This year, the Fringe turns 70 and there are more acts than ever performing. Sadly, while the Fringe grows, the city's architecture has left its disabled access stuck in cement.
Or has it? While there are clear difficulties turning a basement venue into a level access space, there are some improvements going on beneath the surface. These improvements are slow and not keeping up with the fast pace of the Fringe's expansion.
Roughly half of venues do not have level access. I am a wheelchair user and miss out on so much good work, and while there are plenty of alternatives it seems to be contrary to the nature of the Fringe to restrict what I can see. One can only have freedom of expression if the audience is not limited.
Disabled access goes far beyond wheelchair access, and this cliche should be debunked. Relaxed performances allow people to enjoy theatre in non-traditional manners and allow people to move about and make noise while enjoying the performance in their own way, allowing their freedom of expression to blossom while everyone is having fun. BSL interpreters can allow the Deaf community to embrace theatre in different ways and captioning can help Deaf and people with hearing impairments get the most out of the show. Touch tours allow those with visual impairments to feel parts of the set and audio description can provide aural experience of what is happening on stage.
Sadly these adjustments are not often seen in Fringe shows. I appreciate the pop-up nature of the Fringe and the fast turnaround between shows but access for those who are disabled should be a much higher priority. Access can also involve good communication skills and not being anxious around disabled patrons. I have the privilege of working with two major Fringe venues and training staff in Disability Equality and how to interact with confidence. This training is very beneficial and important. It is incredibly liberating as someone with a speech impairment to be able to communicate with someone without fear of misunderstanding.
Disabled artists also perform at the Fringe. If you are in Edinburgh on Monday 14th August, you are very welcome to come to the first Accessibility Gala where three disabled comics will perform and raise awareness of the importance of good access. (For more information see https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/accessibility-gala#overview)
Many say art and culture underpin society. It seems therefore wrong to exclude anyone.
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