Inclusion Must Make Noise: "Participation is not about a particular music genre"
Inclusion Must Make Noise: "Participation is not about a particular music genre"
Anyone who frequently visits the Wacken Open Air probably knows him: Ron Paustian is one of the permanent fixtures of the heavy metal music festival. The metal fan, who lives close to the municipality of Wacken in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein has turned his passion into his mission. Since 2009, Paustian has been committed to making concerts and festivals more accessible to people with disabilities. By now, his commitment and that of his crew have resulted in the "Inklusion Muss Laut sein" project (English: Inclusion must make noise), which joins forces with the W:O:A – Wacken Open Air.
According to Ron Paustian, he has known the W:O:A like the "back of his hand for the past 25 years". However, more intimate festivals like the Metal Bash in Neu Wulmstorf are also close to his heart. "Some might consider it work, I consider it a vacation."
In this interview with REHACARE.com, Paustian describes the concept behind "Inklusion Muss Laut Sein", explains why he doesn’t believe there is full accessibility and outlines why participation is a process.
Mr. Paustian, you created "Inklusion Muss Laut Sein" and New-Metal-Media. What was your motivation or connection to accessibility at festivals?
Ron Paustian: In 2009, New-Metal-Media was the first music magazine that focused on heavy metal and accessibility. We provided free information about event venues and festivals for fans with disabilities, included band tour dates and added large font sizes and special audio for fans with visual impairment. Nobody offered information like this at that time. Many venues and festivals did not accommodate people with disabilities and some of them were actually worried that they might be overrun by fans after divulging this information.
I am among the many people with an invisible disability. Unlike wheelchair users or blind people with white canes, this type of disability is not immediately apparent. When I wanted to be part of a concert back in 2009, I had questions the internet was unable to answer. That's why the "Inklusion Muss Laut Sein" project was created and motivated by self-interest.
Contact "Inklusion Muss Laut Sein" if you have questions about specific festivals and to get free useful information. Ron Paustian (lower row, 3rd from right) is also personally available to respond to special requests and answer questions.
What critical advice do you give most frequently when you are consulted about accessible events as part of "Inklusion Muss Laut Sein"?
Paustian: My most common advice is to remember that there are no accessible concert events. Many organizers think they provide access if there is a wheelchair ramp or accessible bathrooms. But that is actually not the case, because wheelchair users are not the only concert guests with a disability. Our "BUDDIE Teams" (user + companion) also include blind and visually impaired guests, fans with learning difficulties, people with mental illness and hearing impairment. Event planners should accommodate the needs of all of these visitors.
You can make structural changes and develop some sort of standard but it would still not be fully accessible because many visitors have very individual needs. That means, to be fully accessible, you must always cater to each individual person. Conversely, people sometimes have high expectations and demands and there is a widely held belief that things have to be implemented all at once. But participation is a process. A lot has changed and improved over the past ten years but we must also give all parties some time to implement things. That’s why I advise organizers to always consider the benefits participation can offer them. They attract new customers plus their respective companions who – like all guests- like to drink, buy shirts and celebrate the bands. Participation benefits many parties provided it is implemented correctly.
You count many heavy metal festivals among your clients. "Inklusion Muss Laut Sein" has teamed up with Wacken Open Air for the past ten years. Is it due to personal preference or are metalheads more receptive and open to accessibility and inclusion?
Paustian: Wacken knows me as a visitor who is forever complaining to prompt changes. This turned into a collaboration - as was the case with many other festivals. Needless to say, I prefer heavy metal but the issue of participation was never tied to a particular music genre for me. Inklusion Muss Laut Sein has assisted every genre ranging from techno music to sports events. Every festival crew has its own preferences. I can’t really say whether or not metalheads are more receptive and open-minded. The ones I service have been listening to my complaints for the past ten years. They know how passionate and committed I am to this subject matter and why it's so important to get everyone to attend a festival or why bands should embrace and include all of their fans.
The W:O:A is always good for a story. It doesn't matter if it rains cats and dogs and everything sinks into the mud or the sun cream is the most used utensil during the three days. But the festival visitors accept it, no matter how it comes.
"Inklusion Muss Laut Sein"also provides so-called Festival BUDDIES (English: buddy). Can you briefly explain what this system is about?
Paustian: There are two types of Festival BUDDIES. There is a festival crew, that being permanent contact persons and helpers on-site – for assistance in emergencies - and the BUDDIES who act as companions. The latter travel to the festival, help pitch tents etc. and leave along with their teammate. It is important that the BUDDIES share the same interests. Someone who prefers heavy metal would never accompany a pop fan and vice versa. After all - and this is an important point to remember: a companion is not a service request. It is all about friends helping friends.
Anyone can be a BUDDIE. However, we always have BUDDIES on hand who are able to cater to specific needs and are skilled and trained in patient care to support users in need of assistance or those with unique health care needs.
Everyone in your team - including the BUDDIES (as many as 1,700 across Europe) – are volunteers. What is your common bond?
You could technically sum it all up in one word. We all share the same passion. The passion for music or culture, the passion to make a difference, to help or simply to give our time. We all work for free, but never for nothing. Many volunteers with disabilities are on the road and test festivals and venues, make recommendations, take pictures and reveal the weak points – and that’s what unites and binds us. We are a large group of people who are who we are.
What was your wildest/craziest experience at an event, whether it was related to a lack of accessibility or due to the usual festival madness?
Paustian: I certainly have lots of experiences to choose from over the past 25 years! That includes having coffee with Doro (Editor’s note: Dorothea Pesch is considered to be Germany’s Queen of Heavy Metal), barging into a press conference with Blind Guardian or chatting with the German medieval metal band In Extremo.
For me, the fact that I am privileged to meet so many different people is among the most beautiful aspects of this journey. Those moments of successful participation -despite difficulties – are empowering. For example, in 2016 we had a guest in a recliner wheelchair on a ventilator at W:O:A. Along with 18 helpers, we moved the guest in front of the stage to enjoy a performance by Blind Guardian. We pushed him through ankle-deep mud to make it happen! What a great moment for everyone!
If you want to find out more – and listen to some other stories and anecdotes -, you can always find and touch base with me at a variety of festivals and events.
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com
Read more editorials in Topic of the Month's January here: