Written by Tammy Milne, PDA’s Tasmanian Director
I have a burning desire to be included and to experience as much as I can before I pop the perch.
I am disabled. I use wheels to get around but, in this day and age of anti-discrimination and inclusion, this should not stop me from doing everything my heart, energy and pocket desires.
And so, it was with this motivation behind me that I applied to be a volunteer at the Hay Days Festival in Hobart. This festival brings together some of the most cutting-edge artists locally, nationally and internationally. I wanted to go! I am a big fan of Genesis Owusu after seeing him perform at Party in the Paddock 2023.
Yeah, an old chick like me loves Party in the Paddock, with my most memorable moment seeing Lilly Allen and singing along with her song “F##k You” with about 4,000 other people a few years back. I may be disabled, but I’m not dead and I love to get amongst it. Maybe a result of being an older mum with a younger adult child or just being hip. Who knows?
Financially the cost of a ticket to the two-day festival was not going to break the bank, but it did mean that I was going to have to cut some of my other activities to attend. I could have paid, but there might have been other things I would have to miss out on to compensate.
And so, with this in mind when my daughter said she was applying for paid work in the bar at Hay Days I thought, well why not see if I can volunteer. I have skills. Heck, I have a degree and a couple of grad diplomas. I’m smart. I could be useful and then get a bonus ticket for free. Well not free, but free for doing work. I work for the ticket, a 6-hour shift in fact.
And so I applied. I made it clear on my application that I was a wheelchair user and disabled. I made it clear that any jobs offered to me must be suitable for me to do in my chair. I made full disclosure, let the dice roll on my application and hit send.
A few weeks later I received a reply. I was in! They wanted me. I say this in a surprised way because, let’s be honest, discrimination is real. It still happens to people with disabilities and, to be brutally honest, people are often scared to give people with disabilities a go.
Even though I worked in education for 33 years, they didn’t know me. They didn’t know what I could do and there is still so much unconscious bias and fear in our world directed towards people with disabilities.
So, I rocked up on the first day. I scoped out my workplace for the next day and then settled in for a day and evening of absolute sheer bliss. I even bought a baked potato from a food vendor with some sign language skills. (Oh, that’s another thing: when things are really loud, I can’t make my voice project for people to hear me, so I sign. NOT a barrier, but certainly something to be accommodated).
I checked out the loos. Look, to be honest, that was an issue. 4,000 people could use any of the toilets at the festival, but I could only use one. The accessible toilet was so accessible that it seemed to be used by the 4,000 abled bodied people too. Not a great thing in terms of cleanliness – especially for a person with a disability who has to touch everything in the loo to get on the pot so to speak. The ‘ableds’ (abled bodied people) can just squat over the seat, make a splash, leave a cup or two in the loo for extra obstacles, leave some toilet paper strewn around, touch very little and leave.
Unfortunately, not so easy for folks with chairs and wonky legs and dodgy bits, who have to touch all the grot left behind by those unnecessarily, and unfairly, using the facilities meant for those of us with true accessibility needs. To be honest, I only went to the loos once a day, holding on for as long as possible, minimising the need by drinking less so I didn’t have to go more than once. On day two I went and the nice ambo folks next to it had to fish a cup out of the actual toilet and help me negotiate it. Thanks legends. You folks go above and beyond as vollies (volunteers).
On thing not so great about attending many events is that, as a person in a chair, we sit about navel height to everyone else. So imagine trying to see an act at a concert if all you can see is the person in front’s bum. Hemmed in by a sea of bums is not my idea of a good time, but hey each to their own.
But there is NO bum viewing for me or other persons in wheelchairs at Party in the Paddock or Hey Days. We get a viewing platform that has us positioned above the sea of bums and provides us with a clear view of the stage. It also mitigates the risk of some drunk dude or dudette landing on our laps, or accidentally crashing into us whilst vigorously dancing to the bands. This is so great. That’s accomodation and I for one really appreciate this.
I bopped and bopped to Genesis and The Jungle Giants and PNUA, squawking along to, “Stay Blessed”, “Rakata” and “Cold Heart”. It was bliss. Best night EVA! (Well, one of them).
The next day I rocked up (rolled up) to my shift at 11.30am. Signed in and collected my vollie t-shirt, so pumped that I got a uniform. So I forgot to mention that when you get me as a vollie, it’s a two for one deal. I come with my very own support entourage. My support worker Michelle. So Michelle and I rolled over (well she walked) to our workstation. Our duties for the next 6 hours were to check tickets using a scanning thing (much like my old Job checking in books as a librarian) and then I would strap a wrist band on to the owner of the ticket. In the next 6 hours I touched so many hairy, skinny, and largish wrists that I could do a thesis on the human genome variation and how it affects wrist diversity. (Maybe in my next life, I’m really not that invested right now).
Before starting the shift, we were briefed on what to do what to expect and then sent forth to work. I loved it. Bopping between customers, bopping with customers and strapping on wrist bands. Even though I could not really have huge conversations with people when the music started. I could sign/gesture enough to make myself known.
The only real thing that hurt my fragile ego was when I said, “I bet I’m your first disabled volunteer” it was a “yes” reply. But why I wondered. The next was being told that when I was being considered as a volunteer, event management presented me to my team leader as an offering which she accepted with a “yeah I’ll take her” like I was a risk. Man, I have mad skills and you all should be looking at the person and not the disability.
Apart from that small infraction of ableism, the whole experience was just awesome and I would do it again. (Just please fix the toilet situation).
What I’m also advocating for is that, hey, if you have a disability and think you can do something with expertise and skill, go for it. If you are skilled and able then it’s not a charitable offering to allow you to work. It’s equality.
My time as a volunteer at Hay Days was the best, most excellent experience and your’s could be too.
Image: a selfie of a woman with grey hair, wearing sunglasses, a pink shirt and orange/pink scarf and a huge smile backstage on the lawn at a music festival. Two men are standing in the background.