Monday, June 29, 2009

British concert site has poor disability access

From BBC News:

Mud, big crowds, dodgy toilets and 1,000 acres of mayhem - they are all part of the essential Glastonbury experience.

But for some fans they also present huge practical challenges.

For Paul Carter, an amputee who has lost his legs, the main problem has just been getting around the massive site at his first Glastonbury.

"On Friday I didn't leave my tent until two or three o'clock in the afternoon because I was just not prepared to go out in the mud," he says.

"And then it was a bit of a deathtrap. We had to find a space near the Pyramid Stage and just stay there all day."

Mr Carter, who is writing for Disability Now magazine, adds: "They can't control the weather and it is a farm at the end of the day and there's only so much they can do, but it doesn't make it any easier on us."

And of the festival's notorious toilets, he says: "If you find out where the accessible toilets are, they're usually quite good because they're usually reasonably clean and reasonably tidy. Finding where they are is the tricky part."

More and more disabled fans are coming to the festival as organisers attempt to make it simpler to get around - even if the mud is here to stay.

Since 2005, the festival has been advised on improvements by Attitude is Everything, an organisation that works for better access to live music.

They help run the disabled campsite, which now has 1,000 campers, including designated personal assistants and a limited number of friends.

"The way that it's laid out is designed to be accessible," says Attitude is Everything's Graham Griffiths.

"If you camp in one of the other fields, you've just got tent upon tent upon tent and guide ropes everywhere. Here, there are accessible lanes so you can get out and about and move around the site easily."

The campsite's other facilities include accessible toilets and showers and charging points for motorised wheelchairs.

"We've really seen a lot of changes year on year with a lot of the things we've suggested being implemented," Mr Griffiths says.

"They've got a second viewing platform at the main stage this year. They've also introduced a shuttle bus that takes disabled people from the accessible campsite around the site."

Tony Lawson had been to the festival three times before a motorcycle accident in 1993.

"Ever since then, I've needed crutches and walking sticks. I have mobility problems," he explains.

"Now, with the disabled campsite and everything, it's great. But years ago I just had to come with a bunch of friends and they had to carry the gear.

"Getting around the site is difficult but you live with it."

Mr Lawson is now at Glastonbury for his 16th time, and has experienced some legendary mudbaths over the years. But he has one advantage in a quagmire, he says.

"The crutch always goes down first and tests the ground before you walk on it, so I probably fall over less than anybody else when it's muddy."

This year, for the first time, one of the stages has been given over to disabled artists for a day.

The stage, in the Shangri-La area of the festival, was hosted by Club Attitude, which also puts on regular gigs and club nights in London and beyond.

For Rob Maddison, singer and guitarist with Spaceships are Cool, playing Glastonbury was "a dream come true".

"This time a year ago I was still in hospital and thought I might not be doing music again, so to come and play Glastonbury Festival with my own band was excellent," he says.

Mr Maddison started the band in 2006 but was diagnosed with a rare spinal tumour in February 2008.

He now uses a wheelchair and his Glastonbury appearance came a year to the day after leaving a spinal rehab unit in Sheffield.

"Everybody's been overwhelmingly helpful and it's certainly encouraged me to think I'd try the whole camping experience and be here for a few days next year," he says.

But the wider live music scene needs to do more to provide better access, he believes.
"I've been gigging as a musician for 15 or 20 years, completely ignorant of how much I took for granted - like if a venue is downstairs, which a lot of them are," he says.

"I've done shows where I've literally had to be carried up four flights of stairs in a venue packed with people, and it's just not safe."

Club Attitude promoter Graeme Wall says things have improved, and bands like Mystery Jets - whose singer Blaine Harrison has spina bifida - have forced people to think about the issue.

But he is keen for his gigs to avoid being known as disabled nights. "We've always been clear that what we didn't want to do is create another ghetto," he says.

"We don't organise gigs that only have disabled artists on, or that are only aimed at bringing disabled audiences in. That isn't the point.

"The club has got a reputation for being accepting of non-mainstream music and attitudes, so people will come along just because they know it will be an interesting night."

Most music venues are keen to make things easier, he says, even if obstacles will always remain.

"At the end of the day, obviously there are physical things you can do to improve access to a venue.

"But what makes a huge difference is just having a positive attitude towards trying to make sure that somehow you make things work."