Festival organizers plan for accessibility

Reducing barriers can allow more Manitobans to enjoy festival culture

Festivals can plan ahead to include accessible parking and to decrease mobility barriers

Supplied Photo

For many people with disabilities, heading to a festival isn’t always as simple as packing a tent and booking a few days off work. In most cases, catching a show or checking out a concert takes a lot of prep work. 

Derek Day, the acting manager of community inclusion and support services for the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD), organizes festival trips throughout the summer as part of SMD’s adult recreation and leisure programs. When planning outings, he needs to consider any potential accessibility issues his group might face at a given venue. 

“Festivals can definitely present accessibility challenges, especially the built-environment variety, from outdoor space to venues in and around the city,” he says. Some people who take part in SMD’s programs need to pre-arrange transportation and personal supports, which Day says can take time. 

“Some of our consumers just can’t head to a festival ‘hot spot’ and see how things unfold,” he says. 

What they can do, however, is work with festivals to help ensure facilities are more accessible. 

This year, members of SMD’s Summer Breakout program will attend the Winnipeg Folk Festival and volunteer as part of the camp cleanup crew. SMD is also working on accessible customer service standard videos that the festival will use when training volunteers. Members of SMD’s All Abilities Dance group will also perform during the Canada Summer Games opening ceremonies. 

“In my opinion, summer festivals are part of the fabric of Manitoba,” Day says. “At SMD, we want to continue to support people with disabilities to be included in the festivals as participants, volunteers and spectators.”

Many festivals are also adapting their spaces and services to be more accessible. 

The Winnipeg Folk Festival, for instance, devotes an entire page of its website to accessibility information, as well as text versions of the program book that can be used with screen-reading software. The four-day event offers free admission for support workers accompanying attendees who have disabilities and accessible camping areas, parking spaces and washrooms. 

There will also be dedicated wheelchair seating areas and charging stations, sign language interpreters on site and vendors and ATMs with low counters at the Folk Festival. 

At Dauphin’s Country Fest, disability parking spaces, shuttle services and wheelchair-accessible washrooms are available. Interstellar Rodeo has a designated wheelchair section, as do other festivals throughout the province. 

The fourth annual Real Love Summer Fest (RLSF), a three-day event celebrating music, art and creativity, will take place in Teulon, Man. this year. The new location is much more accessible than the festival’s previous venue in Gimli, co-artistic director Gilad Carroll says. 

While the outdoor festival grounds and paths weren’t necessarily built for wheelchair travel, he says, the land is fairly level, and RLSF will have volunteers on hand to help anyone who wants or needs assistance navigating the terrain. A van will also be available to drive people from the main parking lot to the festival site. 

“The previous site would have been a lot more difficult to navigate,” Carroll says, since most of the paths at the Gimli grounds were gravel. He also says there will be at least one accessible washroom large enough to accommodate a wheelchair or an aide worker. 

“Everyone should be able to access arts and culture in our city,” he says. “Winnipeg has a wonderful music and arts scene, and everyone should be able to take part.”

Published in Volume 71, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 1, 2017)

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