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Concert Goers Criticize Bluesfest’s Accessibility Policy

Paula McCooey, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: July 20, 2016

Amy Gibson, AKA DJ Amy Volume, tried to see a show at Bluesfest last week. She has rheumatoid arthritis and because of the construction had to walk a long distance with her husband to get to the gate because the Uber cab could not get close. A festival worker saw she was limping and suggested they go to the accessibility zone. When they got there she was asked for proof of her disability even though that is not required in the festivals accessibility policy. She does use an accessible parking permit ,but it was at her home. It caused her a lot of frustration. She and her husband ended up sitting on the lawn instead.

While this year’s Bluesfest was a hit for many, a disconnect between the festival’s accessibility policy and the experience for those with mobility issues has left some concert goers discouraged.

Ottawa DJ Amy “Volume” Gibson and her husband, Ryan Gibson, were attending the Noel Gallagher concert on July 8 when they tried to access the closest point of entry. Amy Gibson has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since she was a toddler. Her disability means that standing is difficult and walking long distances can cause severe joint pain.

They took a cab to the event, but because of this year’s construction barriers they had to be dropped off several blocks from the gate. When a festival worker saw her limping along with a chair in hand, she suggested they enter the accessible zone, closer than the main entrance.

However when they tried to get in, Gibson was asked to provide proof of her disability, such as a handicapped parking permit, doctor’s note, or, after a heated discussion, a call to someone she knows to corroborate her story and that of her husband.

“None of these items are listed under the festival’s accessibility policy so there is no way for festival goers to know,” said Gibson. “It’s disheartening to have people not give you a break, especially with the accessibility team. That’s their job. So I was just upset because I would have brought my (accessible) parking permit if that would have (helped).”

While the Gibsons were ultimately offered bracelets to the accessible zone after another employee overheard the discussion at the gate, they declined and found a spot to sit on the grass.

“I had a great time at the concert. I enjoyed the show, but what a low point and a rough start. I wanted to speak out so this doesn’t happen to other people,” Gibson said.

She vented about her experience on social media and through her blog and also lodged a formal complaint with the festival, imploring it to revise its policy to avoid failing those with “invisible” disabilities. She didn’t receive a response and followed up with another email on July 13. An hour later, Mike Rouleau, the director of operations for the festival, sent a response.

“We do take the notes you made below seriously and will try to address them if possible,” wrote Rouleau. “I have starred and noted your corrections to our policy and will be bringing that up with our team. I will share your comments with the appropriate teams for their knowledge.”

The current Bluesfest accessibility policy states: “The Ottawa Bluesfest is committed to providing accessible customer service to people with disabilities; in a manner that respects their dignity, independence, integration and that is equitable in relation to the broader public.”

Another festivalgoer, Cora Snow, said she and her boyfriend, who has mobility issues, were not given proper access to the grounds because she said the wheelchair platform was cut down to less than half its size for the sold-out Red Hot Chili Peppers concert on July 15.

After several attempts to get comment, Postmedia spoke to the festival’s executive director Mark Monahan on Tuesday morning. Monahan said he was unavailable to comment and directed Postmedia to contact the festival’s director of communications. The director of communications did not respond to requests for comment.

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