Adelaide Festival Centre Accessibility – using restrooms should be easy

History of the Adelaide Festival Centre

adelaide festival centre photo on the bank of the Torrens
The Adelaide Festival Centre

The focus of this blog is Adelaide Festival Centre accessibility, however, a short history of the centre is a good start.

Three months before the Sydney Opera House, Australia’s first multi-purpose arts centre, the Adelaide Festival Theatre opened in 1973. Over time the theatre was joined by the Playhouse and Space Theatre, and collectively, they are known as the Adelaide Festival Centre.

In 2018 I attended the Rocky Horror picture show, George Michael – listen to your heart (ASO), The great war, Berstein on stage (ASO), All you need is love (ASO), Provenance with Vince Jones, Wizard of Oz, The Studio: 54 reasons to party (ASO), Zepp Boys (ASO), Symphony of Angels (ASO), Priscilla Queen of the desert, and Mamma Mia the musical. I appeared on stage twice; 1977 – as part of the combined school choir and 1986 – to receive my Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Studies.

With the exception of using the accessible toilets, Adelaide Festival Centre accessibility has been great.

Toilets and Adelaide Festival Centre Accessibility

the wall between the women/accessible and mens toilets
To the right are the men’s restrooms, and the women and people with accessible needs are to the left

Inside the Festival Theatre’s accessible restroom, there is an abundance of room and everything you require, as well as a tasteful decor. Previously the entrance door was a sliding wooden door that was difficult to operate including opening, closing and locking it. The centre recently replaced it with a powered sliding door, operated from a panel on the wall. Well done.

The accessible facilities are located between the female and male restrooms, and the entrance is next to the female facilities.

the automated doors of the accessible toilets inclues a button that opens the door and a vacant light
the control panel for the powered sliding door

The Problem with Adelaide Festival Centre accessibility

  • If you can walk and are male there are no issues with the restrooms at the centre.
  • If you are female, then you may have issues accessing the facilities due to wheelchairs.
  • If you are in a wheelchair, then you may have problems accessing the restrooms.
  • Finally, if you are male and in a wheelchair, you have an additional problem.
a small area with a door to the left that is the female restrooms and the accesible one to the right
no room for women to queue and for wheelchairs to get to the accessible bathroom

Typically there are long lines for the women’s toilets, and this presents a few problems for patrons in wheelchairs attempting to get to the accessible toilet.

I find it embarrassing to ask people to move so I can get to the toilet. And more embarrassing because I am in the line of women who are busting to move up the order. There are times when females look at me in strange ways, as they must be wondering why a male in a chair is pushing past them to get to the female toilet.

Eventually, I make it to the door of the accessible facilities, and the toilet is being used. So I park myself near the door, and this presents a problem as there is insufficient room for me, and the line of women going in and out of their facilities. Once again the women look at me in strange ways.

When a wheelchair comes out, I need to move back to exit the area, and this presents difficulties, and then I have to go back in. There are times another female without a need for the accessible toilet has locked the door, and I wait, and the congestion continues.

The Solution

The door to the accessible bathroom should be repositioned, so it faces the main foyer.

the wall between the women/accessible and mens toilets and I have placed a new entry door to the accessible toiilets
the door to be located between the male and female restrooms
the inside wall of the accessible restrooms, and I have added a door
the position of the door from inside the accessible restroom

Communication with Adelaide Festival Centre

I brought up the problem with Adelaide Festival Centre accessibility via an email to them at on the 27th of August 2018. An invitation was given to speak about the problem over the phone.

I heard nothing, so I sent them another email on the 21st of September 2018, including the photographs of my solution.

Again they failed to contact me, so another email was sent on the 10th of October 2018. I mentioned that I would be attending the musical ‘Mamma Mia’ and I would share the experience of using the accessible toilets with them. I heard nothing.

Mamma Mia experience

During the interval, I attempted to access the bathroom, and the line of females was long. I began to ask females to allow me to get closer, and eventually, they wouldn’t respond, so I blasted my horn. There is a motorcycle horn connected to my wheelchair as the standard horn cannot be heard. It scared a few people, and the line parted like the red sea. My disability reduces the volume of my voice, and I need to shout to be heard, and then my voice gives up.

I approached the toilet and the vacant green light was on. However, a woman was standing between the button and the sliding door and was facing me. I indicated that she should move to her right and she refused, and I leaned over and pressed the button. The sliding door revealed a woman sitting on the toilet, and she jumped up and ran to wash her hands. I asked her friend if she has a need to use the accessible facilities and I was informed that I was rude for opening the door! Apart from the vacant light being on, the woman in the toilet had no need to be there. I asked them to move out of the way.

I shouldn’t have to go through these experiences just to have a wee, and on top of this, my throat was sore due to the need to shout to be heard.

At the end of the show, I wanted to use the accessible toilet, and the green light was again on. So I pressed it, and a woman aged around 85 jumped up from the toilet, rushed out and collided with the sliding door. I suggested she would go back in and finish but seemed to be upset by the experience.

The Human Rights Commission and Adelaide Festival Centre Accessibility

I’ve given the Festival Centre management ample opportunity to respond to the problem, and I reported the issue to the Australian Human Rights Commission on Wednesday 17th October 2018. This action is only taken if the organisation with the issue hasn’t responded in time. Please click here for another blog that shares the process of making a report to the HRC.

I expect the Festival Centre management to treat a regular patron with more respect.

My fifth email about Adelaide Festival Centre Accessibility

My fifth email to the Adelaide Festival Centre shared the news about the report to the Australian Human Rights Commission. My first, second, third and fourth emails received no reply, but when I’ve escalated the matter to the HRC, I get a reply! The Centre apologised and mentioned that they had responded to my first email, yet I cannot find that reply.

I’ve asked them around seven times to forward the original reply to me. Its almost as if it was never sent in the first place. If it were sent, I would love to apologise and update my blog.

Apparently, the matter was escalated to the Chief Operating Officer three months ago. If you know them, can you ask them to contact me?

And Now…

A time was arranged to speak to the Manager of Marketing and Customer Experience. An apology was provided, as there was no initial reply. There was a mixup on their side, and I accepted the apology. Hopefully, the manager can learn from their mistakes and improve the customer service.

The obvious question was then asked ‘Tell me about my original feedback about the accessible restrooms’. It was four months since my first email to them. This was followed by a refusal to provide feedback about the problem, and the reason was provided. I had reported them to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

I felt as if I was playing cricket in the street, and I dismissed the batsman who owned the bat, and they took off with the bat so no one else can play. The reality of the situation is that the matter now has to be resolved via the HRC. I expect the Adelaide Festival Centre staff will communicate promptly with them, as compared to their customers. They had communicated with the HRC before they had contacted me!

My next course of action is to contact the HRC and ask for the complaint to be withdrawn. I then expect a response from the Adelaide Festival Centre to my original email.

The redevelopment of the Adelaide Festival Centre

The centre is currently undergoing a redevelopment that will cost over 90 million dollars. The only wheelchair seating is available in the back row of the stalls. I assumed this problem would be addressed, and patrons in wheelchairs are able to sit in other locations. Such as alternative locations in the stalls, as well as accessible seating in the dress and grand circles. The hope was that PWD (people with disabilities) were consulted in the process that determined if, and what accessibility changes were required.

I asked ‘Please provide details of the changes to accessible seating as a result of the AFC redevelopment project. Currently, wheelchairs can only be placed in the back row of the stalls’.

This question has been escalated, and I await a response. Hopefully, there is no need to raise another complaint with the HRC.

seating plan of the adelaide festival theatre, showing the stalls, and dress and grand circles

From now on…

I received a phone call from a manager to talk about the issues. All of the modifications to the Centre received the required ticks and approvals from the right organisations. “that’s nice I thought to myself”. I suggested that no one in a wheelchair was involved in making decisions about accessibility. And mentioned that moving the door will resolve the problem with the accessible toilets. This wasn’t going to happen. Instead, another sign would be placed near the door. I assumed that would fit within the accessible budget for the centre. If you use the accessible toilet, and a person in a wheelchair asks you “Do you have a need to use it”, its probably me.

From now on, I expect to use the restroom without the issues mentioned in this blog. Happy to queue behind other people who need the extra room in the toilet, such as wheelchair users. Or a father taking his daughter to the toilet. Or a person with dementia, or someone on crutches. It’s not just people who use a wheelchair. Hope PWD can be involved in future modifications to the centre, and the customer service will improve.

Please email WheelchairJohn about your experiences with the Adelaide Festival Centre (the Theatre, the Playhouse, Space Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre). Together we will get changes made, to ensure visits for PWD are easier and more enjoyable.

1 thought on “Adelaide Festival Centre Accessibility – using restrooms should be easy”

  1. Hi Wheelchair John,
    I too feel your frustrations at the lack of consideration for people in wheelchairs. A few years ago I wanted to go and see the Spanish dancing horses at The Adelaide Entertainment Centre, I rang ahead to make some inquiries & was told that “No provisions had been made for disability access or seating, it’s not generally something disabled people can do, & they get upset & therefore don’t really like horses”.Horses were my whole World before I went into my wheechair, they still are!
    How dare she assume what people with disabilities like & do not like. I was so upset that day.
    I also want to see Dolly Partons 9-5, I heard that wheelchair seating was varied in the theatre? I will have to check it out!


Leave a Comment