One of the biggest events on the Australian calendar showcasing diversity and inclusivity has to be Mardi Gras. As this year’s Mardi Gras quickly approaches, the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities at festivals and events is once again raised.
Accessibility at live entertainment events has not always hit the mark for all people living with disability, but one support worker saw an opportunity to mix her two passions – her career and love of live music.
Kylie Jones started Rock ‘N’ Rollers in Illawarra, New South Wales after a career supporting clients with challenging behaviour and now accompanies groups to entertainment events to enjoy themselves, meet new people and live out their dreams.
12 months on, Ms Jones has facilitated outings to see music legends such as Midnight Oil, The Offspring and Guns N Roses. One of the events next on her calendar is supporting people with disability to experience the glitter and glamour of Mardi Gras Fair Day.
During her support work career, Ms Jones noticed participants of all ages and abilities were grouped together and offered minimal opportunities to socialise and enjoy community events such as gigs, sporting events and art exhibitions.
“I watched a lot of the people I supported try to communicate that they felt frustrated, lonely, isolated, and like they had these dreams that would never be lived and we were being told ‘no, think smaller’,” Ms Jones says.
“You’d then end up with escalated and unmanageable challenging behaviours and it would be suggested that we would go down the medication route.
“It’s not always the case that you can avoid those things, but a lot of time if you address isolation, loneliness and people not having the possibility for human connection or finding their people – we can help them.”
Recognising that gap in the market and passionate to improve the quality of life for participants, Rock ‘N’ Rollers was born and now 12 months later, Ms Jones and her 37 employees help members find like-minded people through the local entertainment and art scene.
The positive effects of seeing your favourite music acts and meeting fellow like-minded people regardless of ability is incomparable, according to Ms Jones.
“Everyone loves and needs to be around music and art,” she explains.
“My staff and I believe in infinite possibilities. It’s a new way of support and you can see the changes in people’s lives.
“We get everyone together and they’ve made great lasting friendships, they’ve achieved amazing goals and seen great bands and it’s just growing through word of mouth.”
Outside of facilitating excursions to attend gigs, the Rock ‘N’ Rollers team have quickly expanded to create a podcast platform for participants to work on and now host dating events which are responsible for seven successful romantic relationships so far.
Team member, podcast co-host and former event planner, Patrick Peardon, helps participants achieve their dreams of being in the media through their podcast where hosts can interview bands and raise awareness for more accessible music venues.
“The problem is key venues and locations are being shut down or knocked down to build apartments and now we have to go into smaller venues which are often small, upstairs spaces that are not accessible via lifts,” he says.
“We really need to look and have some sort of policy in place where we can protect the accessible venues or even have a place where people can apply for grants to make their events more accessible.”
The next Rock ‘N’ Rollers event is a date night locked in for this Thursday, February 16, at the Warilla Surf Club.