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Disability-friendly venues in Melbourne

A portrait photo of Heidi Everett

Venues like pubs can help make us feel good and part of the community. But people with a disability often discover they cannot get in. People need to learn from buildings like the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre which has accessible parking, lifts and telephones. Good pubs in Melbourne for people with a disability include the Elephant and Wheelbarrow and PJ O’Briens. In Northcote, there are a lot of places that have live music. One of the best is the Wesley Anne.

Posted by: Heidi Everett, on 01/12/09

People dancing in a nightclub full of brightly coloured lights

A good night out can often depend on the venue, and too few are accessible

David Soul, a famous American actor, producer, director and singer, once remarked that there are certain institutions within a community which stand for the spirit and heart of that community: there's the church, the local football team, the local pub and the theatre.

His words make wonderful sense. It’s beneficial to belong to or visit a venue that engages the mind, the body and the soul. Whether it is church on a Sunday or the local pub on a Friday night, these things keep us connected with our community. Freedom to access and enjoy these greater arts also contributes to our self-worth.

Of course, people with a disability have every right to engage in these cultural and spiritual activities. But sometimes venues do not have sufficient access or staff trained in basic accessibility knowledge. Fortunately, it’s becoming more apparent to pubs and other venues that people with a disability are valuable patrons. More places are refurnishing their layouts to welcome all.

Tangled in the web

A good night out often depends on the venue itself. It’s not surprising that many people often look on the internet to check a venue’s accessibility. But there’s a problem because a lot of the venues that have a tick in the Wheelchair Access box only have portable ramps. People have to ask for the ramps when they arrive. That’s not going to be easy on a Saturday night when all good barmen are in demand behind the bar.

Worse still, when DiVine phoned many venues while researching this article to politely enquire about their disabled access, we were often met with a dismissive and curt response.

Getting it right

The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre is an example of how larger, modern venues are getting it right. Dedicated parking is available for people with disabilities. There’s also easy access to a taxi rank via a ramp outside the main Clarendon Street entrance. There is lift access throughout the building and the gathering spaces are wide and flat. Accessible toilets are situated throughout the building. A lowered telephone point, as well as a TTV telephone for visitors with a hearing impairment, are both situated on the concourse.

The Elephant and Wheelbarrow

When a coldie and some relaxing acoustic music down the local is what you’re after, try the Elephant and Wheelbarrow in Bourke Street, Melbourne. The main bar is on street level, with plenty of room to move. There are both male and female accessible toilets with rails, and a lift will take you to the second floor level, which opens in busier periods. Guide dogs are most welcome and there is an accessible automatic teller machine. But there are two steps to the function room, which will need to be looked at in the future.

High Street Northcote

Northcote’s High Street is one of the most well-known live music precincts in Australia. With a high ratio of cool bars and band rooms, there’s music on somewhere every night of the week. A lot of the venues are cosy affairs in small shopfront-type environments, so they are mostly smaller, easy-access bars. But the band rooms down the back can be tricky to access.

One iconic High Street venue that is disability-friendly is The Wesley Anne. It has a ramp at the entrance and to every room in the house including the accessible unisex toilet. They weren’t sure about guide dogs in the restaurant area, so I did them a favour and suggested they research that policy, which they were happy to do.

PJ O’Brien’s

Ever since Jimeoin first cracked a joke on Australian shores, every Irish pub in Melbourne wants to share the good times with their punters. PJ O’Brien’s in Southbank is a fantastically loud and proud Irish bar on the weekend that settles down nicely during the week for more relaxed dining and entertainment.

From Monday to Thursday you can chomp on some enticing fare while an acoustic musician serenades you. The building is on the ground floor through a double door with plenty of space for wheelchairs. Staff are on hand to welcome any requests you might have and there’s a large unisex accessible toilet. The male and female toilets are sign-posted in Braille and guide dogs are welcome.

PJ’s is part of the Southbank precinct. The gregarious area overflows with trendy restaurants, smart cafes, friendly pubs and entertainment events. Disabled parking for the entire complex is located under the Southbank complex or on the corner of City Road and Southgate Boulevard.

Other options

Obviously there are many venues in Melbourne, and this article has only listed a few. But you can nominate other great accessible venues in the comments section below.

You can also check out the City of Melbourne’s Accessible amenities page (opens new window) which has lots of information about other places around town.

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Readers comments (3)

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Posted by: Robert D. Allen, Melbourne 02/06/2010 at 09:09pm

Really great to see this awareness being developed in Melburne.

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Posted by: Simon Chong, Morwell - rural Victoria - Latrobe Valley 14/07/2010 at 11:36am

Hi, really enjoyed article. it was well written and well said. Thanks I often organise social things in Melbourne and need to find `accessible` venues. So, this article was helpful as well as enjoyable. gave me a good picture, and better guide.

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Posted by: Tim Chuma, Melbourne, Victoria 13/03/2013 at 12:33pm

The Pint on Punt in Windsor has locals that turn up with scooters and it is not uncommon to see a guide dog lying down at the bar. Is a disabled toilet and the back door is easy access for scooters and wheelchairs. The Caravan Music Club in Oakleigh and Flying Saucer Club in Elsternwick cater for the older audience and are also disability friendly due to being situated inside a RSL (ramps, rails in the toilets, etc.)

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