More diversity at different types of events – it doesn’t hurt to ask or to inform
More diversity at different types of events – it doesn’t hurt to ask or to inform
A visit to a trade fair, festival or a movie theater – while some leisure activities are easy to come by for people without disabilities, they can turn into a downright adventure for wheelchair users, people who are blind, visually impaired, deaf or hearing impaired. Especially, if there is a lack of vital information pertaining to accessibility at an event. REHACARE.de has taken a closer look to find out why it can sometimes help to just ask the organizers and discover the events that are already setting a good example.
To the festival in a wheelchair? That's no problem now. Many festival organizers have set their sights on accessibility. Much to the delight of live music lovers and fresh air enthusiasts.
Would you rather have electricity or short distances? Both were non-negotiable for Adina Hermann during her first visit to a music festival. The wheelchair user needs electricity at night, while a long distance to the stage is likewise not a viable option. That’s why the Berlin resident contacted the organizers of the Wacken Open Air Festival and they achieved a compromise between a stay at the wheelchair-accessible campground near the stage and the camper park for motorhomes, which supplies power. "We went to the Camper-Park campground and were supplied with our own wheelchair-accessible portable toilet. That was a great compromise that enabled me to attend the festival. Everyone was envious because we had our own bathroom." That’s one of the reasons why the enthusiastic festival-goer suggests that all visitors with a disability address any issues or needs with festival organizers prior to the event.
The fact that many websites are now designating areas with information for people with disabilities including points of contact to answer questions and address concerns shows that festival organizers have recognized the advertising appeal of accessibility. The Wacken Open Air in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein community of the same name is a trailblazer and often cited example of best practice. That’s where visitors can also find Ron Paustian, who has made the otherwise tranquil cow pastures his home during the three-day festival for the past 25 years. For more than ten years, his organization "Inklusion Muss Laut Sein" (English: Inclusion Must Make Noise) has serviced the open air event in terms of accessibility and participation. His general advice for all festival organizers is to "always consider the benefits participation can offer them. They attract new customers plus their companions who – like all guests – like to drink, buy shirts and celebrate the bands. Participation benefits many parties provided it is implemented correctly."
Better information content equals fewer obstacles
This guiding principle doesn’t just apply to spring and summer festivals. After all, people with disabilities generally have the same interests as people without disabilities when it comes to leisure activities. However, accessibility often throws a monkey wrench into their best-laid plans to attend an event. Paustian explains: "Media coverage for the blind and visually impaired for soccer matches, for example, is still a rarity. Even though some clubs are already providing this service, it’s still a rare occurrence." The German "Fanclub Seehunde" promotes the accessibility of this type of stadium experience for the blind and visually impaired. What is the most important aspect of media coverage for the blind and visually impaired and how does it differ from mere sports commentary? REHACARE.com has asked.
For some, visiting an event also requires a companion. The caregiver or personal assistant does not necessarily share the same interests as the person with disabilities, though the latter depends on this support. This "forced companionship" is something that bothers Paustian, which is why he introduced so-called BUDDIES in his project. The buddies are people who are just as excited as fans with disabilities to attend concerts and events. For the metal fan, it is important to underscore that a companion is not a service request, but rather friends helping friends. The BUDDIE network already has 1,700 volunteers. This includes trained nurses to assist people with assistance or special care needs. Find out more about his project and the W:O:A success story in our interview titled "Participation is not about a Particular Music Genre".
While festival organizers have realized the added benefits of providing meaningful information in the run-up to an event, other events have not yet come to the same conclusion. And then there is also the digital accessibility issue. "The information available on the homepages is not accessible to people with visual impairments and there are no image descriptions or alternative texts," Paustian lists just a few examples that may prevent people with disabilities from visiting an event.
At least film festivals are relatively accessible. Apps such as Greta & Starks enable blind and visually impaired people, such as the moviel loving blind woman Barbara Fickert, to enjoy movies thanks to audio description.
Especially when it comes to one-time events, it’s difficult to find any information pertaining to accessibility prior to the concert, forcing interested parties to touch base with organizers beforehand. The other option is to be daring and trying your luck but you have to be ready to deal with disappointment. That being said, regular events are now better prepared to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Website navigation for event series or film festivals, for example, frequently addresses accessibility issues. Fans of documentary and animated films get their money's worth at the DOK Leipzig (International Film Festival for Documentary and Animated Film). The website not only provides information about access to the movie theaters but also informs about the availability of subtitles and audio descriptions via the GRETA & STARKS app. What’s more, sign language interpreters translate at Q & As after the movies, while inclusion companions are on hand to accompany blind and visually impaired guests. Apart from that, the websites of the Film Festival Cologne or the Viennale(Vienna International Film Festival) offer at least a minimum level of information pertaining to accessibility. Meanwhile, wheelmap.org has approved and reviewed the Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival) in terms of wheelchair accessibility last year.
Information about on-site accessibility is an important aspect that the responsible parties of the Sozialhelden project ramp-up.me continue to emphasize. Says Judyta Smykowski: "We champion more transparency when it comes to this type of information. We ask organizers to simply communicate more effectively and indicate current conditions and accommodations. After all, they can use accessibility to promote and advertise their events, which doesn’t just refer to events that feature inclusion in the title."
Accessibility also promotes diversity in events
Here is an example: If you host an event that requires advance registration and you are contacted by a deaf person in need of a sign language interpreter, you could communicate that this is an option at your event. In doing so, you might also persuade other deaf people to attend. As an event organizer, you promote diversity at your event at the same time.
Incidentally, if organizers want to include more than the usual experts to speak at their events, may we recommend the Vielfaltfinder (English: diversity finder) platform. This expert database system features 450 experts with a wide range of areas of expertise. They all have a migration history. This, too, is an important aspect of inclusion. The project aims to ensure that people with a migration history and migrant background are not just perceived as victims or as a problem in the media and at events, but to also show the diversity of Germany. In the same way people with disabilities are experts and champions for their own cause and would like to be recognized as such.
When it comes to accessible events, experts like Judyta Smykowski from ramp-up.me are probably the first point of contact. The Berliners not only have tips on places, speakers and accessibility, but also advertise for more information content.
Participation is a process but it doesn’t hurt to ask
The experts at ramp-up.me know some other aspects that must be considered when it comes to events. The Berlin specialists are available to help answer questions or tackle any issue in the planning process. "We get different inquiries based on the stage in the organizer’s planning process. Questions range from accessible locations throughout Berlin - which sometimes simply means we recommend the best spot for the respective event – or where to find speakers and how to plan the entire event. We actually get all types of questions," says Judy Smykowski. Needless to say, it’s usually event organizers who have accessibility on their radar and ask the Berlin agency for help.
If people take the trouble to ensure step-free accessibility of the venue or make ramps, tactile guidance systems, accessible bathrooms and sign language interpretation available, the corresponding information and communication could certainly also make more people feel included.
Festivals like the Wacken Open Air show how this can work. However, Ron Paustian reminds us that "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."
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com
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