Damien Brown was visiting the popular enclave, which offers kids the chance to pose for a snap with Father Christmas, with his wife Melissa and their two daughters, aged five and two.
Although it was Sunday, they arrived early and were among the first in line.
But, as Melissa explained it, “a member of staff came and advised … that unfortunately there was no ramp and if my husband wished to go in to see Santa with the rest of us they would help lift him up the foot-high step”.
The Browns said they were even told the store had a ramp but it had not been fitted when the festive display was assembled.
“I was surprised,” Melissa told InDaily.
“The employees had said to me this had been an issue … some of them even said, ‘Oh God, the ramp thing’.
“But it’s just an oversight that in this day and age shouldn’t happen.”
Melissa was disconcerted enough to post a public complaint to Myer on social media, writing: “I looked at your employee quite baffled and when I asked him, ‘So I’m gathering you guys don’t cater for children with special needs then?’ he simply replied: ‘Unfortunately, no, I’m so sorry!’
“He was lovely and apologetic, but this was my husband’s first year coming to see Santa with our youngest and he really wanted to see the kids getting a photo and chatting to Santa, as is his right, the same as every other parent,” she wrote.
You can’t be lifting people in wheelchairs – it’s not safe.
“My husband was able to stand whilst leaning heavily on the train fence railing – which was very unsteady – to step up, whilst staff lifted his wheelchair.”
Melissa said staff had originally offered “to lift my husband in his chair up the step”.
“I guess I was worried about the workers’ safety as well,” she said, suggesting it raised issues of occupational health and safety and public liability if anyone was injured during the operation, or if the $7000 wheelchair damaged.
“You can’t be lifting people in wheelchairs – it’s not safe.”
Melissa has since been contacted by Myer management, who apologised and assured her steps would be taken to address the problem.
When contacted by InDaily, she said: “I don’t want to bag Myer (but) it’s an issue that needs to be brought to light.”
“Santa’s Workshop (Santaland) is an Australia-wide event at Christmas time … it’s unacceptable that this issue hasn’t been addressed.”
She said she was advised “that the workshop was supplied and installed by a third party”, but says Myer “ultimately bears responsibility (as) it’s under their banner”.
Why is disability constantly an afterthought?
“They’ve assured me that it will be rectified [and] I was sincerely apologised to, but it’s likely they won’t be able to fix it immediately,” she said.
“They’re working towards that for next year … We all make mistakes; I just want the issue fixed, so anyone can enjoy [the display] and not worry about rocking up and being told a family member can’t come in.”
She said she had received mixed reactions to her Facebook post, with some users reciting similar experiences and others suggesting she “toughen up”.
Melissa said once the issue was sorted out and the Browns got in “we had a wonderful time [and] our girls enjoyed it”, but she was concerned for children with disabilities visiting Santaland.
“It’s not about us, our experience initially was affected … but kids don’t have the skills to take a step back and say, ‘Oh I can see they’ve made a mistake here’.
“They just see ‘I’ve been told I can’t do something’. It’s different for kids, and the whole idea of [Santaland] is for kids … and it has to be made available to all kids.”
This view was echoed by Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent, who told InDaily the fact Myer had a ramp but had apparently not installed it was “completely ridiculous”.
“You’d think a business as big and established as Myer would go out and find a ramp … but when you’ve already got it there, why wouldn’t you fit it?” she said.
Vincent said the message sent to people – and particularly young children – with disabilities, was “that they don’t count … and possibly don’t count as future customers”.
“The impact that this has on families and young children, the message of exclusion, can’t be underestimated,” she said.
“There’s a broader question to be asked – why is disability constantly an afterthought?”
She said 18 per cent of the population had “a disability of some sort”, and it is simply “good business sense” to ensure full access.
A Myer spokesperson told InDaily the store “aims to provide accessible facilities for all of our customers and we are sorry that in this instance, our customer and her family did not have a positive experience in our store”.
“We will use our customer’s feedback to improve our Adelaide Santaland experience for next year,” they said.
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