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Progress 2019 was held June 20-21 at Melbourne Town Hall and nearby venues, convening Australia’s leading change-makers for two days. During the event, a number of participants raised concerns with us about accessibility and security.

We apologise unreservedly for Progress 2019 being inaccessible and not inclusive to people with disabilities (PWD). We are so sorry for the hurt and exclusion that was caused, and are deeply grateful for the feedback we have received, and acknowledge the emotional work people have done to share that.

We commit to listening, learning, building relationships, improving our practice and working with the broader movement to improve inclusivity and access across the social change space.

Our mission is to build the capacity of movements to win systemic change – and we fail in our mission when we don’t centre the lived experience of, wisdom and activism of people with disabilities in our movements.

We understand that apologising means you don’t do it again – yet we did have feedback from Progress 2017, which we didn’t properly take into account when planning Progress 2019.

We want to acknowledge our failures in this regard, and to share our immediate plans to redress these issues and ensure Progress 2021 is a safe, inclusive and accessible place for PWD. We also understand that our actions were consistent with a lack of accessibility and inclusion for PWD in our broader movements – and we have a leadership role to play in addressing these structural barriers. In particular we commit to:

  • Making improvements to the program and accessibility for Progress 2021, including investment, to ensure it is more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.
  • Working with Melbourne City Council to ensure they improve their accessibility policies and training for all security staff.
  • Building stronger relationships with advocates and activists with disabilities, to find ways for us as an organisation to be better allies, as well as opportunities to organise broader movements to be more inclusive, accessible and supporting campaigns led by people with disabilities.

We hope this sparks further feedback and can be reviewed and built upon by a specialist consultant we engage closer to the next Progress.

 

Making improvements to the program and accessibility for Progress 2021

 

Programming

Whilst we did have a number of people with disabilities (five, that we know of) contribute enormous expertise and value as speakers at Progress 2019, we acknowledge the program did not include enough speakers with disability, nor focus sufficiently on some of the critical issues facing PWD.

One of the reasons for this is that we are not connected enough as an organisation to the disability advocacy and activist community. We acknowledge this relationship gap means the incredible knowledge and expertise of disability advocates was disregarded in program design, a grave oversight for which we are deeply sorry. We want to do better — and look forward to getting started on this important work.

We commit to hiring a specialist consultant from within the PWD community to work alongside us as we plan for Progress 2021. We’ll allocate a budget of $12,000 for consultancy, speaker fees, travel and accessibility requirements. We look forward to co-designing the Progress 2021 agenda to ensure it includes:

  • Dedicated breakout sessions / workshops where PWD and their grassroots voices and issues are prominently represented,
  • At least 10 speakers with a disability, or significant access needs, and
  • At least 2 PWD speakers in plenary.

Further to this, we commit to ensuring PWD are represented in the co-chair group.

 

Security

We are deeply sorry for the poor treatment, pain and hurt PWD experienced as a result of the security checks imposed on participants when entering Melbourne Town Hall.

We understand we did not have sufficient processes in place to ensure security was a safe experience for PWD, and take full responsibility for this serious oversight.

Melbourne City Council made us aware of the new bag check requirement just days before the event, at which time we should have requested further information on their policies and processes. At this time, our primary volunteer training had already been completed, meaning volunteers were not made aware of these processes. We acknowledge this caused great hurt on the day for PWD, and regret the course of action we took in failing to fully bring volunteers up to date with bag check procedures.

At future events, we commit to fully understanding all relevant policies related to the above, and will assign volunteers and staff to oversee the security process, to ensure it is conducted in line with our values, and safe for PWD at all times.

 

Auslan and hearing

It’s been noted we didn’t have Auslan interpretation at Progress 2019, whereas we did in 2017 and 2015. As we received no requests for Auslan through the ticket booking process (nor in an email to participants the week before the conference to double check), we made a decision two days before the event not to proceed with our booking.

We acknowledge we did not consult the deaf or hard of hearing community when making the decision to cancel the booking, and understand this decision contributed to Progress 2019 being inaccessible and non inclusive for PWD – for which the team at Australian Progress are deeply sorry.

Looking forward to Progress 2021, we:

  • Commit to continuing Auslan interpretation in event budget.
  • Will share the names of interpreters engaged for our events (once known) with participants from the deaf and hard of hearing communities, and include interpreters names (where possible) and the sign language symbol in marketing material.
  • Will ensure an Australian Progress team member is available to answer questions in the lead up to the event from the deaf and hard of hearing communities via SMS, Facebook direct message and email.
  • Will ensure all rooms have enough microphones for audience Q&A, so hard of hearing participants can hear questions asked and fully participate in discussion.
  • Understand that the bigger issue is that we in fact didn’t have any people in attendance who required Auslan, and commit to building deeper relationships with the Australian disability rights movement in the coming months and years.

 

Venue accessibility

We are deeply sorry for the upset caused to speakers and participants from the PWD community as a result of our venue’s accessibility shortcomings. We acknowledge this included (but isn’t limited to) a lack of accessible bathrooms on all floors, limited lift capacity with no prioritisation for people with access needs, a lack of ramps or steps to stages / risers, dark spaces, narrow aisles within rooms, noisy and crowded spaces and the lack of a quiet space. Regrettably, our understanding of these issues have come at the expense of a number of people’s personal experience. Ultimately, the decision to use Melbourne Town Hall as the venue for Progress 2019 sits with us, and we take full responsibility for the distress it has caused. We commit, as a team, to improve and want to emphasise our genuine regret that we didn’t do better after feedback in 2017.

Moving forward, we commit to changing the way in which venues are chosen, with accessibility for members of the PWD community prioritised alongside cost, location and other factors. We have twice before conducted an extensive review of possible venues for Progress, but haven’t found any of the scale that are within our budget for the event, which does run at a loss.

Where venue shortcomings are unavoidable and we make the decision to continue running the Progress conference at Melbourne Town Hall, we commit to working with experts and interested participants to ensure safe pathways and access for all PWD (such as improved usher processes, signage, reserved seats in rooms and wider aisles).

Once venues are chosen, we commit to auditing entrances, exits, communal spaces and individual rooms, and bringing in equipment (such as ramps) or revising room layout (such as creating wider aisles) to ensure all are safe and comfortable.

 

Broader accessibility

Feedback shared to date has given us a clear idea for how to improve broader accessibility next time – although regrettably, again, this has come at the emotional labour and cost of those directly affected. We extend an unreserved apology to those participants. We can, and must, do better.

In the longer term, we as a team commit to further training to more fully understand these issues. In the shorter term, we want to share what we’ve learnt:

  • Participants shouldn’t have to disclose their disability to be included and safe at an event, and while tailored support is appropriate in some cases, it’s up to us (the senior team at Australian Progress) to review best practice accessibility guides to ensure all events are safe and accessible for everyone, including PWD.
  • It’s important for the accessibility officer to be available via numerous communications channels in the lead up to (and during) the conference, including email, phone, sms and Facebook. Further, we understand that simply having an accessibility officer doesn’t make an event accessible — staff and volunteer training, venue audits and improved comms to all participants are all important aspects of making an event accessible and inclusive.
  • We must have a safe, quiet space available for PWD to use, at their own choosing. This room must include catering and a fully trained staff or volunteer team member.

 

Communications

We acknowledge that errors in our communications – both internally and externally – left some speakers and participants without an appropriate and timely response to concerns they personally took time to raise. We say sorry to these individuals, both for the lack of response, and for the emotional and physically distress endured in order to bring these issues to our attention. Once again, we can – and must – do better.

We are grateful to Carly Findlay for sharing a range of feedback from participants to the whole audience at Progress 2019 – and acknowledge the emotional labour required to do so. Carly’s speech, plus feedback we’ve received via email, Twitter and the Progress 2019 survey has motivated us to radically improve not only the way we run events, but our leadership around accessibility and inclusion across the sector. We sincerely hope it has encouraged the 300+ social change organisations present at Progress 2019 to do the same.

 

Outreach

Of the 1,500 participants in the room at Progress 2019, we deeply regret the limited representation of activists from the disability movement. Whilst we did have a policy of providing discounted or free tickets to PWD, on reflection, we did not advertise this enough in relevant organisations and communities. We are incredibly grateful for those who have shared feedback on how to do thing differently next time, and look forward to working with consultant/s, experts, members of the disability movement and allies to dramatically improve the way in which we outreach to PWD in the future. This will include provision of discounted and free scholarships for PWD at Progress 2021.

 

Code of conduct

It has come to our attention that some speakers and participants who raised concerns during Progress were the subject of targeted trolling and nasty online bullying by fellow participants. We are deeply sorry if this was your experience, and commit to exploring how a participant code of conduct could prevent such behaviour next time around.

 

Working with Melbourne City Council to ensure they improve their accessibility policies and training

We believe there are a number of things Melbourne City Council and their event contractors, Epicure, must change as a result of the negative and upsetting experience for some Progress 2019 participants. We raised these issues during the event, and there are clear gaps in policies and procedures that need to be addressed.

Moving forward, we commit to encouraging Melbourne City Council to conduct a full review of event security procedures, including ensuring there are processes in place related to:

  • Training for security contractors with regard to disability and cultural sensitivity.
  • Clear signage that explains the security process.
  • Processes to ensure bag checks are truly enforced uniformly and fairly, as well as processes that mean participants with a disability do not need to undergo regular checks.
  • The protocols around allowing food into the building when medically necessary.

Further to this, we commit to following up our concerns with Councillors, the Melbourne City Council CEO and other relevant council officers.

 

Building ongoing relationships and being better allies

Australian Progress provides a broad range of capacity building support for social change organisations and grassroots movements including training, incubating new organisations and building connections across our movements.

We acknowledge that when Australian Progress fails to include the diverse and hugely valued experience of Australia’s disability movement, it hurts many. First and foremost, it hurts people with a disability – it disregards the importance of their lived experience and immense talent advocating for systems change. But beyond this, it hurts the progressive movement more broadly – fellow campaigners and activists miss valued learning opportunities and the walls of the silos between different sectors and PWD in the progressive movement remain raised. It is our job to break down these silos, and we commit to actively continuing our work to do so. Over the coming months and years we aim to build stronger relationships with the PWD movement to ensure we find new opportunities for support and solidarity.

We’ve learnt a lot in the past five days, and know there’s still so much more we need to do. We sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all speakers and participants who had a negative experience at Progress 2019. We genuinely appreciate your feedback.

If you have further feedback, please submit it via the conference survey, or email me direct at nick@australianprogress.org.au.

Sincerely,

Nick Moraitis
Executive Director
Australian Progress

 

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