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Five ways to improve disabled access at festivals – Howard Thorpe, ABLE2UK


Last Summer Howard Thorpe of ABLE2UK staged his first ever concert for disabled awareness.  After working on the project for two and a half years, the event finally came to life on August 20th 2012. Based on the website, ABLE2UK, the night welcomed the likes of Steve Cradock, Miles Kane, Frank Turner, Billy Bragg, Mystery Jets, and Friendly Fires for a five-hour benefit concert at Camden’s Roundhouse to fund more disabled facilities at festivals throughout the UK. Fast forward four months and Howard was back at Camden’s Roundhouse for the UK Festival Awards 2012 Conference, again in front of an assembled crowd, although on this occasion the audience consisted of those working in the music industry. What follows is an extract of Howard’s speech from that event in which he spells out five ways to improve disabled access at festivals.

A few months ago, when the UK was drenched in rain and the weather was appalling – or to give it its proper title, ’Festival season’ – I was given the honour to stage the first ever ABLE2UK concert. The event, kindly promoted by Metropolis Music aimed to promote disabled awareness and in future to raise funds to improve disabled access at UK festival.

Until the first ABLE2UK area is launched may I bring to your attention five points I believe every UK festival should consider so that disabled guests can enjoy stunning line-ups as well, although before I waffle on about these ideas please allow me to remind you why disabled access is so important for all festival promoters.

Some of you maybe under the impression that disabled access must be put into place just for those who need to use it. Although I believe these facilities are just as important for the promoter.

In this day and age of social networking, word-of-mouth is still the most important way of communication and the most effective. Twitter and web pages may announce incredible artists playing at your summer event, but personal experiences will damage your hard work if word spreads that disabled people miss the acts due to access which is deemed unsatisfactory.

On the whole every festival I am lucky enough to attend over the summer excels at disabled access although not one event takes into account all the five points which I am about to mention:-

Viewing Platforms

All stages should have a viewing platform: this includes big tops, comedy tents, and those introducing the future stars of tomorrow. If you intend to book a popular act in a small tent please ensure the disabled platform is an adequate size to hold a decent percentage of those who need to use it, especially people in wheelchairs.


Buying tickets. All promoters should provide an online and phone service for disabled guests. It doesn’t matter how big or small your event is. Some disabled guests may have additional questions to ask before they spend their money so a small yet qualified team to support their concerns wouldn’t be a bad idea

Platform Popularity

Leave plenty of space on the disabled platforms for guests. At recent festivals I’ve seen a queue of people in wheelchairs waiting to go on the viewing areas missing parts or all of their favourite acts. If your line-up contains popular acts, try to extend the viewing platform for the main stage and if you have the aforementioned disabled booking line you will have a good idea how many disabled people will be in attendance.

Protection Against The Weather

Extreme weather conditions on the platform.

Protection from heavy rain or blazing sunshine is vital, yet most festivals still don’t give protection from the freak weather we now encounter year upon year. Just a few parasols should do the trick; however, having a percentage of your viewing platform undercover is the ideal solution.

Website Navigation

2 navigation styles developed into your festival sites; your website maybe fantastic with creative images and flashy navigation but people with learning difficulties or dexterity limitations may struggle. A simple solution would be to strip back the design to make it simple to navigate and easy to read.

Disabled information should be easily accessed and displayed on all major navigation pages.

So, the 5 points are…

All stages should have a viewing platform.

Buying tickets made easy for disabled customers.

Leave plenty of space on the disabled platforms for guests.

Extreme weather conditions covered on the platform.

2 navigation styles developed into your festival sites.

or ABLE2 for short.

So, there you have it. With another speech pencilled in for Glastonbury and something else up my sleeve for 2013, hopefully ABLE2UK will make a difference to thousands of people with disabilities attending live music events.

Howard Thorpe




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