The Australian Government funds a longstanding and very successful Companion Card Scheme – one that Arts Access Aotearoa has been advocating for since 2010. It’s a scheme I feel strongly about and I thought it was time to update you on its progress – or lack of.
In 2014, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage investigated the feasibility of introducing a similar scheme to New Zealand. After consultation, a comprehensive and convincing feasibility report was prepared and submitted to relevant ministers, including Minister Maggie Barry as the lead minister, in October 2016.
That’s nearly a year ago. What’s happened since then? It appears the report has been consigned to the too-hard basket.
This lack of progress is more than disappointing on all levels. It tells me the reasons for having a companion card (where it works well in other countries such as Australia and Canada) are not appreciated by this Government as worthy of action.
It also means that people who have to pay for two tickets (one for their companion carer) continue to be discriminated against.
I don’t believe for a moment this is the end point, and Arts Access Aotearoa will be working with others once again to push this issue to whatever government is in place post 23 September.
I am interested (and encouraged) that under the Labour Party’s health manifesto, its Disability Issues Policy includes an action point that says it will: “Look into ways to prevent people with disabilities having to pay for carers at events.”
Back to the drawing board
Whatever party or parties form the next government, we will be back to the drawing board on this one – only this time with much sharper pencils.
Australia’s Companion Card Scheme began as a state initiative way back in 2003 with Arts Access Victoria and is now available in all states. It aims to remove financial barriers for disabled people who require lifelong attendant care support to participate at events, activities and venues by offering free entry for the companion.
Businesses, organisations and venues participating in the scheme include theatres, art galleries, cinemas, entertainment centres, museums and art festivals.
Cost of tickets a barrier
We know that the cost of tickets is a major barrier to many disabled people being able to go to theatres, concerts, dance, festivals and other arts and entertainment events – especially if they require a companion.
It’s hard to fathom why New Zealand doesn’t have a Companion Card Scheme like Australia. Having access to the arts, entertainment and sports events is a basic human right and as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the New Zealand Government is required (Article 30) to take all appropriate measures “to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy access to places for cultural performances or services … ”
On a brighter note, I’m proud to say that members of the national Arts For all Network (including producers, festivals, performing arts companies, museums, galleries and venues) have said they will support a companion card scheme if it is implemented in this country.
Their commitment to accessibility is inspiring and since we introduced the Arts For All Network in five regions in 2011, the increase in access has been huge. In 2016, we recorded 73 accessible services – including 16 audio described events and 39 sign interpreted events.
Audio described Romeo and Juliet
I want to draw your attention to the latest accessible arts event: New Zealand’s first audio described ballet performance in New Zealand provided by Royal New Zealand Ballet in partnership with Auckland Live. Hats off to both of you for making this happen!
Do read this great blog written by Áine Kelly-Costello, a blind university student who attended the touch tour and audio described performance of Romeo and Juliet with her mother.
Áine’s conclusion about the experience says it all:
“I could not have known what it would mean to attend a ballet with my mother: to experience the whole show, not just the music. It was an artform I had subconsciously assigned to the ‘unreachable’ pile.
“‘When you were two,’ Mum reminded me fondly as we pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the motorway, ‘you could do all your arabesques, first position, second position, plié ... I always wanted to take you to the ballet’."