Guidance for disabled festival goers

The Indispensable Festival Guide

published: Thu 17th Jul 2008

I can guarantee you the first thing that comes to any festival goer after the words music, alcohol, tent and mud is wheelchair access..... well urm maybe not but going to a festival with a disability of any sort this year is significantly better than it was a few years back and is improving year on year.

The first thing that should always be stated is that festival sites are a temporary structure, built generally on grassland (of massively varying terrain) which can hamper even the most able bodied of people. The reward for a little bit of planning is that of enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of great acts, artists and like-minded people. You'll experience genuinely unique events and find yourself being a part of something that can bring great memories and senses of achievement...

Going to a festival, especially one that's over a few days can be daunting, and this isn't helped by the fact that every event is different, and every organiser offers help in different ways, but hopefully in this article I'll address most of the major worries, and if I don't completely lay your fears to rest, the process of getting there won't be a minefield of unanswered questions.

Online- Help is available, and the best point of reference is the events website, at the very least there will be some form of contact information, and if that's all there is, use it - be polite in your questioning, its easy to forget that a lot goes on when planning any event and things genuinely do get missed, but you do have the right (ultimately in law for UK based festivals) that reasonable adjustments should be made to enable you to attend the event in an enjoyable way.

These days its rare that a festival doesn't put its disabled access policy somewhere on its website - thou the majority of them could make it easier to find. If your having trouble look under info, FAQ's or even camping but be prepared to dig a little deeper than you'd think was required at times.

To help you out the next part of this article describes 'typical' adjustments that do exist at various festivals, the rule of thumb is that the larger or longer the festival the more likely you are to find the facility. It's also worth pointing out that all of these facilities were available at Glastonbury 2008 which really, really does deserve a gold star for its handling of all its disabled guests this year.

Carer Ticket- Pre festival, you'll need your entrance ticket, and the chances are a second ticket for your assistant or carer.... this is the first bit of good news - many festivals these days are offering at least 1 extra ticket free of charge. The process is either buy your own ticket then send off some proof to the festival along with your assistant's details or simply buy your own ticket and turn up with your proof and your PA. If it doesn't say on the website - ring up their ticketing agent.... if they don't know make them find out!
Camping - The next worry is camping.... as hotel groups sadly don't provide a temporary hotel on the festival site. The larger festivals these days are starting to provide dedicated disabled camping areas. They tend to be regulated, so you'll still be able to get your wheelchair or just yourself to your sleeping bag without having to navigate guys (tent ropes) and other tents that seem to make up the biggest jungle gym that any kid could wish for, which on a festival site is known as 'general camping'!

It's worth pointing out that access is generally by prior arrangement and Glastonbury, Reading and the V's do have a cut off date for requests. This year with the slower ticket sales Glasto had to abandon that date - after all anyone could buy tickets right up until the day before... and there's nothing like the thrill of a last minute festival.

Additionally the 'disabled camping' areas tend to be staffed by stewards, who are more than happy to help your assistant to erect and dismantle your tent if this is a need. Some festivals even allow your campervan or caravan into the area, which for some removes the impossible-ness of a tent problem - but it should be noted that I have yet to find a festival that will give you an electrical hook up to your tin box.

Another new innovation is the use of fencing around the disabled camping area... being disabled is an expensive business and what you need at home is what you need away. The number one rule must always be 'only take what you can afford to lose and have adequate insurance for the rest' but with wristband only access prominent this year, I felt more at ease leaving some of the more awkward items at my tent rather than taking them to a lock-up each day.
Loos Morning ablutions and the famous festival toilets are also high on my list (and I'd suspect yours too). Here, I'm pleased to be able to report that the major festivals are now going out of their way to ensure those needs are handled as best they can. The port-a-loo companies have both accessible toilets and showers and I have in the last year seen them available at the larger and the smaller festivals alike. You're virtually guaranteed to find at least one of each in the disabled camping area and normally several around the site. If you have special 'sterile' needs for the first time ever I have seen a sterile room in the disabled camping area. Other improvements I have seen this year include the placing of a toilet at the viewing platforms, and the 'locking' of them with a coded lock.... giving you half a chance of it not being full and no 2 mile round trip in the middle of the headliners set to get to the nearest one!
Power for charging Nearly all festivals will help you to charge up mobility and medical devices, so bringing or hiring a powerchair is going to be welcome relief to your assistant's back and mood - just don't do what I did and find what could only be described as a carefully and evilly concealed tank of mud and drive straight into it.... even quicksand doesn't allow you to sink that quickly, although thankfully happy festival goers are always around to help you out of your sticky situation (it was unintentional - for the record!).
Medical Services Chances are your disabled for one of two reasons - a medical condition or an accident and on the whole us disabled are a group of people who tend to see our GP's more than most! Thankfully my biggest worry is put to one side, and I'm pleased to say that medical services on festival sites are normally significantly better than my local A&E... NHS please take note!
Getting There Getting to site, well this is as varied as the entertainment on offer... but again travel operators are now getting 'it', coaches are just starting to become wheelchair accessible (but it will be a few years till its the norm of their fleet). I've yet to find a train in the last two years that isn't 'fully accessible' but the train operators do like at least 24 hours notice, and don't forget to ask about if the lifts to the platforms are working!!

Having said that, cars and private transport are still probably the norm, and here we have a mixed bag - Don't expect free parking (or sadly even concession parking) but you can expect closer parking to a public entrance (remember this isn't your local supermarket, so by close it could still be a 1/2 a mile or more). A shuttle bus from the parking area to the festivals disabled camping is better still and becoming more available at many of the major festivals. There is now even the possibly of a short stay permit to let you drive your car onto the site to unload, but rightly so it comes with giving the organisers a very good reason.

In addition to this for the first time ever I attended a festival this year that put on a shuttle bus service that got you to the other side of the site (and back!), saving many peoples arms, legs and PA's backs! Thank you Glastonbury.
Viewing The Acts That's my day to day worries out the way - onto the reason I pay my monies year on year - the entertainment. This year has been the best I have seen so far with all the festivals major stages having either a viewing platform (normally at a reasonable distance back) or some other area - generally to the immediate front of stage left or right that's cordoned off in some way.

Festival organisers are moving in the right direction here too, stewarding of these areas is much improved this year over the last few, and staff are now getting the 'non visible disability' much better and supplying wristbanded access to these areas... which also allows your assistant to go for chips and cider and get back in!
Senses Disabilities If your disabled not by mobility but by one of your senses, improvements are being made here too - These days BSL and makiton signers are on hand at info points and stewards in general are becoming more aware of the assistances that you might need, most seemed to have at least paper and a pen on them.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to go with a relaxed attitude.... festivals are temporary, short lived and don't always go to plan. On the plus side, the organisers will generally try to meet your needs. If in doubt contact them and explain your circumstances - I've yet to talk to a member of festival staff who wasn't helpful. The more time you give them to resolve your concern, the better they can help you have what will hopefully be the best time of your life.

by David John Walsh
festival information by: Neil Greenway

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