An outcry over the treatment of disabled patrons at Hamilton’s Seddon Park during a recent Blackcaps match could have been avoided with just a bit of prior communication, says sports writer and disabled person Michael Pulman.
During last Saturday’s Twenty20 International at Seddon Park, disabled patrons were turned away from their designated seating in order to make way for a large marquee for visiting English media.
The specifically designed accessible seating area was developed at Seddon Park back in 2013 after the venue received several complaints about its accessibility. Featuring three access tiers, and located close to bathroom and food facilities, the top tier – most commonly used for wheelchair users – was inaccessible for the popular T20 match against England.
Despite the remaining two tiers being available, security at the venue turned a handful of wheelchair users away, directing them to a makeshift area tightly sandwiched between two corporate tents up on a raised embankment on the right-hand side of the ground.
Getting to this area required wheelchair patrons to get themselves over a large concrete step, covered over by a plastic mesh sheet. Testing it out personally, I discovered that driving over this sheet was dangerous, especially for those in lighter wheelchairs. Not only that, my wheelchair couldn’t get itself over the step without assistance from a group of passersby.
Here I need to make it clear that this situation did not affect me personally. I was at Seddon Park in a working role as part of the media covering the New Zealand side, so I was seated elsewhere. But as someone who has experienced the consequences from this sort of poor thinking, and complete lack of communication, I can attest that it makes the entire experience of going to a game more than a little stressful.
I myself have experienced poor access at Seddon Park prior to the construction of the designated accessible seating section, well before my role in the media began.
The miscommunication on this occasion occurred when stadium security told wheelchair users that the area was only for visiting English media and turned them toward the makeshift section that was barely accessible for most wheelchair users.
After my comments on social media gained a little bit of traction, I was contacted by the Hamilton City Council which then connected me with the H3 Group, venue managers of Seddon Park.
They apologised for the change, but said that two tiers on the designated platform were available for use, as well as the tight replacement spot between the two corporate tents on the embankment.
H3 Group said they were sincerely sorry that people’s event experience was hampered. New Zealand Cricket also got in contact, wanting to express their sincere apologies for the miscommunication. They were adamant that disabled people will be able use designated section in the future.
The story here isn’t about discrimination, it’s about a lack of awareness and subsequent lack of consultation.
And really, all of this is really beside the point. Past events at Seddon Park have showed, clearly, that the top tier of the specifically-designed platform is the most popular amongst disabled patrons. This was the exact area that was inaccessible, and will again be inaccessible for the ODI on Sunday.
While I acknowledge the venue does have limited space for large groups of media and that NZC had to make space somewhere, disabled patrons shouldn’t have had their designated seating area affected in the first place. For between $30 and $45 for a ticket, plus the cost of paying the cost for a caregiver to attend, all patrons should deserve to have an experience that isn’t affected by things that don’t concern them.
That includes disabled patrons. No active discrimination took place here, but what did happen at Seddon Park was just as much an awareness issue as it was a communication issue. Disabled people with access needs must be consulted on these matters. It’s only the right and decent thing to do.
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