I love music, I like all different styles from Carrie Underwood to Beyonce! For a long time one of my dreams was to go to a music festival, but it felt impossible. I have a learning disability and that means that sometimes it feels very hard to go on a night out and enjoy music.
When I am at a gig or a club sometimes people make fun of me, they laugh at me when I am dancing or they call me names and stare. I get anxious about this happening. I've been bullied before, and I don't want it to happen to me again. I feared this would be even worse at a festival.
Then in 2015 Mencap asked me if I wanted to work at a festival that wants to be as accessible as they can, Latitude. They were working with Attitude Is Everything and making sure there was an accessible campsite. They wanted me to work on the campsite and help to raise awareness of disabled gig goers- I was a little worried about being bullied but I said yes immediately!
I was really excited when I arrived at Henham Park for Latitude, my first music festival! I had worked out which acts I wanted to see and the atmosphere felt great. But within a few hours of being there a man called me the R word.
I was really upset, it is a horrible word for people with a learning disability and it is really hard to be called that. He called me it again every time he saw me. I tried to ignore it but it really got to me and it was hard to get it out of my head. I had a good time but I had my guard up for the rest of the festival.
Since going to Latitude I have tried not to let that experience of bullying get to me. I loved being at a festival and have got my courage back to go to Country 2 Country, a huge country music festival at the o2 arena in London and last year I went to Glastonbury- though I fell in the mud and hurt myself so I had to leave earlier than expected! Still, I am already planning to go back to Latitude and to try and make it through all of Glastonbury. But I know that I will always feel nervous and anxious about being bullied.
I'm not alone. Last month Mencap said that 1 in 4 people with a learning disability have been bullied at gigs and clubs, and 1 in 3 are afraid of the staff. It doesn't surprise me that a lot of young people with a learning disability find it hard to get out.
Once you hit 20 it is a lot harder for you to go on a night out when you have a learning disability. Some youth clubs for people with a learning disability are only up to a certain age, so what happens after that? People just end up sitting at home and do nothing.
You want to go out and do the same things as anyone else your age, but sometimes it just doesn't feel safe. There are a few club nights for people with a learning disability, but not many. There is one every other month near me. I go with my sisters and we have a lot of fun. They play mainly dance music and you're not worried what people think of you because you're in a safe environment and we're all in the same boat. But the club night only happens every other month, so if I can't go to regular clubs and gigs then I don't get many nights out.
If places were accessible I could go out to gigs, clubs and music festivals a lot more. It just takes a few changes. If staff are trained and know what a learning disability is then people will be less afraid of them and they can help make sure you are ok and stop it if there is any bullying. People can also join things like Mencap's Sidekick scheme, which pairs people with people who have a learning disability in their local area who have the same interests, that way they can do they things they love together without being worried about being alone and made fun of.
I love music, and I want to see more of it this year. I hope that in 2017 the music community and venues start to work together to make sure that things are more accessible and that music is something everyone can enjoy together.