Paul Hawkins is the Festival Project Manager for Attitude is Everything, a charity that works with audiences, artists and the live events industry to improve access to live music for deaf and disabled customers. Hawkins has held the role since 2015, and prior to that managed customer-facing services for a disability organisation. He attends and works at around 15 festivals a year and has also played various festivals with his band The Awkward Silences.
Attitude is Everything improves access to live music for deaf and disabled people. We work with audiences, artists and the music industry to identify the barriers which deaf and disabled people face when attending live music events and the practical solutions to overcome them.
Over 140 music venues and festivals are signed up to our Charter of Best Practice. I manage the charity’s work with festivals, where we work large scale events such as Glastonbury, Reading and Download; boutique festivals such as Nozstock, Festival Number 6 and End of the Road; and family orientated festivals such as Deershed and Just So.
The vast majority of people who work on festivals do so because they want to give people the best experience possible. Providing great access really involves providing great customer service and understanding that some customers will have specific requirements in order to have an equitable experience to every other paying customer.
In recent years, access has improved significantly at the majority of festivals. Access adjustments such as accessible campsites, accessible toilets and viewing platforms are now commonplace. As a result, more disabled customers are buying festival tickets. Since few customers come to events alone, more friends and family members are buying festival tickets too. Ten more sales to disabled customers might actually mean a total of forty or more additional ticket sales.
Not all impairments are visible and less than 8% of disabled people are wheelchair users. Physical access matters but there are also many other areas to consider. We have recently updated our Charter of Practice to reflect some emerging areas where we feel there are opportunities to improve festival access. We would love to see more festivals provide respite or ‘chillout’ areas for customers who may become anxious or experience sensory over-stimulation in crowds. We would like to see more High Dependency Units – mobile toilets with hoists, changing tables and running water, which are invaluable for customers who cannot use accessible portaloos.
We are also keen to develop a model of best practice for the use of British Sign Language and lyric captioning for customers with hearing impairments. Additionally, we are trying to encourage festivals to widen the diversity of their performers by booking more deaf and disabled artists. We are also looking at the increasing use of sponsored bars, stages and areas at festivals and how to support festivals ensure these are as accessible as all other aspects of the festival.
For festivals that currently have little or none of these provisions in place, improving your access may sound like a daunting prospect. Our experience is that often the biggest barrier festivals face to improving their access is the feeling that it is a huge and complicated area, and festival organisers are often unclear where to start. Here are five simple things that any festival can do as first steps to providing excellent access provision:
1. Have an access information page on your website
It is often particularly important to deaf and disabled people to have as much information as possible in advance. Having a webpage with information about your access tells disabled customers that you want to welcome them to your festival and helps customers make informed decisions about which events they wish to attend and how to prepare. Attitude is Everything has an Access Starts Online campaign which is designed to give you the tools you need to create a great access information page today.
2. Provide customers with a telephone number and email address they can contact you on with any questions
If you get your access information right then most customers will be able to find the information they need online, thus cutting down on your administration time. However there will be some customers with specific enquiries who may need more information. Make it as easy as possible for customers to find out what they need to know. Some customers may have impairments which make it difficult to communicate over the phone and others may find it a challenge to use email so offering both options gives customers a choice for what is most comfortable for them.
3. Know who is responsible for the access at your festival
One of the most frustrating situations for customers and festival staff alike is when a customer has had a conversation with someone prior to the event but there is no record of who they spoke to or what was agreed. Having a nominated staff member working around access cuts down the confusion by ensuring all information is held on one place.
4. Offer an additional ticket for a personal assistant at no extra cost
Many deaf and disabled people require assistance at festivals, be it for getting around the site, communication, carrying out intimate personal care, purchasing food or drink, or something else entirely. Providing an additional ticket for a personal assistant at no extra cost ensures the customer’s needs can be met whist also ensuring they do not need to pay twice as much as any other customer in order to attend. We are happy to assist if you would like any advice on how to draw up a fair PA ticket policy that works for both you and your customers.
5. Get feedback from deaf and disabled customers who already come to your event
Attitude is Everything prides itself on being the experts on deaf and disabled access at venues and festivals, but often the experts on the access at your festival in particular are the deaf and disabled customers who already attend. Build relationships with your customers and seek out their feedback on where improvements could be made. Customers are more likely to feel valued if you seek out their opinion and they may be able to suggest simple steps that could make a big difference.
If you do have any questions around improving your access, Attitude is Everything are always happy to help. You can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7383 7979.