Studies have shown staggering percentages of of people with disabilities being put off attending major events because of accessibility concerns. How important is it to get the message out that it’ll be okay to come along?
“It’s vital. Access doesn’t start when you get onto that field and into the festival, it starts way before with the preparation and getting the information out there. Twenty-two per cent of the population have some kind of disability and only three-to-five per cent of those are in wheelchairs. A lot of people think that if an event is wheelchair-accessible, it’s fully accessible. As fantastic as that is, it’s a very small part of what we do. Making sure that we get the word out about that is crucial. Countless customers call us up and say, ‘I’ve got this disability and I’m not sure if you can help…’ but once we have a little chat with them and explain what provisions are available, they’re like, ‘That’s fantastic! I wasn’t even aware!’ Having as many people talking about it as possible is crucial to getting everyone coming out and celebrating together.”
On that note, how important to accessibility is the engagement of the broader festival population, from fans to bands?
“When you have the bands – those people at the very top – making sure that the event is accessible, it’s going to reach everyone that’s interested in coming. And the better the engagement with the fans, the better it is for everyone. It’s always amazing to see one of my customers right down the front in the mosh-pit and you go down to say, ‘Are you okay? You’ve got the viewing platform if you need it…’ and they tell us they’d rather be down there in the thick of it. We call that a Golden Circle, where everyone takes care of everyone else. It’s the most beautiful thing, to see everyone together, able to enjoy the experience regardless of their differences.”
One of the most iconic images in modern metal is the photo of the fan in a wheelchair being crowdsurfed across a massive crowd. Does it feel like metal really is more inclusive than other subcultures?
“I’ve been to a lot of festivals over the years and Download is special. There are a lot of stigmas about heavy music, and a lot of people have reserved judgement a little bit, but being involved in the crowd and the community, I can say it is one of the most inclusive places I’ve ever been – with some of the best camaraderie. Everyone is so welcoming and considerate of each other, ensuring that everyone else is having a good time. I’ve never experienced anything like it at any of the many other events I’ve been to over the years. Download is very unique.”
What further progress would you like to see made, in terms of access, in the coming years?
“That’s a good question. Because we’re such a unique team that combines the customer-facing [team] with elements of production, we have a unique live feedback where fans can tell us what they really like, or what they think we should change, and we have the ability to directly implement what’s being asked for. Also, working with Attitude Is Everything, and knowing that they also have their ear to the ground, we’re very happy with how things are going. We’re doing everything that our customers want and need to make sure that they have the best experience that they can. Plus, it comes from all of the teams rather than just the Access team. We’re involved with marketing, sponsorship and we have regular meetings with Melvin, the Managing Director. It’s on everybody’s minds. Even in the few years that I’ve been involved, we’ve gone from shouting from the rooftops to ensure accessibility isn’t forgotten to having our questions be the very first ones addressed.”
Download Festival takes place at Donington Park on June 10-12. Get your tickets now.