Opinion: Festival accessibility should be more than a box ticking exercise

In this opinion column, rapper Kray-z Legz, aka Mark Humphries writes about career highlights and festival accessibility, highlighting the need for better measures in the future. Kray-z Legz is a Global Youth Ambassador for music at pan-disability charity Leonard Cheshire and is a passionate campaigner for increased venue accessibility and for more disabled artists to be included in line ups at festivals and events.

Kray-z Legz performing at Glastonbury. Credit: Elly Bull

We may still be in winter, but I can’t stop thinking about the summer and some of the amazing experiences I’ve had as an artist. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to play some fantastic gigs over the last year – but a real career highlight had to be playing at Glastonbury for the first time. There were about three to four thousand people watching me perform, my biggest crowd yet. Just before going on stage, I had to pinch myself. This was Glastonbury! It was surreal, but the performance was such a buzz. 

And it was a pleasure to return to one of my favourite festivals again this year, Boomtown. I always have a brilliant time there and this year was no exception!

But how do these festivals measure up when it comes to accessibility and inclusion? As an avid gig-goer, I’m always looking out for which festivals and events are getting it right – and which aren’t quite hitting the mark. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that, as a wheelchair user, accessibility can often be a challenge!

So when I headed for Glastonbury, one of the largest festivals in the world, I was keen to see how they approached it. Suffice to say, there were both good things and bad.

Boxes ticked

There were certainly things in place when it came to disabled access. But it felt a bit like boxes had been ticked, with not much thought behind it. For example, the disabled viewing platform for The Pyramid Stage – the iconic main stage – was right bang in the middle of the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, it had amazing views, but actually getting to the platform was no mean feat. You had to fight through what felt like 100,000 people in order to reach it. When I asked one festival attendant where the platform was, he even joked “good luck getting to it buddy!” There was a track going to it, but it took you a pretty roundabout way. 

You know, it’s pretty ironic that Noel Gallagher was talking about the viewing platform like it was some amazing VIP experience. He clearly doesn’t understand what they’re there for. We don’t choose to be segregated away from the crowd – we just have no other option.  If we didn’t have those things, people like me wouldn’t be able to experience what he’s trying to sell. As an artist he really needs to understand that.

Kray-z Legz performing at Glastonbury. Credit: Elly Bull

But moving swiftly on. Another great thing Glastonbury does is fast track access. This meant I could cut behind backstage to get through to different parts of the festival. This was amazing and a real game changer, especially as a lot of the tracks around the heart of the festival had big ridges and bumps in them, making it all too easy for the wheels of my wheelchair to get stuck! It ended up being quite hard work for me and my partner but fast track access definitely helped.

There was mobility transport available, but buses were on more of a strict schedule compared to what I’d experienced at other festivals. At Boomtown it’s as and when you need it which is perfect. But then again, Glastonbury is a huge operation and much more complex when planning out accessibility.

Fit for purpose

You can definitely tell Glastonbury are trying to get it right. There’s just a few things they need to iron out. If they don’t already, they should have a range of disabled people on their access team in order to really ensure they are taking different perspectives and access needs into account. That way accessibility measures will really be fit for purpose. 

Reflecting on Boomtown, a highlight for me this year was a takeover I ran with DJ Nose It and The Chairman. It was called ‘Don’t Diss My Ability’ and we were put on the main stage between some of the bigger acts. It was brilliant – and fantastic for visibility and inclusion for disabled artists. It’s really great to see Boomtown supporting artists with disabilities and I know it’s something they want to continue moving forward. 

Come to think of it, I’m not sure how many disabled artists performed at Glastonbury this year. It didn’t seem like a lot. The fact is, more festivals need to make space for properly diverse, intersectional line ups – and disability needs to be a part of that. We need more disabled role models out there for music lovers. Artists who are seen for their talents, not because they’re disabled. 

And I can tell you now, the talent is out there. People just need a fair chance to show it.

Disclaimer: A representative from Leonard Cheshire approached Glastonbury Festival for a response to this article and the organisers did not provide a reply for inclusion in this feature.

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The opinions and views expressed here are not necessarily those of Enable Magazine or DC Publishing.

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