Melbourne Park, an experience in ‘meaningful’ inclusion?

  • 31/01/2017
Maree Ireland
Steps and forecourt of Rod Laver Arena Melbourne

Once again, in January I ventured to Melbourne Park for several night sessions at the 2017 Australian Open Tennis.

This year a number of changes had been made in regards to wheelchair access to the concourse and arenas.  After an initial period of slight annoyance and getting used to the changes, it made me question what are the fundamentals of meaningful inclusion? Is it having ‘special measures’ in place for direct access to the venue you are going to, or is it about having a flat, but longer route to the venue and being part of the crowd?

I have been going to Melbourne Park for several years. For the first few years wheelchair access was through the underground carpark, through the underground reception area, through to an internal lift to the concourse. The reverse would happen upon leaving the venue. Of course wheelchair taxis, in those days, were rarely on time, so this would lead to a number of people in wheelchairs sitting at the reception area for hours. However, this reception area was meant mainly for VIP guests and players to access their vehicles.  This was great for us because we would get glimpses of these people. I suppose eventually it wasn’t acceptable to management.

So the access to the concourse was then made possible through an external lift to the right of the main turnstiles. People in wheelchairs would go through an accessible turnstile but then had to veer right to access the lift to go upstairs. I think the lift could be used by the public, but was not cleaned or maintained very well.

This year the lift no longer existed. A new winding flat pathway has been created that enables people in wheelchairs, their friends, and the general public to walk to the concourse together. After I got over the initial inconvenience of a 15 to 20 minute walk, I started to wonder whether this was real inclusion – just being part of a crowd jostling to get to a venue. I did feel included without ‘special treatment’.

However, there were people with mobility impairments, using walking frames and crutches who were not impressed with this new arrangement.

So it has left me wondering – Can inclusion happen without ‘special measures’ or are some still needed to cover everyone? But does the perception of ‘special measures’ deflect from the concept of meaningful inclusion?

I would like to commend Melbourne Park for endeavouring to be as inclusive as possible; however perhaps a couple of options could be offered for future events so as to meet the needs of all patrons.

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