Many articles we encounter in magazines, newspapers, and books are written to inform. This article is different. Although I will provide a little background information, the purpose of this article is to ask what you think and feel about the events described below.
A few months ago, organizers of the National Disability Summit in Melbourne, Australia were highly criticized after a speaker had to be carried onto and off the stage because the stage was not accessible by wheelchair. As you might expect, there were a few disability advocates at the summit who willingly shared their experiences.
Disability activist Jax Jacki Brown said the speaker was “carried on stage by two people.” She and many others questioned why there was no ramp at a disabilities summit. Brown summed up her feelings by saying, “it was appalling to see the speaker wheel herself to the steps where there was no ramp.” Brown, a wheelchair user herself, said the experience showed her there was a long way to go.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that, according to a post by Brown, the “accessible toilet was filled with chairs and used as a storage space in the week leading up to the conference,” and food
provided at the conference was inaccessible to wheelchair users because the food was on top of very high tables.
I was not the only person who was offended by the horrible treatment of people in wheelchairs at a disabilities conference. News of the situation spread quickly, and one day after the event, the organizer of the event, Informa , issued an official apology statement which I pasted below.
Informa Australia apologises for the accessibility issues faced by participants with disabilities at the 2015 National Disability Summit.
We are looking into how and why such incidents could have occurred and we are committed to ensuring that this does not happen again. All procedures are currently under review.
It was our responsibility to ensure that there was ramp access to the stage. A ramp was en route and the decision to proceed without it was made in consultation with the speaker and her carer and she was escorted to the stage by her carer and a registered nurse.
According to its own website, “Informa is Australia’s largest event organiser, organising over 450 events annually. These range from niche training courses, through to high-level conferences and on to large scale exhibitions attracting thousands of attendees.”
Your Opinion Matters
If you were attending a Disability Summit:
- Would you expect the stage to be wheelchair accessible?
- Would you be upset if you could not access food provided at the summit because it was served higher than you could reach from a wheelchair?
- Would you expect to access the bathroom without having to shimmy your way through a maze of stored chairs?
- Would you expect the stage at a Disability Summit to be wheelchair accessible even if none of the speakers used a wheelchair?
- Would you be upset if food at a Disability Summit was not accessible to people in wheelchairs even if there was no sign of a person at the Summit in a wheelchair?
- Does the apology above make everything alright?
- Would you answer differently if the Disability Summit were held in an area that does not require accessibility?
- What content would you like to receive at a disabilities conference near you?
- Which speakers would you like to hear at a disabilities conference near you?
- How far are you willing to travel for a disabilities conference that has content you want and speakers you want to hear?
Please let us know your answers to as many of the questions as you want to answer.
We value your opinions.