Louise Bruton finds out how well summer festivals cater for people with disabilities,
IMAY SAY a few things in this that could get me in trouble here. Oh, well. Irish festivals are a temperamental beast. The weather is the biggest influence on any Irish event – on how it is run and how the crowds have the craic. There are many things that go into the planning of a festival. I can barely comprehend the amount of work that goes into making sure the whole thing doesn’t erupt into flames, but there is one element that needs more thought – proper access.
Over the past seven weeks, I have attended five music festivals: Dublin’s Camden Crawl; Inis Oirr’s Drop Everything; Kilmainham’s Forbidden Fruit; London’s Lovebox; and Body and Soul in Co Westmeath.
Only one of those festivals had access that was, in my view, suitable for someone with any mobility issues. I will explain why and I will keep the best till last.
May I add that all of these festivals were absolutely amazing. The music was incredible, the spirit of the people attending was ethereal and great times were had all round. I just feel that more thought and consideration could go into making provisions for everyone rather than leaving it feeling like an after-thought or a token gesture.
This festival took place across Dublin city and included the following venues: The Village; Whelan’s Upstairs; The Workman’s Club; Twisted Pepper; The Grand Social; The Mercantile and The Button Factory, with only the latter completely accessible – no stairs to the venue and an unlocked accessible bathroom within the building. So, for the full price of a ticket, someone with unsteady legs gets to enjoy just one venue completely at ease.
My biggest qualm at this festival was that the two wheelchair-accessible portaloos – one by the main stage and one up by the other two stages – were placed against a fence, with the door placed right up against said fence.
Over the weekend, it was my friends – not the staff – who physically picked up and turn around the portaloos so that they could be used.
This London festival had wheelchair toilets a-plenty, but to access the viewing ramp, a separate wristband was required – having a wheelchair, a limp, a cast or a set of crutches was not proof enough to gain entry to the near-empty platform. This rule was ridiculous and restrictive, and even though I could have asked for a “disabled” wristband where I had got my festival wristband, out of principle, I refused to.
BODY AND SOUL FESTIVAL
I drove to Body and Soul, and when looking for the “wheelchair parking”, as I called it, the staff corrected me and referred to it as “disabled parking”. I don’t actually like the term disabled, so I try my best not to use it as an adjective for who I am. The staff seemed unsure where the “disabled parking” area was, and one eventually said that I’d be better off parking in the production area, as it would be easier to use than the designated “disabled parking” area.
I intended to camp at Body and Soul, and while there was the Cloud 9 area, a separate camping area for people with disabilities, I chose not to use it as I was with 20 or more friends and did not want to camp away from them or drag them away from the fun.
I didn’t camp in the end as the mud was too severe for the wheels of my chair, so I drove to and from the festival each day, using the production car park each time.
I acknowledge that Body and Soul did provide the camping facilities for those with
disabilities, but they were kept sectioned off from everyone else. It’s not fair to mark us as a separate entity to everyone else.
In the main arena, there was a viewing platform. It was at the very back of the venue and it was raised about a foot off the ground. There was literally no benefit to this, apart from the fact that you were protected from the crowds (who were lovely, by the way). Again, for the full price of a ticket, if you had a disability and didn’t have friends as wonderful as I do, you would have experienced the music from far away and felt removed from it all.
One positive thing, though – and this is also down to the lovely crowds – was that no one used the wheelchair toilets to have a shag in. You wouldn’t believe how many times this happens at other festivals.
This is another great Irish festival with a unique atmosphere and even though these issues affected me, they would be easy to solve. Perhaps it’s something Body and Soul will take into account for future events.
INIS OIRR’S DROP EVERYTHING Taking place on beautiful Inis Oirr of the three-pronged Aran Islands, Drop Everything was actually properly accessible – both by accident and by design.
This was not your regular festival. You showed up, and that was it. There were no tickets and no entry fee. For no fee, you were provided with great music, great food, Gaeltacht vibes and, honestly, the best fun I’ve ever had at a festival.
There were options galore at this festival. For accommodation, you had camping, B&Bs, the Óstan or a hostel. For entertainment, you had the arts centre, Áras Éanna, the beach, the beautiful landscapes, the Óstan again and B&B-cum-pub-cum-rave central Tigh Ruairí.
The Óstan and Áras Éanna were 100 per cent accessible and the majority of the B&Bs were accessible too, but it was this pick-andmix element that made it accessible. You weren’t given one option and one option only, which was wonderful.
Inis Oirr welcomed us out-of-towners to their island and we thrived on the natural beauty of the place and the extraordinary activities hand-picked and delivered by the creators of Drop Everything. We were tourists, and Inis Oirr, one of Ireland’s tourist hot-spots, was buzzing.
This notion of a festival going into a rural, quaint area and giving it a boost of life for a weekend is great for the locals, fun for its attendees and gives more freedom to those with mobility issues.
Instead of being cordoned off by campsite fences and, literally, being stuck in the mud, festivals such as Drop Everything give people from all walks the chance to have a great time and at the same time, give Irish tourism a new lease of life.
I love festivals as much as the next person but I really wish they would improve some of their facilities so that I can stop ranting about them.