Do you know why I hate writing articles about disability and accessibility?
Because each piece highlights or creates a divide between me and other people.
It’s the us and them mentality that gets to me. I hate that people will see my disability and nothing else; to the point where I seem to be different to others when in fact, I am still a human being and therefore in many ways, like everybody else.
But once again I am here writing about another experience where I have been let down by the barriers that society has put in front of me. I have been left angry and shattered and I will not let this go.
So, let me start from the beginning.
About a week ago, my friends mentioned an event they’d seen on Facebook; a journalist was doing a talk about being a political correspondent in the White House. Naturally, us young journos will jump at the chance to cram in a little extra knowledge to beef up our arsenal of journalism expertise and tactics.
I am no different.
Quickly, I bought myself a $15 student ticket and hit “Going” on the event page.
The Edit: Covering the Trump White House with Cameron Stewart. I was looking forward to this event all week, the idea of getting insider knowledge from a Trump White House correspondent, seemed exciting. Plus, I was planning on going with all my other journalism friends.
I had to plan my carers and schedule (a more complicated process than you may think) so that everything lined up for this event. I hung out with one my friends for the few hours between our class that finished closer to midday and the event which was happening at 6pm.
About two hours beforehand three of us were discussing the event and one of my friends made the thoughtful suggestion that we should check and make sure there was wheelchair access. Another friend made the call.
Turns out, there was no wheelchair access.
Campari House; the venue, while it may have been accessible from the first floor. There was no way of getting up the flight of stairs to reach the function room where the talk was actually taking place.
The person at the venue referred us to the organiser who then apologised for the inconvenience and offered a full refund. He then gave me the email that I could make a complaint to and made the promise that the Melbourne Press Club (the organisers) would make an effort to book wheelchair accessible venues in the future.
By the way, in the middle of all that, he tried to point out that the MPC had listed that this was not a wheelchair accessible event on the Facebook event page. In fact, it was not!
It didhowever, say the following…
“The Edit is a special program of events hosted by the Melbourne Press Club to help the next generation of Melbourne reporters, producers and editors hone their skills and develop their careers”.
“The Edit is open to young and early career journalists, as well as journalism students”.
Now, last time I checked; I ama young journalism student who would very muchlike to develop her career. In fact, I paid to do just that.
So why is it that I am now excluded from participating in this event based on my physical disability, of which I can’t help?
And the Melbourne Press Club, really?
I would’ve thought that a large institution such as this would’ve had an anti-discrimination policy… Apparently not.
Like I said, I am angry and disappointed.
It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the kind of profession I’m about to get myself into. But it also just doesn’t make sense!
Surely out of the hundreds of people that the MPC represent and the many more journalists that are out there working in this country, I am not the only one in a wheelchair or with a disability. I am not the only one who would benefit from journalism-related events like these and therefore are at a disadvantage when they aren’t catered for people with special requirements.
It’s a real shame, and I hope that no other journalist will have to go through this kind of institutionalised discrimination.
Because that’s what it is. Discrimination isn’t always overt. The Melbourne Press Club and other organisations won’t have somebody standing outside their offices shouting; “no disabled journalists allowed!”.
The discrimination occurs by way of planning events and not considering access needs. Not considering that your demographic is not just limited to able-bodied people.
And the thing is, I am in too deep. I have wanted to be a journalist for a long time, and I don’t plan on going anyway.
It’s not me who needs to change her career. It’s this profession that needs to make room for me.
Thank you for writing this Claudia. I am sorry this has happened. My daughter is a wheelchair user and we share your frustration and anger! As US advocate Greg Mansfield says, businesses need to know that doing nothing about inaccessibility that excludes disabled people is not a neutral act! I hope MPC do more than ‘make an effort’ in the future.
Well Done Claudia! This is an important issue. We need a diversity of voices in the media. The voices of people with a disability will not be heard unless the barriers are torn down. The Melbourne Press Club needs to change.