August is just around the corner and Edinburgh, the world’s leading festival city, will once again reach its pinnacle with six festivals vying for our attention. We’ll see the city’s population swell and it will seem as though every nook and cranny has been turned into a venue space. The excitement for visitors is clear to see. But have you ever considered what the experience can be like for disabled visitors?
I became a powerchair user after I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2003. Over the past 16 years I have had to adapt to my changing access requirements which come with this progressive condition. Over time everyday activities became increasingly difficult for me, due to a combination of poor accessibility and lack of access information. These are problems which are shared by other disabled people with a range of access requirements.
The latest results from our Access Survey highlight the importance of information. It’s a fundamental starting point for any trip; without it many trips simply won’t happen. It found that 94 per cent of survey participants try to find disabled access information about somewhere before visiting for the first time and 53 per cent avoid going to places that have not shared their access information because they assume they are inaccessible.
So, a visit somewhere new can become a major research project for disabled people. It often involves hours of phone calls and internet searches. The first step to making anywhere more inclusive is to remove that obstacle by making that access information readily available. As things stand, not everywhere is accessible. But at least if venues, whether permanent or pop-up, are honest about their accessibility, and make that information easily available, people can plan accordingly.
As a city Edinburgh faces some challenges. Transport and outdoor places have their own issues, and the Access Survey found that these are the places most likely to have poor access. In Edinburgh our cobbled streets can prove problematic for wheelchair users, but pop-up bars and food stalls in August can also be tricky for those with visual impairments. As anyone who has ventured down the Royal Mile during festival season will tell you, a simple walk becomes a mammoth obstacle course.
There is,however, cause for optimism. The festivals have been working harder to become more welcoming to disabled people. For the past three years we’ve been delighted to give out our Accessible Edinburgh Festivals Awards to several venues associated with Edinburgh’s festivals.
There have been some good initiatives in recent years. We’ve seen the introduction of a standalone Access Guide for the Edinburgh International Festival, sensory backpacks at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the use of discreet badges at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to let staff know when people would like additional assistance. The number of Changing Places toilet facilities across the city almost doubles in August, as the three permanent facilities are supported by the addition of two temporary Changing Places toilets, one in Charlotte Square and the other on the corner of Windmill Street and Chapel Street. These are an important addition for anyone who requires an adult-sized changing bench or a hoist.
Our hope is that feedback and reviews can force improvements. With so many shows to choose from, people often rely on recommendations when deciding what to see. Reviews are everywhere in August. When it comes to the accessibility of venues there is no-one more qualified to provide feedback about accessibility than disabled people, their families, friends and carers. We founded Euan’s Guide, the disabled access charity, to be a place where people could share their own honest experiences of disabled access and discover new places to go. The reviews left on Euan’s Guide can help remove stress of planning and the fear of the unknown.
We hope that you will join us in making the world more accessible, whether that means improving your venue’s access, being considerate to others’ access requirements while out and about, or by leaving your own disabled access reviews on Euan’s Guide.
Euan MacDonald MBE is co-founder of Euan’s Guide, which aims to makes it easier for disabled people to find great places to go. www.euansguide.com