This is a transcript of an article written by Miki Hall for the magazine “Festival Eye”, published in Spring 2007:
The aims of the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 are simple. The goal is “a society where all disabled people can participate fully as equal citizens”. In practical terms, the Act seeks to ensure that disabled people are treated no less favourably than anyone else.
Disabled provision at festivals has been non-existent or sparse at best. But mindsets are changing, encouraged by further laws to ensure that service providers – event organisers – in every business make “reasonable adjustments” to help disabled people to attend and enjoy events.
Access is the key issue – Organisers must be able to show they have given the subject due consideration. The definition of “reasonable physical adjustments” will be decided over time by case law through challenges by disabled people.
The way forward is to think inclusively from the initial planning stages of the event. Thus, both access and inclusion are at the core of the process, not a “bolt on” later.
For example, in pre-event planning, with a little consideration and no extra cost, websites can easily help visually impaired people by offering large text and clear fonts. Large print programmes and local “talking newspapers” can help too (The royal Nation al Institute for the Blind has helpful web access centre at www.rnib.org.uk .
Give clear information about disabled facilities, accessible transport and parking. A map/information sheet sent out with tickets, a dedicated phone line for enquiries from disabled people. It is good practise to allow disabled persons’ support workers free or reduced price tickets.
Organisers need to assess these areas when considering their “reasonable adjustments”:
Steps, stairways, kerbs, exterior surfaces, paving, parking, building or marquee entrances and exits, pathways, gates. An overview of the actual layout of the land is important too. Which physical features – steep slopes, slippery paths – need particular consideration? The law gives a choice – remove the physical feature, alter it, find a way round it, or provide the service another way. Often it is enough to offer an alternative route, or simply to mow long grass to help wheelchair users.
Other checklist items include – walkway lighting, accessible electric wheelchair charging, easily readable signs, plentiful wide access lavatories and ramped access showers, viewing platforms at stages and in marquees, and accessible public facilities such as telephones and stall counters. On campsites, stewards can ensure that guy ropes do not affect paths. Elsewhere, provision for designated disabled seating or benches is very useful to.
It is good practice to do an “access audit” at the earliest stages of planning. An Access Audit should include policies and practices as well as commenting upon physical features. The aim is to identify the changes needed. As described above, these can be simple, cheap and effective.
Training is crucial. For example, at most festivals food is self service. This is often tough on those with visual or mobility impairments. Ensuring that trained staff/volunteers are available to assist disabled people is an easy solution. Having used an Assess Audit to identify problems, and decided upon the changes needed, it is essential that staff have disability awareness training in how to meet the needs of disabled festival goers.