This Is What It's Like To Attend Concerts While Living With A Disability
Marlena Katene may have been born with cerebral palsy, but that's probably the least interesting thing about the music journalist, disability advocate, business owner and base jumper.
Despite using a wheelchair and a special keyboard to communicate, Marlena has interviewed everyone from Russell Brand to Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman. She's also a massive live music fan who attends more concerts in one year that most might see in a lifetime.
Despite all this, the 27-year-old journo says that she and her longtime carer, Bert Hibbert, constantly face issues with security while attending shows -- particularly when it comes to events held in larger arenas.
One such incident occurred at Pink's Wild At Heart Tour at Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena in August, where "aggressive security" denied Marlena and Bert access to the VIP area -- despite the pair having purchased expensive and very limited VIP tickets.
"Basically, I was removed from the venue, so Marlena was at the concert all by herself in Sydney where she knew no one," Bert told 10 daily, adding: "She was forced to move to the wheelchair section right at the top of the stairs."
"I had the best seats in the house and paid premium dollar so I would be able to mix with other people," Marlena explained.
"Security then said I had to go to the wheelchair section where there was no one around. So basically I went from a hundred people around me to having no one to engage with," she added.
"They went on about safety, but by removing me from other people they put me in a very vulnerable situation where there was no one around I could engage with."
Unfortunately, the same scenario would again repeat itself at Eminem's Brisbane concert last month. Marlena and her friends were forced to move away from the crowd and to the far edge of the VIP section -- again, despite dropping nearly $500 on VIP tickets.
"Segregation at Eminem looks like this,” Katene said on Facebook at the time, posting a video of the largely-empty section.
On top of dealing with this frustration, Bert revealed that planning to attend a concert is a lengthy process, including having to call a special 1300 number in order to request tickets and to specify Marlena's needs.
"Marlena goes to every concert at every venue around Australia -- and unless we ask -- and in some situations beg -- you're placed where they tell you to go, which is always at the back, especially in the larger venues," he said.
In recent years there have been steps in the right direction when it comes to providing more inclusive events so that those with disabilities can enjoy live shows without issue. One such event is Ability Festival, spearheaded by Paralympian Dylan Alcott.
A charity event held in Melbourne's Coburg Velodrome on April 7, Ability Fest will be decked out with multiple viewing platforms for those in a wheelchair, AUSLAN sign language interpreters, quiet areas for fans with Autism and Aspergers to watch from -- as well as a guide dog station with trainee pups for punters to hang with.
While it's definitely a positive move, Marlena believes that those with disabilities should be included among all live shows without any problems, rather than have to seek specific events catered specifically for people like her.
"I appreciate what Dylan's doing but it's something that's for charity and occurs once a year, so it's kind of two separate arguments," she said, adding: "I'd go off my nut if I was only limited to going to one show a year!"
"I don't want any benefits -- other than what comes with the ticket I paid for -- but what Dylan is doing is definitely amazing."
When asked what she'd like concertgoers to know about music fans with a disability, Marlena's answer was that she simply wants to be treated like any other music lover attending a concert.
"I love the experience and the social engagement with others. Even things like having beer spilled on me and stuff, it's part of the experience," she said, adding, "I actually got spewed on the other week! There's a misconception that something like that would be a traumatic thing for people like me, but I just embrace it."