I was there today, and accessibility is a utter shambles, despite the protestations of the organisers in the leadup that it is all going to be totes accessible, guys! (Note that this was after they had put up all the programmes and information about the Festival — minus any information about accessibility.)
The rows of information and ticket tents, the coffee and drinks tents, the tables and chairs, the bar, the water refill stations – these make up Writers Central, the busy hub of the Festival. The tents are all placed facing a large area of bumpy grass with sand traps. This row of tents all have their BACKS to a flat, very wide paved area. I will not mince words here. The organisers are clearly complete arseholes, since they know this is a problem and have failed to fix it. It would have cost them nothing to set up this area such that the tents and vans were accessible, and such that there were a couple of tables and chairs on a paved surface. Words cannot express how angry I am about this setup.
I saw an older woman attempting to push a man in a manual chair in this boggy, bumpy area, and really struggling with it. There was also a woman with a wheelie walker similarly getting around with far more difficulty than was necessary. All this in the few minutes I spent there. There were a variety of other wheelchair and mobility aid users at the festival, who clearly the organisers care nothing about.
Later, I tried to get into an event at the Romeo Tent. I had specifically asked the festival about the Romeo Tent in advance, and been assured it was fully accessible.
It was not accessible.
There was a slippery painted sloped board at the entrance, instead of an actual ramp. There was no rail or pole nearby so that I could assist myself in.There was a sharp transition, down to grass, with a lip. I tried to get over it forward – my front wheels stuck fast on the lip, and I somehow managed not to tip forward onto my face. I then tried it backward. I got over the bottom lip this way, but could get no traction on the glossy-painted board, so my wheels started spinning and I couldn’t get up the board. I ended up having to get an assist from a stranger not trained in manual handling. It was all fairly scary and difficult, and I ended up a spectacle for the passers-by. At the end of the panel, despite the heat inside the tent, I waited till everyone had left so as to not be a similar spectacle on the way back down (where I also needed an assist so that I wouldn’t end up with my wheels catching and fall on my face). As well as the risk to me, this also created a risk to the staff who had to physically assist me. This is not their job, they have no training in it, and I wonder whether they are insured for injury should this handling go wrong.
At this point I cut my losses and left the Writers Festival. I was in a world of pain from all of the jolting over grass and sand, and from being hauled about by well-meaning and kind strangers – simply because the festival couldn’t be bothered.
After the years of critique and education the Festival has had about accessibility, at this point I can only assume they are doing it deliberately. There are two days of the Festival to go. If the organisers had any decency, they would tear down the tents overnight and place them in an accessible way, and/or lay access matting over all of the grassed areas, and install an accessible ramp at the Romeo Tent. All of this is doable. But they won’t do it, will they?
It’s nothing less than able-bodied supremacy in action, and I’m tired of it.
[Kudos to The University of Western Australia’s Unipark department, as an aside. I called them to report a car illegally parked in the accessible parking spaces. They had a person in the area and said they would send them over immediately.]