festivals

Louise Bru­ton finds out how well sum­mer festivals cater for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties,

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

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.

CAM­DEN CRAWL

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.

FOR­BID­DEN FRUIT

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.

LOVE­BOX

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.

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