Category Archives: Disabled Writer

Disabled Access at Music Festivals in the UK

This was originally published on DisabledGo, which is now AccessAble. This article does not seem to be online since that change so I am reproducing it here. 

The sun is shining, there are clouds in the sky… where better to be than in a remote field, veggie 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 that, sometimes, the promises made do not materialise:

“GuilFest had 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 to complain to and they put the wheelchairs in front of the barrier when relevant 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 that the Disability Field offers as the only way that they manage to attend the festival.” 

Accessing the wider events, fields and stages still caused problems for many, however.

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 – moreso 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, though, 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 Festival, V Festival and Bestival have separate, accessible campsites for disabled attendees
  • 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 fans. 

“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 great, but many of us are impatient for more. 

Bad attitudes do not cause disability any more than good attitudes guarantee health

This article was originally published on The Independent in August 2012

An ‘inspirational’ photo has been making its way around Twitter and Facebook. The photograph is of Oscar Pistorius, a disabled athlete, running with a small, disabled girl. The caption, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”, is a quote from Scott Hamilton, a former figure skater who is also a cancer survivor. There are others, too, in the same vein, including one of a small child walking with prosthetic legs and the caption, “Your excuse is invalid”.

For many disabled people, myself included, this kind of inspiration porn is tiresome at best, and damaging at worst. Using a snapshot of disabled people as a tool to convey a message to, primarily, non-disabled people, involves playing on stereotypes and assumptions. It removes a person’s humanity and individuality in order to present them in a way that will goad a non-disabled person to buck up their ideas. It does not matter who the people in these photographs are, as long as their representation is enough to guilt non-disabled people into action.

Their use of prosthetics is the only thing about them that is of interest in these images, and it automatically turns them into some kind of superhero. Along with the captions, the implication is supposed to be, “Wow, they have a great attitude!”.

It is a massive assumption. The photographs are of disabled people doing things, that is all. And yet a seemingly endless stream of non-disabled people find them profound enough to repost on their own social network feeds. While this kind of ‘cripspiration’ might, at first glance, appear to be harmless it actually does nothing at all to advance the cause of disabled people. We do not exist to be living, breathing models of inspiration and presenting us in this way is objectifying and reductive.

What’s more, as long as non-disabled people can happily dismiss disability as a matter of attitude, they then have no need to start tackling the real causes of disability such as inaccessibility and discrimination.

That disabled woman who complained because she couldn’t attend your inaccessible meeting? She’s just got a bad attitude! A good attitude would presumably have magicked up a ramp and large-print leaflets.

The world is a very inaccessible place. There are structural barriers to disabled people’s participation, such as steps and a lack of accessible toilets, as well as troubling and deep-rooted attitudinal barriers which cause employers to refuse to hire a person with mental health problems, or commenters to slate the otherwise-national-treasure Tanni Grey-Thompson when she dares to complain that she had to crawl off a train because appropriate systems were not in place to allow her to travel with dignity.

Stating that the only disability in life is a bad attitude also puts the blame on disabled people for their predicament.

When I fell down the stairs a few days ago I misguidedly tried to work out which failing body part had caused the tumble when, presumably, I should have been adjusting my attitude instead: a much more effective way to prevent further falls.

For people with mental health problems, the ‘bad attitude’ meme is a particularly galling piece of inspiration porn. Already well accustomed to being told to pull themselves together and get a grip, their friends and family resharing this image reinforces the narrative of blaming the sufferer.

There is often a lot of self-blame inherent within mental ill-health already, it tends to be part and parcel of many diagnosed disorders. Adding guilt via images of young children running in prosthetics is not going to be the final step in curing somebody’s madness, it is much more likely to reinforce their self-blame and negative internal dialogue.

The message sent out by the “only disability in life is a bad attitude” quote is one which also fits in very well with the Government’s ’scrounger’ rhetoric around disabled people, reinforcing the idea that we are not trying hard enough. This is what has allowed them to bring in such draconian and devastating changes to the welfare system, and equating disability with a bad attitude is what allows such abuses to continue.

Telling people who are bedbound that they could work if they tried harder, and telling those with severe mental health difficulties that they have been allowed to languish on benefits for too long, all equate to the same thing: you have a bad attitude. You could be cancer-free if your approach to life didn’t stink; your bipolar disorder is because of your inability to look at the best in a situation; and that amputated limb would have grown back if you weren’t such a pessimist. Now get a job.

Bad attitudes do not cause disability any more than good attitudes guarantee health, and what may appear to be a harmless, if patronising message is actually judgemental and damaging. Until disabled people have all the same rights that non-disabled people do, it is wrong to assume that this kind of objectification can ever be benign.

 

Speaking on Podcasts About Disability Issues

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In recent weeks, I have appeared on two disability-related radio shows.

Firstly, I spoke on Contact, a Canadian radio show, about an article I wrote on the weird phenomenon of non-disabled people telling disabled people we’d be better off dead.

Then, last week, I appeared on the Disability Now podcast, The Download, with four other disability rights activists. We talked about the upcoming General Election and what the parties have to offer disabled voters; we talked about accessible housing; and we talked about the representation of disabled people on TV.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these experience. My podcast experience with A Little Bird Told Me gave me confidence, and my knowledge of disability issues and current affairs meant I felt happy talking on all the subjects that arose.