Consider a packed, dimly lit nightclub full of loud raucous conversations and music.
- Nightclubs can be challenging for people with a disability
- A Perth group is aiming to make the spaces more inclusive
- Their club nights are developing a loyal following among people with a disability
It can cause sensory overload for neurodiverse people, prompting them to wonder if they should have stayed home because they find it incredibly difficult to acclimatise to an unaccommodating reality.
It is far more difficult to meet new people and form friendships when pubs, bars, and nightclubs do not accommodate disabled patrons.
But in Perth, there is a dedicated group working with young people to break that barrier.
Clubbing with confidence
Community Access Squad (CAS) is specifically aimed at supporting people with a range of disabilities to build confidence through socialising, including in the local nightclub scene.
Tarkin Barker loves the group's low-sensory Dance Ability club nights in Fremantle.
The 20-year-old, with autism and an intellectual disability, said he wouldn't have gone to a nightclub by himself without his support worker.
"At night I feel more vulnerable and do not go out without family or formal support," Mr Barker said.
"In noisy and busy places, I require assistance, and I feel overwhelmed when faced with aggression."
Kelly Buckle, who organises the event, said it's a welcoming environment for people of all disabilities.
"Lights are used but no strobes due to seizures, with the music starting low, but it does build," she said.
"We provide ear plugs and a quiet area to desensitise, there is also a garden bar which we also have access to.
"We have photo cards on the bar for those that are minimally verbal to show the bar staff what they would like to drink."
Ms Buckle said she hires the whole of the nightclub and it's a private event.
Mr Barker said it's one of his favourite events on his social calendar.
"It is a friendly environment and there is staff to make sure everything is safe," he said.
"Going to this nightclub event has allowed me to be part of the community and be independent from my family."
Michael Gray attended the one of the club nights last week and said it was a fun environment for everyone.
"[I enjoyed the] music and dancing with all my friends and just being able to let loose and let my hair down and I don't get to do that often," he said.
"So, it's just fun."
Mr Gray said it's a great way to get people together.
"Kelly [Ms Buckle] has always been very open and allowed anyone with disabilities, anyone to come and express themselves and have fun," he said.
Andrew Denton also joined in on the nightlife in Fremantle.
"I love Dance Ability because it's a good environment to get all the different disability people get together and have fun," he said.
Benefits of socialising
But it isn't just about clubbing – there are many events on the calendar to help people with a disability to meet new people.
The director of CAS' southern Perth branch, Sarah Beckford, said the squad initially began as a single mobile van that would park in various locations across the city and offer a range of social activities.
"Squad Sport offers various activities for individuals to maintain an active lifestyle, while Squad Social days provides community experiences," she said.
"Squad Skills focuses on independence, cooking, community navigation, and communication, while Squad Services offers a structured workplace environment, promoting personal safety and effective communication."
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's most recent data from 2022, one in six (17 per cent) of people with a disability aged between 15 and 64 experience social isolation.
The good news is that the data also found that more than one-quarter (28 per cent) of people with a disability in the same age bracket were members of a club or association.
Keeping an open mind
Professor Andrew Whitehouse from the Telethon Kids Institute said there were a range of challenges autistic people face in social situations.
"[These] can include difficulties in reading non-verbal cues and body language, sensory differences that can lead to overwhelming situations environments, and a preference for routine," he said.
Jessica Della Pollina, a senior occupational therapist, said the first step with her patients, who were mainly adults, was to figure out what was stopping them from going out in the first place.
"Gaining an understanding of what they want their social life and relationships to look like is also helpful in being able to target intervention," she said.
Ms Della Pollina said keeping an open mind was key to venturing out to socialise.
"Identify groups where you are more likely to meet people with similar interests to you," she said.
"Develop a strategy or plan for when things might get too much, and you might need to politely leave the social situation."
For Mr Barker, he's found his tribe.
"Going out allows me to be part of the community just like other people my age," he said.