Entertainment Professor Justin Yerbury urges Wollongong council to improve disability access at local venues
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Wollongong Council has apologised after a prominent professor urged it to "do better" to address the needs of people with a disability following his "stressful" experience attending a local venue.
Justin Yerbury AM said he was not provided with disabled parking or seating, had his foot stuck in a lift door and could not access the over-utilised disabled toilet during Ben Elton's show at the Wollongong Town Hall on Friday night.
Professor Yerbury said despite phoning ahead to discuss his needs, staff on the night told him there was nothing they could do to address his concerns.
"It's just exhausting to have to fight for basic access so I can attend an event," he said.
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"It takes a lot of effort to get out, several hours of preparation, roster changes and planning even before we get there.
"It would be great if Wollongong City Council and [Merrigong Theatre Company] could make the effort to make it more accessible for everyone. Please do better."
'Stressful and tiring'
Professor Yerbury has motor neurone disease, uses a large electronic wheelchair with a ventilator and requires around-the-clock care.
"If adequate seating and promises for adjustments can't be met, at least be open and honest so we can just not go," Professor Yerbury said.
"Sticking disabled people in the walkway where people bump into my wheelchair and ventilator is dangerous and stressful.
"We left at interval as it was too stressful and tiring. Its dangerous if I can't have a close parking spot because I need my worker there with me and if there is an emergency there would have been a delay in getting to the van to leave."
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Wollongong's Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said he was disappointed to hear of Professor Yerbury's experience and said disability access at the venue needed to be reviewed.
"I thank Justin for raising his concerns and do apologise for his experience," he said.
"I will be taking this up with the General Manager of the council, who is also on the board of the Merrigong Theatre Company.
"It's one of those situations where it's an old building, it was refitted in 2010-11 but I think the equipment and the circumstances could be better utilised and better coordinated," Cr Bradbery said.
The CEO of the Merrigong Theatre Company, Simon Hinton, said he was in direct communication with Professor Yerbury to learn from his experience.
"I think at this stage I would rather Merrigong was just listening, learning and working with Professor Yerbury and others to improve this experience, rather than talking publicly about it," Mr Hinton said.
"We have lots to learn, and are committed to improving the patron experience."
The New South Wales Minister for Communities and Disability Services, Gareth Ward, said Professor Yerbury's experience was not acceptable and he would be contacting council to discuss its disability inclusion action plan.
"As the state's disabilities minister, it falls far shorter than the standard I would expect," he said.
"Perhaps this is a good opportunity for the council to reflect on disability inclusion so we don't see a repeat of events like this."
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