The Companion Card in Australia
23 February 2011
The introduction of a companion card similar to a scheme across the Tasman would encourage greater participation in New Zealand cultural life by disabled people and help arts venues build their audiences, according to a visiting representative from arts and disability in Australia.
Jacqui O’Reilly, the Communications Co-ordinator for Accessible Arts in New South Wales, is in Wellington on a three-week exchange at Arts Access Aotearoa to meet people working in the sector.
A focus of her visit has been sharing ideas about the success of Australia’s Companion Card with Arts Access Aotearoa, as part of its campaign to encourage the introduction of a similar scheme here.
In Australia, the Companion Card is issued to people with significant disabilities who require a support person to access community activities and venues. The card offers free entry for these companions at venues affiliated to the scheme.
More than 37,000 disabled people and more than 4200 arts, entertainment, cultural, sport and leisure venues have signed up to the scheme across Australia.
“A companion card in New Zealand would encourage inclusion and eliminate the indirect discrimination that may be happening when people needing a carer or support person to attend cultural events have to pay for two tickets instead of one,” Jacqui said.
“In Australia, the Companion Card has solved that issue, and I think it could be very successful here as well.”
Benefits for arts venues
There are tangible benefits for arts venues.
“A companion card builds audiences by getting more people along to venues – helping sustain seasons and programmes, as well as ensuring a greater representation of diversity existing in our communities,” she said.
“Providing the best possible access is considered good practice in Australia. Welcoming the use of the card, and being seen to support inclusion, is a good way to promote an arts venue or business.
“In New South Wales, for example, there are now affiliates all over the state advertising and encouraging people to use the card to attend events. When family and friends also attend with the Companion Card holder, the scheme is encouraging even more people to participate in a country’s cultural life.”
Making it easy
As well as making it easy for disabled people to demonstrate their need for a companion, the card makes it easy for venues to know who should have a companion admitted without charge.
Jacqui said the Companion Card has raised awareness about accessibility and helped bring down some barriers.
“We’ve still got work to do in Australia to ensure people with disabilities can participate fully in the arts and culture but the Companion Card is one component we have achieved.”
Read more about Arts Access Aotearoa's companion card campaign.