Are festivals accessible for disabled people?
Aug 8, 2023
Two-thirds of our audience who are disabled said they would love to go to a festival but feel there are too many barriers in the way…
Festivals have long been a vibrant part of culture, music, and celebration, joining together communities and creating lasting memories. From the iconic Glastonbury to the classic Notting Hill Carnival, the UK hosts an array of festivals that have become an integral part of musical tradition.
While festivals have undeniably flourished as spaces of joy and celebration of communities, we wanted to investigate just how accessible (or inaccessible) festivals are for disabled people. In this blog, we aim to shed light on the barriers that continue to persist and advocate for change to create a more accessible and inclusive festival landscape. Are festivals accessible for disabled people? Let’s find out what the disabled community say…
No, they’re not accessible…
When we asked the community about their experience with festivals, a lot of the same pain points were mentioned: the process of accessing tickets, seating options, flooring and where to find accessibility information. Here are just some of the quotes we heard from our disabled friends:
The reality of muddy grounds for many wheelchair users!
“The seating can be so far from the stage it can be hard to see. If the weather is wet, it’s also hard to wheel about in the mud”
“There can be a lack of disabled parking and actual accessible toilets”
“I’m deaf and I find there is no customer awareness from staff - so much so that I choose now, not to attend”
“A lot of festivals are not wheelchair accessible - I also need a source of oxygen to fill up my tanks from”.
From this feedback, it seems that there is a lot of concern from the community around accessibility at festivals – not only in order to enjoy the event, but also to do the basics like getting around and going to the toilet.
Recently we spoke with a friend of Sociability, Danielle, who said “I go to festivals a lot and it’s always the same problems… More wheelchair users need to be involved in running and setting up these festivals. So many times I’ve had to be physically helped to the toilet as my wheelchair won’t fit in.”
It’s clear that more needs to be done by the festival industry across a range of areas to make these events more accessible, including in event planning and delivery.
Image of our colleague, Gem 10 years ago at Leeds Fest!
Yes, they are accessible (kind of)…
We were lucky enough to also speak with Tamsin Willis who is a disabled person working within festivals.
“I was just a kid but I started working at festivals… after my disability I went back to work and was in charge of production at the festival, dealing with artists, making sure the whole festival runs okay, dealing with any issues that came up, I ended up having staff and being in charge as well, I did have to make a lot of changes, such as - we had to buy a wooden floor for the onsite office
Accessibility also became a big passion, making our festival easily accessible and the information readily available. Every festival should have a good accessibility team or a lot of things in place so that their disabled customers can enjoy the experience… Accessible portaloos cost a lot more than regular ones and there's a shorter supply, many festivals get one or two at each end of the festival – this is simply not enough.”
How do you find out about the accessibility of a festival?
Tamsin explains “The best thing to do if you are planning or wanting to go to a festival is to go on their website; hopefully, they have a detailed accessibility page. If this is not the case, the next thing to do is find their info email and email them asking for accessibility information.
Any big festival will offer a viewing platform. These are often unfortunately fairly small and right next to or wrapped around the sound tent but that means your view will be good.
Make sure to ask any questions or mention any concerns you have in your email and someone will get back to you hopefully very quickly.
Another great tip is to search on social media, I've found great information about festivals’ accessibility from other people's experiences.”
So, are festivals accessible? Our answer is - not completely. Although it seems that change is coming – just slowly. We do know, however, that in the meantime this uncertainty does put off a lot of disabled people. As we always say at Sociability – information is key to empowering disabled people. We don’t think that could be truer here.
Danielle and friends enjoying a festival!
We hope that in time, festivals will provide as much information as possible so disabled people and their friends can access festivals and get to enjoy a summer making lasting memories! Thank you so much to our friends in the community, particularly Danielle and Tamsin for speaking to us for this blog post and keep an eye out for more upcoming content on festivals as we share some exciting projects we’ve got in the pipeline!