Live music, heaving crowds and long lines for drinks — it could be any music festival, but Melbourne’s first Ability Fest is a festival making music accessible for everyone.
The event was created by Paralympic basketball star and tennis world champion Dylan Alcott, who gained international notoriety for crowd-surfing at festivals.
“One of the times I first felt included was at a music festival,” Mr Alcott said.
“No-one cares about your race, your gender, your disability — everyone has a good time.
“But sometimes the access isn’t available to feel included, that’s why we created this baby.”
Top Australian acts, including Flight Facilities, Client Liaison and Kingswood, have donated their time to play at the inaugural Ability Fest, in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.
“We’ve got pathways everywhere for wheelchairs to get around … we’ve got quiet areas for people with sensory disabilities,” Mr Alcott said.
“We’ve got Auslan interpreters signing the whole main stage — we’ve got rappers who rap so fast, so I’ve got no idea how they’re going to do it.”
Ability Fest is the launch party for the Dylan Alcott Foundation, raising money to help young people with disabilities achieve their goals.
About 5,000 tickets were sold for the first Ability Fest and Mr Alcott is confident it will be back next year.
Making festivals accessible
For many in the crowd it was their first time at a festival, and there were at least 30 deaf people attending.
Music lover Ashleigh Jamieson goes to dozens of music gigs and concerts each year, but this was the first festival she felt truly included in.
Ms Jamieson uses a motorised wheelchair and said she has struggled to get around muddy or sandy festivals.
“Something like this has never happened before, an event that’s so friendly for everyone, not just people with disabilities but any age, any ability, anything at all really, it’s catered for everyone,” she said.
“I’m not a tall person, I can’t see over every person in the crowd and trying to get to the front to try and see everything is a mission, but then actually not getting crushed is a whole other issue in itself.”
She said one of the biggest benefits of Ability Fest was disabled toilets that are not overrun by drunk able-bodied people, and the temporary paths that crisscross the venue.
Interpreting the main stage
Among more than 250 volunteers were 20 people with disabilities and a team of Auslan sign language interpreters.
Every song played on the main stage, called the Ability Stage, was translated into sign language.
Anna Seymour, who is deaf, said she loves going to music festivals but had never been able to engage with the songs.
“I can probably feel the beat, I can probably watch the guitarist and the drummer and their body movement and their facial expressions, but I wouldn’t be as engaged,” Ms Seymour said.
“I’ve never had an Auslan interpreter and complete access provided at a music festival before.
“I thought it was really cool.”
Auslan interpreter Susan Emerson learnt full sets of songs to translate for the crowd.
“We did have to ask for the organisation to pass on set lists, so that means all the bands had all of their lyrics,” she said.
“We have had other festivals in the past that maybe one band or one singer has been interpreted before, but to have the whole entire festival interpreted, never before.
“I can’t believe this is the first time this has happened in Australia.”