"At FullAccess, the 'Accessibility All Areas' slogan says it all"
"At FullAccess, the 'Accessibility All Areas' slogan says it all"
We asked Martina Gollner and Christina Riedler, founders and managing directors
Two music enthusiasts were fed up with the lack of leisure activity choices and programs for people with disabilities in Austria (and elsewhere). Attending a concert without a big fuss? Not an easy feat. That’s why Christina Riedler and Martina Gollner decided to set up their own business with FullAccess and try to make concert promoters aware of people with disabilities as prospective customers and thus contribute to making society more tolerant.
In this interview with REHACARE.com, the two founders and managing directors talk about their social business and how they came up with the idea.
Ms. Riedler, Ms. Gollner, what is the objective of FullAccess?
Christina Riedler: At FullAccess, nomen est omen. Our slogan "Accessibility All Areas" says it all: "Accessibility All Areas" is a wordplay that is made up of the term "accessibility", which refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities and the much sought-after "access all areas" passes given to a selective group of people at performance venues. This is meant to create a connection between politics and economics while it simultaneously emphasizes the right to full and unrestricted participation in cultural events.
In Austria alone, approximately 1.3 million people have disabilities such as mobility impairments, sensory disabilities, chronic illnesses, mental impairments or learning disabilities for example. According to the "2016 Federal Government Report on the Situation of People with Disabilities in Austria", 57.8 percent of people in this heterogeneous group indicated that they feel disadvantaged when it comes to their leisure time due to their disability.
The mission of FullAccess is to bridge this gap. Our vision is to make FullAccess the first destination for people with all kinds of disabilities as it pertains to leisure settings. We consider ourselves to be an interface between organizers and the "more demanding" customer group of people with disabilities.
A collaboration with FullAccess enables organizers and promoters to implement the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as specified in the "National Action Plan on Disability 2012-2020" and create an accessible event experience for visitors with disabilities.
Aeon Tickets (which was also created by these two entrepreneurs; Editor’s note), the first portal for accessible tickets is explicitly geared towards people with disabilities. Tickets can be directly booked via this central hub. In addition to a free or reduced ticket for a companion/chaperone, Aeon Tickets also provides extensive information about the conditions at the venue. Personal service has top priority for us in all this.
What would an ideal accessible visit to a concert look like?
Martina Gollner: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every type of disability or a combination of multiple disabilities comes with its own set of different requirements and demands.
For example, I am severally visually impaired since birth. During the daytime, I can manage things on my own, though I prefer to have a companion to help me navigate unfamiliar territory. During twilight and darkness, blinding lights and in a large crowd of people – as is the case during a concert – I definitely need someone to assist me. If I don’t have anyone who wants to come with me, there is a big chance that I have to pass on the event!
Riedler: From a business perspective, we collaborate with organizers and promoters and visitors with disabilities. Many different factors determine what’s possible and what can actually be offered at an event. Those factors include the awareness of organizers for this subject matter and cause, the costs and the regulatory framework pertaining to emergency exits and escape routes for example.
The existence of FullAccess is due to the Metalheads of Iron Maiden. The fact that a severely impaired fan in England could enjoy the concert as much as everyone else was the initial spark for the Social Business.
What makes concerts so special to prompt you to make this type of experience more accessible for people with disabilities?
Gollner: Christina and I have been friends since high school, but discovered our love for music at different times. Christina was twelve when she attended her first concert: The Rolling Stones during their Voodoo Lounge Tour at the Red Bull Ring in Styria. In the years that followed, she just wanted one thing for her birthdays and holidays: concert tickets! Back then, I couldn’t even imagine going to concerts, which certainly had something to do with my visual impairment: too many people, too crowded and nobody to come along with me. When I was a teenager, even going to the movies was uncomfortable for me because I didn’t want to sit all by myself right in the front.
Christina Riedler has been an honorary companion for visually impaired people for many years. With her affinity for live music, she also infected her friend Martina Gollner.
Riedler: The British heavy metal band Iron Maiden had a hand in Martina becoming a music geek after all. When we found out that "The Mighty Maiden" was going to play at a relatively small festival in Styria, we obviously had to go and see them there! After that, we were unstoppable and went to many other concerts and music festivals throughout Europe.
For me personally, a pivotal event came in 2014 at a music festival near London, which essentially marked the start of our adventure in “entrepreneurship“: we visited the Sonisphere Festival in Knebworth Park outside London to see Iron Maiden.
Something I already noticed when I purchased the tickets: I had no problems to add a companion ticket. The platforms at the festival venue were not only accessible to wheelchair users but also user-friendly for people with all types of disabilities and their companions/chaperones. In other words, there was a place for you if the crowd ultimately became too much to handle. I noticed a young man lying on a stretcher on said platform. He was unable to move his arms, legs, and head but he was dressed in fan costume from head to toe. I was very touched by the fact that this young fan was able to be a part of the festival experience even in his dire condition. That was the moment I realized that we also needed to prompt some changes in Austria.
Martina Gollner is highly visually impaired from birth, but she doesn't understand why she should resign leisure time activities such as attending concerts.
What does inclusion mean to you?
Gollner: For me, participation in social life goes way beyond having access to education and the chance to have a job. Recreational activities should not be a luxury but ought to create a more balanced life instead, which is also the reason why our work is so important to us.
Riedler: I am currently working on the theoretical framework of my thesis on our social business at the Institute of Theater, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna. In the first aspect of the "disability" module, I also ask the question "Integration, Inclusion – What’s Next?". Even though we immediately think of people with disabilities when we hear the term "inclusion"– unquestionably also because of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities –, it is a human right that is inherent to all human beings. That’s also why I believe that "diversity" would be a better term to use.
Gollner: Our social business aims to change things, recognizing that we have done everything right if we – centered on the social work mindset – have become redundant because society has moved in the right direction. Yet until that’s the case, FullAccess and Aeon Tickets are available to assist.