Nfld. & Labrador

'No compassion' in accessibility policies at AtlanticFest, says Bishop's Falls family

Dave Roberts says he was unable to get complimentary access to the upcoming Blake Shelton concert for a care worker for his 27-year-old son.

Policy says no free access for caregivers at upcoming Grand Falls-Windsor concert

Michael Roberts, 27, spends most of his time in the family home in Bishop's Falls, where his mother cares for him almost full-time. His father said the opportunity to get out of the house to see an artist he likes is a big deal. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A 27-year-old man living with muscular dystrophy is calling for a major music promoter to change his policies on accessibility.

It wasn't right.- Michael Roberts

Michael Roberts, from Bishop's Falls, says it's unfair that the upcoming Atlantic Fest concert in Grand Falls-Windsor would not agree to provide free access to a caregiver to attend the concert with him and his mother.

"It wasn't right, disabled people should have the same rights as normal people do," Michael Roberts told CBC News with the help of his mother, who was reading his lips.

Roberts — a big country music fan — has been diagnosed with Duchene muscular dystrophy. The disease means he is confined to a wheelchair and needs full-time care, and assistance for most daily tasks.

Dave Roberts said he had a disagreeable conversation with David Carver, the promoter of AtlanticFest, about attendant passes. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

'No compassion'

Roberts and his mother Mary bought tickets to see Blake Shelton perform at the AtlanticFest concert in August.

They were surprised to learn, after contacting the event organizers, that AtlanticFest would not give free admission for a personal care worker alongside Michael and his mom.

I feel it is disrespectful to those who cannot afford to attend... to give away tickets to other people- David Carver

"It seems that he has no compassion for the disabled," said Dave Roberts, Michael's father, who spoke to Atlantic Fest promoter David Carver.

Carver told CBC News that he was not interested in an interview, but wrote in a statement that his rule at all of his concerts is that everyone has to pay to enter, including attendants.

"There are people that are unable to afford tickets to concerts. There are people who cannot afford tickets to concerts, but manage to find a way to raise the money and attend. I feel it is disrespectful to those who cannot afford to attend, and to those who struggle to find the means to attend, to give away tickets to other people," Carver wrote.

While people who need caregivers are usually allotted one reserved space, Carver said he arranged for the Roberts family to have two spaces alongside Michael for ticket holders.

Following the conversation between Carver and Roberts, Carver also offered a free third ticket for the Roberts family, paid out-of-pocket. Roberts declined.

Attendant passes not legislated yet

Passes for caregivers, sometimes called attendant passes, are available for all events at Mile One Centre and at the province's Arts and Cultures Centres, as per venue policies.

Attendant passes were also available at this year's Salmon Festival in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Musician Blake Shelton is set to play the AtlanticFest concert in Grand Falls-Windsor on August 26. (REUTERS)

But they're not completely standard across the province, according to Nancy Reid, who works with the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland Labrador.

The attendant really, in that situation, is no less than a tool.- Nancy Reid

"There is no provincial legislation currently that covers attendant passes. But more and more there is, I guess, a common thinking about best practices in inclusive customer service," she said.

Reid said equitable access, not just "equal access," should be the goal for event organizers.

"If that means that we need to have an attendant with an individual to accommodate that, absolutely that's what we mean," she said. "The attendant, really, in that situation, is no less than a tool, as a wheelchair would be."

Kathy Hawkins, a program manager with InclusionNL, said the vast majority of event organizers she's worked with are agreeable to instituting attendant passes and other types of accommodation.

"Right out of the gate, immediately we work with organizers around ensuring that folks with disabilities aren't further discriminated against. Because they need to have additional passes in order to access an event and have the same equal experience as another person," she said.

'A little bit of compassion'

Dave Roberts said the everyone-pays ticket policy is unfair for people with disabilities.

Roberts explained that Michael Roberts cannot be left unattended for long stretches of time, so for him to go with his mother — without a second dedicated caregiver — would be real work for his mom, and a "waste of two tickets."

"All of his machinery which needs to be monitored at all times... He's not going to enjoy the concert, cause he sees that his mother is not enjoying the concert," he said.

Michael Roberts uses a ventilator to help him breathe. He spoke with CBC News with the help of his mother, who read his lips. Other times he can communicate with his family through use of a laptop. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Dave Roberts, who turned down Carver's offer of a free ticket, said he is more concerned about the overall policy, adding that his son has a large support network to back him up.

A community group has donated a third ticket for the Roberts family, and Dave Roberts is now planning to attend with his wife and son.

He argued that caregivers for people with disabilities should get an exception from an everyone-pays rule.

"They were born into this, and (to) try to make their lives as easy and as normal as possible, you know, people got to have a little bit of compassion."

Listen to CBC Radio's interview with Dave Roberts by clicking the audio player below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

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