Mar 23, 2023

Venue accessibility under the spotlight after wheelchair users speak up

Venue accessibility has been under the spotlight this week after a father and son were denied access to one of the MCG’s wheelchair bays as two television media crews took over the dedicated space for people with disability.

James Williams and his father Darren are wheelchair users and when they rocked up to the AFL’s season-opening game between Carlton and Richmond last week, they expected a great night of fun cheering on their cherished Blues.

They had purchased general admission tickets for level four, skipping the time-consuming process of filling in an accessibility request form via Ticketek. 

This meant they had no specific tickets for a disability bay, but they have never had issues in the past as there are three large wheelchair bays on level four.

But it was a major surprise when they arrived to find that Fox Footy and 7AFL had taken up two entire bays after the Fox Footy studio relocated from its 2022 position.

“This is probably the first time that we’ve seen it as a double-up across two bays, so those bays were removed, but they were never actually for sale in the first place,” Mr Williams explained.

“You have studios that are built for these media partners, they have access to the ground. 

“This time they just decided that they’d both be on the same side in the same wheelchair bay, removing two-thirds of the wheelchair bay at the top of the MCG.

“That’s something important about this whole situation. A decision was made to actively stop people from purchasing the required tickets that they want to go to a game that should be available for them.”

With those two bays unavailable, and the only other spot for wheelchairs on level four completely filled, Mr Williams and his father moved to level one.

An MCG staff member provided assistance straight away, although it was an underwhelming outcome as the view was regularly blocked by other patrons standing up during the thrilling drawn match.

Mr Williams, a professional streamer with a large Twitter following, and Darren both put live updates on social media during the night, with Darren’s tweets quickly going viral.

The AFL agreed not to use the studios for the rest of the round, and initially delayed any public decision on if it would return.

“Unfortunately, two patrons purchased standard seating with the assumption an area would be free to utilise, however during marquee games over the last number of years, some of these areas are utilised by our broadcast partners for the telecast,” AFL Head of Corporate Affairs, Jay Allen, told news.com.

“When it is unavailable you cannot purchase tickets to access it, however, this is done on the basis that there are similar accessible seats elsewhere in the venue.”

The Williams’ met with the AFL and MCG on Thursday to discuss issues surrounding accessible seating and both parties confirmed it will not use any disability bays at any stadium for media or broadcast purposes again.

Mr Williams, however, is steadfast in his belief that several media outlets and officials have missed the point of their complaints. 

While some have challenged the fact they did not have tickets for that specific section, he said it’s not fair on people with disabilities to lose what limited access they have to a venue.

“What’s the point of having disabled seating for those that required it if you’re going to remove it for broadcast?” he said.

“Those seats should never be taken away from the people that require them and there’s no justification for it.

“People with access needs should have options. So if that seating has been removed because the media needs it, what are we doing? 

“You’re removing options for people. There should be options available to anyone at all times that require accessible and carer seats and they should never be removed.”

Mr Williams said he was also disappointed in AFL Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Gillon McLachlan’s, initial response where he defended the situation as there were “extra broadcast things going on” due to the fact it was a “big broadcast, opening game of the season” with 90,000 people in attendance.

Mr Williams said it has been an ongoing process championing better accessibility at events. He has been in contact with the MCG for the better part of two years regarding their ticketing system, in which patrons have to personally submit an accessibility request to Ticketek for accessible seating.

According to their website, Ticketek will then “reply as quickly as we can” leaving many people with disability high and dry if they are unable to secure accessible seating in a timely fashion.

Mr Williams said more information needs to be available online when people are purchasing tickets or memberships regarding accessible seating if those spots cannot be purchased directly.

The experience won’t stop either from returning, but they’re not afraid to escalate the situation if a repeat offence occurs.

“I hope we can get a resolution and we don’t have to deal with the problem again and we can focus on other areas to really support the AFL and the clubs to make sure information is readily available and support those that want to go to the game,” Mr Williams said.

“We are purely asking for the opportunity to make sure that accessible seating will not be taken away for any reason outside of someone booking it because they require that seat for a wheelchair and their companion.

“I the AFL were to use it [both disability bays] at any stage again we will go further. It doesn’t pass the pub test.”

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