we did experience some difficulties accessing and leaving the venue. After trying unsuccessfully to have my needs accommodated at the time, I’m sharing my experiences with a view to implementing change through greater community awareness. After all, people living with disability and chronic illness are entitled to a fun night out, without needing to advocate for disability access rights!
To give you an idea of what it is like for a disabled person with a walking stick to attend a big concert, I thought I’d hobble you through the highs and lows of our evening.
Starting out with the positive, I have a companion card. This entitles me to a free carer to accompany me to a huge range of venues. This meant that as my companion, my husband’s ticket for School Spectacular was in a sense free. However, it also meant that he was also his wife’s keeper and he was on duty (Confirmation that there’s no such thing as a free lunch!).
Secondly, we were able to get subsidised disabled parking a short walk from the venue. I can’t overstate how having a Disabled Parking Permit opens places up for me. Of course, it’s great to be close to the venue. However, that proximity also reduces unpredictabilties, producing something of a protective bubble. There’s still that element of risk, but it’s much reduced. This allows me to lead something close to a “normal” life.
However, on the down side, despite having the Companion Card and disabled parking permit, I was deemed capable of queuing up with the crowded throngs to get through the security check. Given that the show had 5,000 performers, the crowds were phenomenal. So, we’re not talking about a trickle. Such crowds pose a genuine risk to my physical safety and my concerns have nothing to do with being “anxious”!.
I politely asked the ticket office about disabled access and was told that everyone had to go through the security checks. But I wasn’t asking to by-pass the security checks. Nor would I want anyone to by-pass them. Obviously, they’re critical. However, there should have been a way for people with disabilities to by-pass the queue and go straight through the checks. I was using a walking stick, had a Companion Card and a Disabled Parking Permit. So, these people at the ticket office knew I wasn’t well. They could’ve walked me to the front of the queue and helped, but instead they stuck to their officialese.
That’s when I donned my political hat. Not because I couldn’t wait for the queue to die down or take my chances in the crowd. I did it because there should have been decent disability access. Somebody needed to speak up for those who can’t or struggle to speak up. I clearly expressed my right to disabled access and was bluntly told the queue was the only way. I spoke to the supervisor and received the same rule-driven response.
Of course, I was the problem!
We were naturally unimpressed (read understatement!!)
However, very soon our experience dramatically improved.
Having made it through the security check, I confronted a metal turnstile and wasn’t feeling comfortable. This time the staff member asked me if I could get through and guided me around the turnstile. My husband and I almost hugged him, thanking him profusely for his attitude. It was such a welcome contrast to the people at the ticket office who had their rules, which clearly made no allowance for disabled people.
So far so good. We made it to our seats and really enjoyed the performance. It was superlatively sensational and we want to thank and acknowledge all those beautiful performers, the teachers, and everybody who put so much into this incredible event. In no way do I want my concerns about disability access to lessen what was a truly unforgettable experience.
Naturally, after the performance was over, we had to get home.
As I said, we had a very convenient Disabled Parking spot. However, we hadn’t anticipated that being on level 1 would make it incredibly difficult to exit the car park with all the cars pushing down from upper levels. While there is a sign warning that it takes an hour for a full car park to empty, for many people living with disability or chronic illness, that’s a very long time…especially if you’re stuck in the queue for an extended period. There are seriously disabled and chronically ill people who can’t wait around in a car park for an hour to exit. These families live on a very short piece of string and need to get home like a bat out of hell.
As we were parked right next to the toilets, my husband decided we were better off waiting and staying put rather than getting stuck in the stationary traffic stampede. This gave me a chance to watch the panicked pandemonium. It was like someone had yelled “FIRE” and everyone had to get out immediately, right now and the thinking part of their brains was definitely switched off. At one point, we saw people converge on one exit point from five different directions, which clearly wasn’t “legal”. Drivers behaved like crazed maniacs in a case of: “Just get me out of here. I don’t care about anyone else.”
While I was watching all of this, I came up with an idea.
What about if the people with Disabled Parking Permits were allowed to leave first and other motorists had to give way? It would probably cause an outrage, but it wouldn’t hurt most people to wait an extra 15 minutes or even half an hour. However, knowing we could exit a venue quickly would provide seriously disabled and chronically ill people with much greater community participation.
What do you think?
For our family these recommendations also have further application. My Mum had bought a ticket to the lunchtime matinee concert but seriously put her back out and couldn’t attend. I’d actually encouraged her to have a go, because I thought the venue would help us find a way. However, I’m glad she stayed home because it would’ve been too much. She would’ve needed a lot of extra support and as much as catering for one little girl’s Grandma isn’t much to ask, that crowd was brutal and to be fair, she’s nowhere near well enough.
My intentions here are not to criticise or throw stones but to raise awareness. Let you travel in our shoes for a night and open your eyes to our struggles. Before I became aware of my own disabilities, I never thought about such difficulties either. I was young and only thought about number one too. However, all I ask is that you open your eyes and respond from your heart, instead of your rule book. Have compassion.
I am not talking about making huge changes, but together we can move mountains. Not just these mountains, but all sorts of mountains which make it harder for anyone to fully participate in the seemingly simple things of life.
Okay. So where’s your shovel? Let’s start digging!
Here are some other posts about living with disability:
Beyond the Flow: A Wheely Good Night at the Opera House
Beyond the Flow: Forgiving the Unforgivable (your chronic illness).
Living in a limited world: NHS Cruelty