Bluesfest Continues to Give People With Disabilities the Blues
Last week, I talked about the good aspects of RBC Bluesfest, such as the sense of community, and festival-goers being respectful towards people with disabilities,
As promised, this week, I’ll be talking about the less-than-positive aspects of Bluesfest and issues that Bluesfest continues to ignore.
Before I begin, I understand that it takes a lot of work to put on a music festival, especially one as large as Bluesfest, and I appreciate the hard work that goes into it. Until a few years ago, I was involved with improving wheelchair accessibility at Bluesfest.
After a while, Bluesfest started to ignore my suggestions.
This year, I completely stayed away from the wheelchair platform. Typically, I’d drop by, say hi to a few people, check out the view, and then return to the crowd to enjoy the music and the vibe. I just had a feeling that it would be far away from the stage again.
Thanks to social media, I quickly discovered it was far away, and again, people were upset about it and the fact that it was always full. To me, those issues contradict each other.
It sounds to me that while some people are upset about the view, many are willing to put up with it because it’s the “safest” option, or they just want to hear the music.
This is fine, and I can understand the safety factor, especially if you have a medical condition or a disability. I’m not going to argue that, and, let’s face it, we all absorb and experience things differently.
Some concert-goers enjoy sitting in front of a screen instead of dealing with the crowds. That’s cool.
Here’s my issue.
If you continue going to Bluesfest, knowing full well that the view from the platform is far away, why are you there?
In the eyes of Bluesfest, they may know you’re unhappy, but they also know you’ll probably return next year. If not, somebody else will.
All that matters to Bluesfest is to cram as many people as humanly possible and make as much money as they can.
If you’re going to Bluesfest just to complain about the view from the wheelchair platform without convincing Bluesfest to change the setup, you’re part of the problem.
People with disabilities at Bluesfest should be given the same seating options as everyone else. We can’t get into VIP sections, and the Coors VIP section is up several steps. We buy tickets like everybody else. If we decide to treat ourselves to VIP seating or to bid on the “Best seats in the house,” we should be able to do so.
Why does Bluesfest continue to install the wheelchair platform way off to the side, out of sight, out of mind?
When I convinced Bluesfest to install a wheelchair platform in 2010, it was near the front of the main stage.
We could also see the second stage between sets, which was great.
Sadly, it didn’t last long.
In the years to follow, Bluesfest moved the wheelchair platform further back, with little to no response as to why. After all of my hard work, it felt like a massive slap in the face and a middle finger to concertgoers with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the VIP sections continue to expand while people with disabilities continue to be pushed aside.
Another thing I noticed at Bluesfest is the lack of wheelchair accessibility at the merch tent near the main stage.
For one thing, the area around the tent is grass. If you are in a wheelchair or any other mobility device, you will have difficulty getting to the actual merchandising area. When you finally get to the front of the line, a “ramp” is in place to help you get to the merch table.
I use the term “ramp” loosely because there’s a bump you must go over to get to it, and the “ramp” is also very small. Once you get to the table, there’s nowhere else to go, I couldn’t see everything that was for sale, and I didn’t want to ask a million questions.
When I was done shopping, I had a hard time getting out. One of the poles for the tent was blocking the only way out for me. To get out, I had to drive off the smooth area and back onto the grass, which was quite a step down.
That’s not accessible, and I suggest Bluesfest find out the definition of what wheelchair accessible truly means. Maybe make some of the T-shirts etc., available inside the War Museum. That way, people in wheelchairs and using other mobility devices can see what’s for sale and ask questions. If Bluesfest doesn’t want to do that, why not make the concert merchandise available online and update their site and app as they add and remove inventory?
Before I wrap up this week’s article, I want to thank all the volunteers, staff, security, and first-aid team. I’m sure I’m not the only one who appreciates everything you do.
I also want to mention the Ottawa Bluesfest Fan Page on Facebook.
I’ve been a member of the Bluesfest Fan Page for a long time, and they continue to be amazing.
Along with meeting more members this year, many took the time to help me get close to the stage and in a safe and comfortable area.
Like all things in life, there are good and bad things to everything.
The key is figuring out how to make the best out of a bad situation.
I’ll see you at Bluesfest next year.