Physical access for outdoor events
Outdoor events can pose considerable access barriers for disabled people - both as performers and audience members. The process of identifying and removing barriers can be exactly the same as for indoor events. In fact, it can be more positive, as any built environment issues should be able to be quickly addressed thanks to the temporary nature of many of the performance and exhibition spaces created out of doors. Have you thought about the following:
Whatever access provisions are provided for outdoor festivals, the impact is limited, unless all event publicity clearly mentions them - and unless all those involved in stewarding events are properly briefed.
Access provisions might include:
- on-site accessible parking provision
- on-site accessible toilets
- site managers briefed around access (for example, about the importance of keeping site clear for mobility, to support artists who might need help on and off stage, to look out for groups that may be visiting and might need additional support/guidance with navigation etc)
- having some form of transport on-site (for large sites) - possibly using shopmobility wheelchairs, scooters and/or buggies, three-wheeled bicycles, or having vehicle access available
- signage in symbols and words - and lots of it correctly placed
- staffed information points, clearly identifiable, in addition to a first aid area and a welfare meeting point (lost people etc)
- good litter clearing systems, especially to deal with waste food (many wheelchair users will pick up whatever is on the ground and get it on their hands!)
- good layout for marquees/stalls enabling wheelchair users or those with limited mobility to enter and access all site
- rest provision - seating areas not linked to food/drink provision, ideally shaded and/or covered.
The nature of street arts means that they are accessible to a wide range of disabled people, although not everything can ever be accessible to everyone. Disability-specific street art is not well developed in the UK and so finding suitable disability-related product may require considerable research or commissions, including utilising international work.
Many event bookers of product assume that access will be considered by performers in relation to their own product, and will therefore form part of their technical specification if required. Depending on the companies involved, and their experience, this may not be an established part of their practice and so it may be useful to make it part of your contract with them.
The location for street arts activity needs to provide basic access - within a reasonable distance of accessible toilets, accessible parking and with lots of seating. Having stewards in place to be responsible for ensuring access for disabled audience members can be useful (for example, to ensure disabled people who need to be at the front would be moved forward). Depending on the products, sign language interpretation or audio description could also be added to enhance access.
The ‘ad hoc’ nature of many street arts festivals can be problematic. Without a fixed programme of events some disabled people with mobility impairments can find it hard to know where to go to get to see what they wanted to see.
From an access perspective it is better to set specific spaces for activity, rather than allowing all performers to choose their own spaces at will. This can also ensure that spaces are chosen which are good for access - beside trackways, near natural amphitheatre spaces; rather than performers choosing, for example, sloping grass banks that wheelchair users/people with mobility impairments could not access.
Where carnivals involve procession routes, consideration needs to be given as to the length of route. A long route is not in itself discriminatory, if consideration is given to how different people might respond and travel along it. Access to information is key here, so that people are sure what they are committing to, when agreeing to take part.
It is essential for groups to have knowledge about the route in advance, and the potential for different ways of covering it - before they commit to the process. Knowing that solutions are possible might encourage people and groups to attend, who would have previously felt that it simply ‘wasn’t for them’. Better pre-event information might also encourage schools/groups who are involved to include disabled people within their classes/selections.
In order to determine who within any possible pre-selected group might have a mobility problem for in regard to a route, the exact length and nature of the route needs to be confirmed. A conversation can then take place that states the nature of the routes:
The route is XXX long, and includes [gradients, surfaces etc]. We estimate that it should take approximately XXX minutes to walk in the carnival procession. Can you tell us who, within your group might find that route difficult?
Language should be focused around the barrier to access (‘the problem with the route’), and not the individuals (‘the problem with their mobility’).
Solutions could include:
- pedestrian mobility solutions within the procession itself (use of decorated wheelchairs, walking frames, sticks)
- additional individual mobile solutions might be possible (use of trikes, bikes, scooters, electric wheelchairs)
- mobile solutions which involve others (ricshaws, mobile platforms/trailers pulled by bikes/people) might be possible (but may need ‘pullers’)
- allowing people the choice of ‘dropping out’ at pre-determined checkpoints, and rejoining the procession at another point (placing checkpoints before and after the steeper inclines, for example). It is planned to have three such points on the procession route that could be used in this way. When necessary, vehicles would need to be used to transport people between these checkpoints.
A vehicle-based solution could be implemented within a procession, but this needs to be considered carefully for some carnivals, as it would change the nature of the event and ‘single out’ disabled people in an unhelpful way. A clear initial statement about the nature of the event and the access that is possible, makes it easier to state what is not possible. Not every person can access every event. The DDA asks organisations to consider what is ‘reasonable’.
You might produce something like:
Our carnival parade is a mobile pedestrian promenade in the African Caribbean carnival tradition with music, dancing and costume creating a spectacular procession. The route planned is XXX [see previous page]. Participants will be expected to follow the route - on foot, by wheelchair, on bikes, trikes, scooters - but it is not anticipated that vehicles will be used...
Where groups are invited to take part in creative workshops to produce their own carnival costumes, it is important to remember that it is logistically hard for some disability organisations/groups to commit to participating, due to issues with staffing, transport and resources. Additional resources may be required to enable disability-specific groups to meet the additional costs they face in becoming involved - or some peripatetic work may be needed at venues used by the groups, to ensure that they can take part fully in the process.
To provide access to a carnival audience, a number of developments have been tried at events across Europe, including the use of audio description for costumes/features (also enjoyed by many people with restricted views), use of viewing platforms and ‘no crowd zones’ (areas marshalled by stewards where only a limited number of people can attend at any one time to avoid crushes and thereby enable access for a wide variety of disabled people who may have poor balance, pain issues or issues with crowds).
It is important for carnival routes to be clearly signalled to audiences in advance, so that people can find a suitable vantage point along the route that meets their own requirements.
Large-scale outdoor performance work
Few disability-specific companies in the UK are producing outdoor work although internationally work is available. The main access issues relate to:
- provision of seating, particularly to promenade work
- timings of evening events (which can be programmed very late - and this can be a barrier for people affected by tiredness).
Sightlines can be improved by raised viewing platforms and also by the use of video footage being relayed onto screens by the side of performance areas.
Depending on the product, sign language interpretation and or audio description may be advisable.