Elinor Gittins

Last month I travelled to Zutphen to meet Gert Rebergen. I was there to interview him about Huntendwarspop, an initiative to make a more inclusive, accessible music festival in The Netherlands. Gert works together with the small, familial festival Huntenpop in Ulft. Gert’s initiative acts as an interruption to this festival; by adding the word dwars to its name, his idea effectively cuts through the typical festival experience. After many years of attending music festivals, Gert grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of people with disabilities at these events. He decided to ask around his network, formed through a life’s work in the care industry. Why are people with disabilities so rarely attending music festivals?

Gert discovered three reasons. First of all, the costs are too high. A lot of people with disabilities do not earn a lot of money. A music festival can then seem like an extortionate experience. The second reason, was a fear of standing out. Gert’s contacts said that they felt like an unusual sight at a music festival. Finally, they were worried that they might not enjoy the music. So the aim of Huntendwarspop was to break down all these barriers, and make a more accessible festival.

Firstly, with the help of funds, they lowered the price of a ticket for someone with a disability. Then they worked to make the festival itself more accessible. They arranged shuttle busses, improved the festival terrain, and gathered a group of stewards that could provide individual help if needed. If more people with disabilities could attend the festival, each of them would be less likely to feel out of place. Finally, Gert spoke to me about the music. According to him, there are all kinds of stereotypes about people with disabilities. Why is this portion of society often associated with different (usually lower) forms of culture? After six years of speaking to visitors at Huntendwarspop, Gert believes that the festival’s music is not a real deterrent. So his initiative is also about changing popular perceptions of disability.

Huntenpop is not the only music festival in The Netherlands that strives to be more accessible. There are more festivals that provide wheelchair stages and accessible toilets. However, in many ways these events still remain largely inaccessible, both physically and psychologically. The romanticised idea of a music festival takes place in a muddy field, in a remote place, with crowds and crowds of people. When it rains, these muddy fields become even harder to traverse with a wheelchair. At a festival, we expect the music to be turned up loud, and we know that acts make use of flashing lights, without prior warning. Not pleasant when you suffer from sensory overload or light sensitivity, but escaping from these conditions can be a slow journey.

What does the work of Huntendwarspop indicate? Living with a disability often means that each excursion has to be planned, but a music festival seems to come with a set of extra resistant barricades, many of which could be removed with a little initiative. It is important to realise that accessibility starts long before visitors enter the gates of a festival. If websites do not include information (in different formats) about disability access and if organisers do not offer the option to buy accessible tickets, then exclusion is already taking place.

Elinor Gittins is doing a research internship at DSiN