Perspectives

Brian Kellett at the Nelsonville Music Festival (Joan Butcher/WOUB)
Brian Kellett at the Nelsonville Music Festival (Joan Butcher/WOUB)

When it Comes to Accessibility, NMF is on a Roll


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Typically when I purchase a ticket for an event, I spend little time researching or worrying about whether the location will be accessible. I have been using a wheelchair for over 12 years (at 17 I broke my back at level T4 from a mountain bike accident) and I’ve learned to go with the flow and to ask for help when the terrain is too steep.

I have wanted to attend the Nelsonville Music Festival for several years but, assuming it might be too difficult to get around, never invested the time and energy to go to the four-day event.

This year, when my girlfriend suggested that we go, I decided it was worth a shot. The kicker was that she also mentioned that I should make sure and have my knobby, off-road tires ready. On my normal chair, the tires are skinny and solid rubber, so they have very little traction in wet conditions or in gravel.

David McNelly and daughter Georganna
David McNelly and his daughter Georganna enjoy some music near the NMF Gladden House and No-Fi Cabin. (Joan Butcher/WOUB)

To complicate things, the weather forecast called for a 60% chance of rain, so I was confident she was right about needing to bring the special tires. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and wasn’t able to get the wheels together to fit my current chair, so I left the knobby tires at home and accepted that I would have to deal with four days of inaccessible surfaces.

When we arrived Thursday night, we set up our tent and headed in to see Trampled by Turtles. The walk from Mudville to the stage area was fully paved and flat. Totally easy for anyone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility device to navigate.

Upon entering and heading to the Main Stage, we started to claim a spot in the main section directly in front of the stage, but soon realized that there was a large area designated for handicap seating. There was no attendant to keep an eye on this section (i.e. to keep from being taken over by able-bodied audience members), but to my surprise, there were few people in the area and it seemed to be respected by the other attendees.

Handicap area at NMF Main Stage (Joan Butcher/WOUB)
The Main Stage view from the accessibility area was good, plus the section was mostly shaded. (Joan Butcher/WOUB)

From the handicap section, the view was very good and the area was mostly shaded during the day. We felt that the organizers did a nice job considering those who would need to sit down during the Main Stage events. However, on the second evening during The Flaming Lips, the handicap section was packed with people who clearly were not with a disabled friend or family member. I could hardly see the stage when more people crammed into the area. I’ll admit that I wasn’t bothered enough to ask these people to sit down or leave, but the experience made me realize that they needed an attendant during the bigger acts.

Nevertheless, the problem was resolved for the St. Vincent set on Saturday (perhaps someone else reported the misuse) with an attendant limiting people coming into the area. I was impressed that the issue was taken care of so quickly.

The other stages had equally accessible viewing areas, even though they didn’t have designated handicap sections. The Porch Stage is open and easily viewed from a variety of locations, including a small hill to the right of the stage where it was comfortable to sit at a higher level, which was required to see over standing audience members.

The No-Fi Cabin isn’t accessible by wheelchair users. By design, the space is tiny and cramped. Because it’s a restored log cabin, it’s not conducive to being renovated to be a more accessible venue. However, the front porch of the cabin could benefit from having a ramp installed. For some reason, several of the other cabins near the No-Fi Cabin did have ramps along with stairs.

I’m happy to report that the handicap restrooms were clean, never had lines, and seemed to be plenty wide enough for even a large power wheelchair to be maneuvered inside.

Handicap restroom at NMF 2015
The accessible restrooms at NMF were clean and easy to maneuver, according to Brian Kellett. (Joan Butcher/WOUB)

Overall, the entire festival area was easy to navigate using a manual wheelchair. Since the organizers used a shallow mulch covering for pathways instead of gravel, it made getting around much easier than I expected. As for other accommodations, I did notice that the Main Stage had interpreters for the hard of hearing.

All in all, if you’re unsure whether or not to attend the Nelsonville Music Festival due to accessibility issues, I can highly recommend it as an accessible event.

Brian Kellett is an art teacher at the Columbus Academy in Columbus, Ohio. The Journey ~ Embracing Inclusion promotes dialogue on issues of disabilities and inclusion. The blog is a production of WOUB and Ohio University’s Presidential Advisory Council on Disability and Accessibility Planning. To read other entries, visit this link.