Attending a festival as a wheelchair user: Accessibility with trade-offs
Attending a festival as a wheelchair user: Accessibility with trade-offs
One is a big fan of the Wacken Open Air festival (W:O:A) in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein, the other can’t and won’t pick a favorite. Andrea Schütt and Adina Hermann are as different as the festivals they visit, but they have one thing in common: They know first-hand that attending a festival as a wheelchair user is definitely doable!
About the Sziget Festival in Budapest/Hungary Adina Hermann loves above all the musical variety and the artistic-creative design of the site: "At night the park becomes a real magic forest with many colorful lamps and lanterns in the branches – I think that's great."
Sunshine or rain? Will the grounds be dry or muddy? "It’s hard to make open-air festivals accessible. The weather alone is so difficult to predict," says Andrea Schütt, who has seven years of festival experience under her belt. She knows first-hand that the W:O:A is famous and notorious for getting rained out.
Adina Hermann has experienced the same thing at the DEICHBRAND Festival. "It had rained a lot in the run-up and so the wetland turned into a mud swamp. This affected all visitors of course. Even though most people were knee-deep in mud, they were still somehow able to stomp through," she remembers. "Meanwhile, I was unable to move on even with assistance. That’s when helpers carried me part of the way. Later they even drove me around with a THW Unimog all-wheel-drive truck. What a cool experience."
For these types of cases, Andrea Schütt has a tried and tested contingency plan. "If things are extremely muddy, we sometimes resort to the belt strap method: two straps are attached to the front of the wheelchair – two men pull and one guy pushes. YEE-HAW! And if all that fails, it might take four men in all four corners to lift up and carry my chair. Thanks to the 75,000 metalheads at Wacken, a helping hand is always there for me."
Festivals are becoming more accessible
The weather and ground conditions are just two aspects wheelchair users have to face on location. While Adina Hermann recollects that in its early years, the DEICHBRAND Festival didn’t even have an accessible bathroom on its small premises, she believes that festivals have definitely become more accessible in recent years. The Berlin resident notices that festival organizers keep learning and improving, consider accessible options and facilities and increasingly understand the concept of inclusion.
Since 2016, Sunrise Medical GmbH and ThiesMediCenter GmbH have been jointly offering the service station for festival visitors with disabilities at the Wacken Open Air.
That’s something Andrea Schütt can also attest to. Time and again, the organizers of the W:O:A Festival have implemented her suggestions and recommendations. As a result, she notices improvements every year. What’s more, she keeps noticing more and more festival guests in wheelchairs. "It goes without saying that us metalheads with disabilities are included and part of the scene. And although the W:O:A team is unable to find a solution to every problem, they try their best to accommodate us," says Schütt. In 2018, festival visitors with disabilities could also find information online about the available on-site services and amenities.
While 2018 marked the first time a sign language interpreter was featured on stage during several performances, the designated "Wheels of Steel Area" and service station near the campground has been a permanent fixture since 2016. It is operated by Sunrise Medical GmbH and ThiesMediCenter GmbH. "Our on-site support aims to predominantly facilitate participation and promote inclusion," says Jennifer Kucs, Head of PR & Communications at Sunrise Medical. If needed, the on-site team will repair assistive technologies, offer massages and store refrigerated medications. "Our service is free because it is very important to us to break down barriers and overcome fears and reservations. Together with ThiesMediCenter, we do our best to ensure festival visitors with reduced mobility enjoy a great event," Kucs summarizes the mission of REHACARE’s long-time exhibitor.
Tips for surviving a festival visit in a wheelchair
The aforementioned "Wheels of Steel Area" is located close to the stages and has wheelchair accessible sanitary facilities. "Apart from that, there are also wheelchair accessible bathrooms at numerous locations on the premises, special platforms in front of the stages and a number of paved paths, even in the infield," underscores Andrea Schütt.
Adina Hermann has also seen similar settings at other festivals. She reports of medical supply companies that offer on-site repair services at other festivals. "The Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary, actually provides a free shuttle bus and support service for wheelchair users and blind people," she recalls. What’s more, at almost all festivals companions that accompany a person with a disability are typically not charged admission, as long as the ID card of the person with a disability is marked with a "B". Having said that, visitors should always double-check prior to the event to avoid any unpleasant surprises at the entrance.
Ask questions – both festival fans agree on this tip. After all, organizers empirically don’t automatically have a solution for every conceivable need and issue. That’s why Andrea Schütt points out that festivals generally don’t offer visitors all the conveniences and comforts of home. "That’s when you have to decide where and whether you are able and willing to make trade-offs. This goes for both people with and without disabilities."
Andrea Schütt is enthusiastic about the atmosphere of the Wacken Open Air: "It's not only the brilliant music of more than 150 bands, but everything around on the camping ground, festival area and the small town of Wacken". But especially important are the people she meets on site, she emphasizes.
Adina Hermann likewise recommends being open to try things: "If you are not sure, you can simply start with a one-day ticket. And if you don’t like to camp, check if there is a hotel or other accommodation nearby," she suggests. However, the most important thing is to ask the organizers as soon as possible. So far, she was able to find a solution for practically every problem – even on-site. "So far, almost everyone I have met at the festivals has been very helpful. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, if you need it," says Adina Hermann.
Andrea Schütt also wants to encourage other people with disabilities. "Visiting a festival is simply an amazing experience that stays with you – no matter what. There are always resources and help on-site if you need it – whether that’s help to pitch a tent or to get close to the stages."
Conclusion: Attending a festival as a wheelchair user is definitely possible, even though you have to preorganize your visit, ask questions and be willing to make trade-offs. Adina Hermann sums things up: "If you are willing to take a risk and step into unknown territory, prepared to meet new people and improvise, a festival visit can be a wonderful experience with a hint of adventure."
Nadine Lormis (translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com
Read more editorials in Topic of the Month's January here: