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Human rights festival forgets disabled access

Human rights festival forgets disabled access

12 May 2006

When disabled comedian Philip Patston couldn’t get into the opening of the Human Rights Film Festival in Auckland last night, luckily he could see the irony.

The comic and ex-human rights worker, who uses a wheelchair, arrived at the Academy Theatre, only to find the wheelchair access route blocked with chairs, tables and pamphlets.

“Obviously they weren’t expecting disabled people,” he said.

Once embarrassed festival organisers had cleared the passageway to the theatre entrance, Patston said they then had to move a speaker, which was sitting in front of the doorway into the theatre. He said there were no spaces for patrons using wheelchairs.

“If I hadn’t been able to transfer into a seat, I don’t know where I would have sat,” he said.

Patston was with the co-founders of the London Disability Film Festival, Julie McNamara and Caglar Kimyoncu, who were visiting Auckland. They were appalled by the situation. “Obviously disabled people are right at the bottom of the heap in this country,” McNamara said.

To add to the faux pas, the opening night screening included a short film, Winner Every Day, about well-known intellectually disabled man, Tim Bagnall, from Wellington.

“While I appreciate the Academy is sympathetic to causes such as human rights, I think it is entirely the wrong venue for a human rights event," Patston said. Access to the cinema is via lift through the Auckland Library, which closes at 8pm. An agreement with Auckland City to allow disabled people access to the library after hours had been made and was publicised on the festival website, "but when I rang the cinema they told me I would have to leave before 8pm."

The comedy of errors continued when the security guard was nowhere to be seen when Patston was ready to leave.

Organisers were apologetic but Patston says that was not enough. "Rather than being sorry I hope the festival will consider access for all disabled people next year, including accommodations such as audio captioning and sign language interpretation or subtitles for blind and Deaf patrons.

Patston will attend another film, Ngatahi: Know the Links, by NZ rap artist Dean Hapeta, on Saturday and says he will be interested to see if changes have been made.

He says he will be following up with an offer to work with the festival next year to provide better access for disabled people.


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