Disabled festival goers have opened up about their experience at Wireless, with some describing the festival as an “absolute disaster”.
Music fans described having to cross “dangerous” terrain and watch performers from a distant platform next to the exit after attending the three-day festival over the weekend, which featured headliners such as ASAP Rocky, J. Cole and Tyler the Creator.
Wheelchair users, who were ushered to a viewing platform far from the stage and reportedly had to make their way across gravel, said it was an “abysmal” experience, with organisers accused of not putting “two thoughts into disabled people”.
“From the onset, it was an absolute disaster,” Katouche Goll, a 25-year-old PR representative and disability content creator, told PA News.
“Nothing could have prepared us for what we were to encounter during that day.
“[After the entrance], there was no way any disabled person could take that hill on without any assistance. One of your wheels would definitely get stuck in a pothole and send you flying. It was very dangerous.”
Goll, from London, has cerebral palsy and is an ambulatory wheelchair user, meaning she often uses a scooter for events like festivals.
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She said the terrain at Wireless meant she had to use a wheelchair on day two.
“I wouldn’t typically go with a wheelchair but because of how physically exhausted (and) in pain I was after the first day, I had to take a wheelchair the next day,” she explained.
“No tracking pads were provided for us and then because I couldn’t get my scooter or my wheelchair over the gravel, I have to walk that length with my crutches, and I have cerebral palsy so that’s a lot of labor.
“And then when I was too tired, my sister had to carry me, only for us to reach the platform (and) be so abysmally far from the stage.”
Watch: Rihanna shows support for ASAP Rocky at Wireless Festival
Ms Goll documented her experience on Twitter with the hashtag #DisabilityAccessWireless and shared a video revealing the distance between the platform and the main stage, which sparked outrage from some users.
“Imagine making your event as inhospitable & inaccessible for music fans who have a disability?” one user tweeted. “I hope this treatment is never displayed again at future @WirelessFest events. They need to fix-up & refund those effected by ill treatment.”
“I saw her video,” another wrote. “You could barely see the stage it was that far away. From everything. It was like they’d parked up outside the event to get a glimpse for free. Except they paid for it like everyone else.”
“@WirelessFest you need to issue out full refunds,” another wrote. “Work alongside thus same people that attend these festivals so you can address the issue making these venues/festivals accessible and inclusive to all!!!”
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A friend of Goll’s, Hannah Mambu, who is a full-time wheelchair user with spina bifida, says she was “shocked” at the viewing platform’s placement.
“(I was) shocked that they think sitting there is acceptable,” the aftercare consultant from Lewisham said.
“All of us were looking at each other like, ‘Is there a point in waving?’
“I am using my phone to zoom in to see the artist performing… we’re basically outside the park, everyone is there and jumping having fun and we are at the back.”
Both women paid more than £200 for their tickets.
“We paid the same amount of money that everyone else paid,” Mambu continued.
“They didn’t put two thoughts into disabled people… they didn’t get people with mobility issues to advise them on what’s the best solution to give disabled people a good view.
“Where they put us was so exclusive, (it was) like they don’t want us to be involved in the festival, they don’t want us to have fun. It’s terrible.”
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Goll added: “Being excluded from and segregated from everybody else is such a frustratingly characteristic aspect of being disabled.
“Not because of anything to do with your actual condition, but simply because of the barriers that people put in place to stop you from being able to have an equitable experience of public life.”
Yahoo UK has contacted Wireless organisers Festival Republic for comment but had no response at the time of publication.
Following her experience, MGoll is calling for change and hoping to raise awareness of the issue.
“Please raise awareness for change: compensation and cooperation from @WirelessFest @FRfestivals and @LiveNationUK.
The festival inclusivity issue
One festival fan with whom Goll’s experience struck a chord is Ruth Everard, 42, managing director of Dragon Mobility who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy which causes severe muscle weakness and means she has never been able to walk.
“This story is not uncommon and is a symptom of the underlying attitude that disabled people should be grateful to be included at all,” she told Yahoo UK.
From a rights perspective, Everard says festival organisers must make “reasonable adjustments”, but what is reasonable is something they fall back on.
“It used to be that it was impossible to resolve certain things quickly but continuing a short-term approach since the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 means that 27 years later we’re hearing the same arguments,” she continues.
“It has been too long that staff have been allowed to “do their best” in infrastructure that isn’t designed to be inclusive.”
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Everard says the last festival she went to, she was denied access to appropriate toilet facilities for 20 hours.
“My friends had to help me at the end,” she says. “It spoiled their enjoyment and mine. You go to a festival to be in the crowd, to be part of a big group, to be included.”
While Everard says cinemas and theaters have been rebuilt since she was a teenager so that each wheelchair space is surrounded by seats for your group, festivals are rebuilt every year, so there’s really no excuse not to design inclusively.
“Technically, we are all protected the same by the Equality Act 2010, but law only works if it is upheld,” she continues. “At a festival if you face discrimination then complaining about spoils things for your friends too, and few strangers seeing it are willing to stand up for you either.”
Making festivals accessible to all
A report from the charity Attitude is everything found that more needs to be done to make festivals more accessible for disabled attendees.
The charity’s State of Access Reportwhich was compiled from hundreds of “mystery shopping” experiences completed by disabled people attending music events found that just 44% of venues had barrier free access – that is a step free entrance, step free access to all areas of the venue and a functional accessible toilet.
To improve the situation Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK told Yahoo UK making festivals inclusive for disabled people must be integral to planning.
“A fifth of the population are disabled people and festivals need to be as enjoyable for us, as they are for other festival goers,” she said.
“Festival planning teams should include access consultants with lived experience of disability and there should be discussions with disabled people about what makes a great festival experience.
“Communications about the festival should make it clear that it’s open to all and publicise steps taken to make the festival accessible.
“Booking forms should ask for information on specific needs and staff should be trained to welcome and support us all.”
Additional reporting PA Real Life.