Wheelchair users demand better access to buying tickets and seating at events
A woman on the New South Wales Central Coast is behind a growing anti-discrimination campaign demanding changes to the way people in wheelchairs can buy tickets to major sporting and cultural events.
For most people, booking tickets is a simple as a click of a button but that is not the case if you are a person with a disability.
Stephanie Travers is in a wheelchair. But like any young independent person, she enjoys going to live concerts with friends and family.
But just booking a ticket is an ordeal.
They have no option but to call a special Disability Access hotline, which critics say can leave customers on hold for hours or, in some cases, take days to answer.
“It took me three to four days and over 100 phone calls — it was constantly engaged, I was constantly hung up on,” Ms Travers said.
“We haven’t moved on from the policy of the last 20 years.
“The whole experience made me feel like I wasn’t important as a person … an able-bodied person.
“[It took] four days and [involved] anxiety and thinking that the concert was sold out. It was horrible.”
Forced to sit away from family
But the challenges did not end there.
Once she finally secured her A-reserve ticket, which is usually the only available option for wheelchair-users, Ms Travers ended up being placed at the back of the arena.
The 30-year-old’s ordeal prompted her to take action, launching a major social media campaign calling for an overhaul of Australia’s accessible seating policies.
“We found it wasn’t only happening to me, it was happening Australia-wide,” she said.
“We’ve had some people who have tried to get general admission tickets and been told, ‘Nah, we don’t allow wheelchairs on the floor of the venue. You have to sit in segregated seating’.
“We’ve had people say, ‘I’ve tried to book tickets with my family, and my children are on the other side of the venue, and I was only allowed to sit with a companion’ because you can only book two tickets at a time.
“We’re at a point where people are actually missing out on experiences because of the blockades in place and in 2018, this shouldn’t be happening.”
Dee Ellem, who cares full-time for her 45-year-old disabled daughter, is a big supporter of Ms Travers’ campaign and is adamant the system must change.
She and her family are avid fans of live concerts and sporting events but the experiences are not always memorable for the right reasons.
“In one of the arenas I’ve sat on the floor because they had me sitting away from my daughter,” she said.
“[At] another arena I sat on a plastic outdoor garden chair while she sat in front of me.
“I’ve been told, ‘Honey, there’s 50,000 people that come here that can walk. We have five in a wheelchair. Who do you think we’re going to look after?'”
Campaign gains momentum
The ‘A-reserve’ seating for Stephanie Travers at a live music concert in Sydney earlier this year. (Facebook: Stephanie Travers)
Disability advocates are optimistic that, despite so many horrible experiences, social attitudes towards people with disabilities are slowly turning around.
Two online petitions demanding changes to accessible seating policies have so far attracted more than 30,000 signatures and garnered the support of both State and Federal politicians.
NSW Member for Gosford and former Paralympic gold-medallist Liesl Tesch, and Swansea MP Yasmin Catley, are helping to champion the cause and have helped set up an industry roundtable in Sydney to discuss possible solutions.
“All these venues have got completely different physical structures within their venues,” Ms Tesch said.
“It’s going to be a while for change but getting them to come online, to even consider this conversation [is positive].”
Ticket sellers working on it
The major players, Ticketek and Ticketmaster, acknowledge concerns about disability seating arrangements and have confirmed they will attend the Sydney meeting.
But both ticket sellers describe it as a complicated problem because every venue is different as well as being responsible for their own seating arrangements.
A Ticketmaster spokeswoman said the agent was “listening to fans” and “looking at ways to improve the purchase process for accessible tickets online”.
It would not take much to make a difference for wheelchair-users, according to advocates.
“It’s about being flexible with seating: allowing people to buy more than two tickets at a time, recognising families want to sit together … that would be a start,” Ms Travers said.
“Then we can work at trying to get some funding from the State Government to try to make some changes to venues in the future.”
Ms Travers admitted that taking legal action to implement change would always be an option but she preferred a more inclusive approach.
“We shouldn’t be forcing business with the hand behind their back to include us,” she said.
“We all need to realise that young adults, young people with a disability and their families, want the same fun, enjoyable entertainment experience as the rest of the population.”