• Disabled access at music festivals in the UK

    The sun is shining, there are clouds in the sky… where better to be than in a remote field, burger in hand, listening to live music in the open air? Whether you prefer the vastness of a huge event like Glastonbury or somewhere more intimate, there are festivals to suit every mood and preference. Campaigns like Attitude is Everything and Stay Up Late work hard to ensure that deaf and disabled people can attend live music events, but what are festivals really like for disabled attendees? Is accessibility provision good or will you be stranded without the ability to charge your chair or get up close to the acts?

    Katharine, from East Sussex, attended GuilFest last year. She told me that, as a wheelchair user, she often feels that “wheelchairs are an afterthought”. Being aware of the potential difficulties, Katharine telephoned in advance to get an idea of what to expect but found the promises made sometimes didn’t materialise.

    “They’d built two wheelchair platforms, the one for their main stage was lovely and right by accessible toilet facilities. However, the act I had gone to see was on the second stage. I had been assured there would be a platform for that stage too. There was: it was raised about 5 inches from the ground and miles from the stage. We found someone who could help us and they put the wheelchairs in front of the barrier when the act came on. So that was an unusually good experience.”

    This year, at Glastonbury Festival, there was a Disability Field, which offered somewhere to charge up electric wheelchairs, as well as alternative therapies and information and support.

    Outsiders, a charity with a presence in Glastonbury’s Disability Field, reported that, “Over a number of years, Outsiders has received regular feedback from disabled festival goers – many of whom see the support the Disability Field offers as the only way they manage to attend the festival.”

    There are some common themes: these events often take place in large fields, sometimes on steep hills, which can present barriers to participation in themselves. Manoeuvring across grass can be difficult – more so if it becomes mud over the course of rainy days and lots of trampling! There will be crowds of people, which some disabled people find difficult to manage, and music will be loud, with few truly quiet areas to escape.

    Every event is different so we’ve pulled together the accessibility information for a range of upcoming music festivals this summer.

    I was pleased to find that many of the festivals I have been looking at are making a real effort at improving accessibility and making information easily available. So while the landscapes may be tricky to navigate, positive steps are being taken, for example:

    • V Festival and Bestival provide charging points for electric wheelchair and scooter users
    • Almost all of the festivals have viewing platforms for wheelchair users and other disabled people who cannot be in a crowd. Only Bestival doesn’t have any platforms while some, such as Tramlines, don’t provide them for all stages
    • Reading, V Festival and Bestival have separate, accessible campsites for disabled people
    • Festival No 6 and Kendal Calling have information provided in different formats on their websites
    • Each of the nine festivals offers a free ticket for a disabled person’s carer or PA to attend

    Some events go further still, for instance V Festival offers secure refrigerators to store medication and has a Changing Places toilet.

    Gerry Bucke from Chartwell – a specialist insurance provider and advocate for the disabled community – believes that these advances will make festival season far more open to disabled music:

    “The improvements to festival accessibility this summer show that the organisers have an interest in attracting disabled fans to their events. Attitude is Everything found that events following their best-practice guidelines had a boost of 59% in disabled ticket sales over just 12 months, which shows that this makes business sense, too!”

    There is still a way to go. None of these nine festivals offers BSL interpreters or live captioning, although some do install hearing-aid loop systems, and many do not warn of impending strobe lighting. Wheelchair charging points – described to me as essential by numerous people during my research – are only rarely provided, and site shuttle buses, to help people with limited mobility to get around, could benefit a lot of these events.

    Progress in accessibility is pretty good, but we need to keep momentum going to bring things up to a really good standard across the board. Tell us about your experiences of festival accessibility on Twitter!

    PhillipaWritten by Philippa Willitts

    Philippa Willitts is a Sheffield-based freelance writer and proofreader who specialises in writing about health and disability, SEO and social media and women’s issues. Her writing has been published in the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, xoJane and The Daily Dot websites as well as numerous other websites and publications. She enjoys tech, trips to the seaside and changing the world. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.

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