Accessible Festivals supports more than 700 festival-goers

Anyone who attends the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival or the Stagecoach Country Music Festival knows that getting around the site is difficult, and for guests with disabilities, it can be even more difficult.

Austin Whitney, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Accessible festivalsunderstands the challenges of getting around the site in a wheelchair, following a near-fatal accident at the age of 18 that severed his spinal cord and paralyzed him from the waist down.

The non-profit organization partners with Los Angeles promoter Goldenvoice to help disabled pass holders. The group provides services to the blind and deaf, people in wheelchairs or suffering from physical ailments and illnesses, etc. Its staff also manage the viewing platforms at each stage and provide transportation from the parking areas to the security gate.

Accessible Festivals provides services for people with disabilities for sporting events, concerts and events such as EDC Las Vegas, Los Angeles Pride, Desert Daze and more.

Those requiring services should register at ADA Department stations in the blue lot, or at the security gate in the camping area where they are issued a separate wristband to access viewing platforms or d ‘other services. They also allow a companion bracelet for each disabled customer.

Whitney said it provided services to 746 festival-goers last week, a record for the organization’s staff and volunteers at Coachella. They also faced many challenges for this festival compared to previous years, such as shortages of things like golf carts and equipment for viewing platforms and staff.

“A lot of good people have left the (live entertainment) industry,” Whitney told the Desert Sun. “There are a lot of new faces and we are doing our best to come back. Things that might have been routine and easy are now harder and take longer to accomplish.

On Sunday, he gave a tour of the festival site to a young autistic man who wants to be a stage manager in the live performance industry and would like to see more people with disabilities in the industry. It was part of a program that brought 10 attendees to the site to learn what goes on behind the scenes.

“In the last 10 years I’ve worked in this industry, I can’t think of a time when I went to a meeting with department heads or executives from one of the companies and there was someone another with a visually identifiable disability,” says Whitney. “The only way to change that is to grow the next generation. This is a program that aims for that.

After attending the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2008, as well as other festivals, Whitney reached out to promoters to provide more than the basic legal requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act to make it easier for festival goers. disabled.

He partnered with Los Angeles promoter Goldenvoice in 2011 and 2012 and founded Accessible Festivals while attending law school at the University of California, Berkeley in 2014. His nonprofit organization provides services to disabled pass holders at Coachella since 2016.

Improvements for 2022

There are a few improvements for festival-goers with disabilities this year, such as expanded seating on viewing platforms at each stage. This has been a challenge as the number of festival-goers with disabilities has increased, particularly at parties and headliners.

In 2016, there were 35 patrons with disabilities who wanted to step onto an already full platform on the main stage for Ice Cube’s performance, but Whitney accommodated them all and made room.

“If that means the mates have to give up their seats and get up, so be it,” Whitney said. Coachella Valley Independent in 2016. “We had everyone there, and that was a highlight for me and a personal accomplishment. I got rewarded for that too, so that was great.”

The two main stage platforms now offer around 2,500 square feet of seating, and they didn’t reach capacity during performances by Megan Thee Stallion and Billie Eilish, which were Saturday night’s two biggest performances. . They also scan festival wristbands on each platform to estimate how many guests are using them.

“When we have a weekend and every person (with ADA access) can get on a platform and see the act they want to see, it’s wonderful,” Whitney said. “But Arcade Fire was only announced (in the Mojave tent) last Thursday, and I didn’t anticipate that when I built this rig.”

Another challenge faced by Whitney this year was finding batteries for hearing aids. He had to help two guests look for drums during weekend 1, and none were readily available anywhere at the festival.

Starting this weekend, those with an ADA wristband will be able to scan a QR code at handicapped lots where they will enter an access code from their wristband that will notify a dispatcher to send a golf cart for pick them up and bring them to the door. He expects a few hiccups when the system is introduced, but hopes it will stop disabled pass holders waiting in the sun.

“This is another example of how we can better use technology to better serve the people we’re trying to help,” Whitney said.

For customers with disabilities planning to attend Weekend 2, Whitney’s advice is to read the information provided online and ask questions by emailing [email protected]

It is recommended to “overpack” all other medical supplies and wheelchair users should bring an extra set of removable wheels, he added.

“I always tell people with disabilities that it’s a tough environment,” Whitney said. “It’s a different ride than a lot of able-bodied people might experience. When planning your packaging, think about the unexpected.

Talking about his personal highlights over the weekend, he mentioned Arcade Fire’s set, despite the challenges it brought him from an ADA perspective.

“I decided not to go on the platform because I knew we would be maxed out,” Whitney said. “I’ve seen them (several times) and I’d rather a kid come and get blown away than me catching them for the umpteenth time. It’s Coachella, so surprises are always fun, but they’re also empowering.

Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment for the Desert Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bblueskye.

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