Why isn't every festival made accessible for all abilities?
3.3 million deaf and disabled people go to live music events every year…so why isn’t every festival made accessible for those who are living with a disability?
As summer gets into full swing across the UK, millions of live music fans are out enjoying festival season. Music festivals are becoming ever more popular, but they can still pose many challenges for someone who is living with a disability and require a lot of preparation.
We spoke to keen festival goer and accessibility blogger, Emma, who shared some of her own experiences from attending music festivals in the UK. Emma is a young woman from Scotland living with Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, whose blog, Simply Emma, focusses on accessible travel, both in the UK and abroad. With the support of a powered wheelchair, Emma has never let her muscular dystrophy limit her travel experiences and, as an avid music lover, she is passionate about going to see her favourite bands whenever possible.
Be prepared and don’t forget to research!
We asked Emma about her top tips for someone who is visiting a music festival as a wheelchair user for the first time.
“It’s important to do some research on the accessibility at the festival. Get a feel for what it will be like and what facilities are available. If you can’t find information on their website, don’t be afraid to contact the festival for clarification or more information.
“Be prepared for bad weather, especially if it’s in the UK. It can get really cold at night so take something that will keep you warm and a rain poncho may end up being your best friend. Trust me!”
Unfortunately, accessibility information is not always posted on a venue’s website and you may need to ring or email them to find out more. Knowing the facilities that are available is paramount to making sure you have the support you need at a festival. This may include medication fridges, accessible toilets or charging points for disability equipment.
Booking your tickets
Buying tickets for music festivals and gigs can be difficult, especially if it’s a popular event that you are hoping to attend, and if you are living with a disability you will need to have a ticket that includes appropriate access or support at the festival.
Emma found that, for many festivals, she just needed to purchase a standard ticket and fill out more access information alongside this. She much preferred this method over telephone access lines that she had to call for music gigs in the past.
“The ticket process for most of the festivals I’ve attended have been fairly straightforward and done online. For those festivals, it stated on their website that a standard ticket could be purchased online and then an access requirement form, along with proof of disability, must then be submitted. I haven’t had any problems with this process so far and it is a lot less stressful than having to call a dedicated access line and be put on hold or in a queue for hours.”
When venues get accessibility right
Attitude is Everything is a charity that works with the music industry, artists and audiences to make live music events more accessible for deaf and disabled people. Its work is often based on anonymous feedback from people who are living with a disability and are either attending or performing at a live music event.
Attitude is Everything also runs a charter of best practice for venues and festivals. It provides venue organisers with accessibility information and guides and when the venue fulfils certain requirements they can achieve a Bronze, Silver or Gold award. In May this year the British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park was awarded Gold on this charter, as well as winning two previous awards from the charity. Emma visited the festival two years ago and revealed it was one of the best and most accessible festivals that she has been to.
“I absolutely loved when I went to BST Hyde Park festival two years ago. It was my first proper festival and it was an amazing experience. Kings of Leon were headlining and they are one of my favourite bands to see live.
“The accessibility was the best I’ve ever seen at an event. In particular, I loved how easy it was to purchase accessible tickets, access into the festival grounds was stress-free and there were mats on the ground making it easier for wheelchairs. The viewing platform was fantastic and the biggest I’ve seen. It gave us a great view of the stage. There were numerous accessible toilets as well as a Changing Places toilet. A drinks runner was also on hand which was really handy and made the experience less stressful.”
An example of a Changing Places toilet
Improvements that have been made – and need to be made
Although there are still improvements that need to be made, there has been a great amount of progress towards better accessibility at festivals in the UK. Having attended music gigs for many years Emma has personally seen changes for the better.
“The most significant improvements I’ve seen at festivals is having Changing Places facilities for people who need a little extra than just a larger toilet or grab rails next to the toilet. A Changing Places toilet comes with an adult changing bench and hoist. Mobiloo is a mobile Changing Places facility on wheels and travels around the UK attending events that disabled people would otherwise not be able to attend without them being there. More festivals and outdoor events need to cater for everyone so they feel welcome and are able to attend without worrying they can’t use the toilet.”
Emma in the Mobiloo
For wheelchair users, having an accessible toilet area that can accommodate their chair will make or break their decision to attend the festival. It is probably the most important facility for everyone at any festival, including people with a physical or invisible disability. Emma herself has had experiences where she hasn’t been able to attend a festival as they didn’t have suitable toilet facilities.
“There was a local festival I wanted to attend but decided not to go when I found out there would only be Portakabin toilets available. The ‘accessible’ Portakabin toilets are not big enough for wheelchairs to fit inside, let alone if you need assistance from your companion as I do. If there are no suitable toilet facilities then I and many other disabled people cannot attend.”
Emma has found many accessible toilets less than adequate
We also asked Emma what improvements she would like to see or continue to be made at festivals. She was particularly impressed by the food and drink runners who are dedicated to bringing refreshments from the stalls.
“An easy online ticketing process, better accessible toilets (Changing Places), a raised viewing platform with unrestricted views and a drink/food runner. The drink/food runner service is incredibly handy as it prevents the disabled person from having to struggle through crowds to get to inaccessible bars/food stalls. It also saves the disabled person being left on the viewing platform while their companion is away finding food/drinks and queuing up for ages.”
The way in which staff take care of people living with a disability can be just as important as the facilities, especially if something goes wrong. Having accessible facilities at a festival are vital, but if something doesn’t go according to plan or you need some help it is reassuring and encouraging to know there are people there who are happy to help you out.
How can festivals be more inclusive?
It can be hard to make outdoor venues fully accessible, especially if the weather is poor, however there is a lot that organisers can do to make festivals appropriate for people with different disabilities. Having accessibility information displayed on the festival website is the first step organisers should take to ensure everyone attending knows if they can access the facilities at the event. Below is a list of features and facilities that organisers can use to improve accessibility at outdoor festivals, even when the weather lets us down!
- Disabled toilets, including mobiloo, migiloo or Changes Places that are accessible for anyone living with a disability
- Raising staff awareness so they understand how to assist people with physical and invisible disabilities
- Accessible pathways around the site and accessible transport running to and from the venue
- Accessible parking and camping
- Viewing platforms that are accessible for all and have a good view of the stage
- Free carer or assistant ticket
- Hearing induction loops and BSL interpreters
- Safe areas to store medication or charge disability equipment
- Drinks vendor or runner
- FastTrack queues
- Relaxed tents and zones
Accessibility for all
Festivals are incredible experiences that should be accessible for all music lovers. Although there is still a long way to go, it is great to see changes being made across the UK to provide better accessibility for people who are living with a disability and we look forward to the day that all festivals putting them into practice.
Emma has some upcoming festivals to look forward to in August this year – make sure to visit her blog to see her access reviews for these venues, especially her first impressions of Fusion Festival!
“I’m looking forward to seeing The 1975 at Glasgow Summer Sessions and Kings of Leon at Fusion Festival in Liverpool this August. They are both my favourite bands so I’m looking forward to both festivals. I have been to Glasgow Summer Sessions before but it will be my first time at Fusion Festival.”
Viewing platform at the Glasgow Summer Sessions 2018
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- May 13th 2020