The Edinburgh Fringe – a truly accessible festival? The Edinburgh Fringe – a truly accessible festival?

The Edinburgh Fringe – a truly accessible festival?

Posted on: by Andy Syson

For many people in the theatre and arts world, August can only mean one thing: Edinburgh.

Every year, the Scottish capital plays host to The Edinburgh Festival, and even bigger Fringe Festival which runs alongside, claiming to the largest arts festival in the world. Established in 1947, the Fringe has been running for over 70 years – priding itself on being an open access – meaning that there is no selection committee, and anyone can participate with any type of performance. With shows spanning across comedy, theatre, dance, circus, music, opera, spoken word, children’s shows, events, exhibitions and more, no wonder over 450,000 visitors flock to Edinburgh every year to get a taste of the vibrant atmosphere and experience the eclectic performances to be found all over the city.

Last year alone there were 53,232 performances recorded of 3,398 individual shows at the Fringe. But how accessible are these to disabled people?

The good news is that since 2015, the Fringe has been looking to make sure the festival is as accessible as possible, so that ‘anyone really can take part in the Fringe.’  They have created a number of services and initiatives that support this – such as the ‘Access tickets service’ – which provides specialised Box Office staff to handle access enquiries and ticket bookings. Detailed information on their website also lists accessible performances, ticket collection points, travel information, changing places and other useful links.

But what about people for whom getting to or understanding this information online is a challenge? Although the website does feature a text resize button, it looks like there are no other features to support disabled users to access the website itself.  Features from the Recite Me toolbar could well come in handy here, such as the change language button – with so many overseas visitors to the festival looking for information online. As well as the read aloud features, colour changing palette etc. With so many disabilities being ‘unseen’ in this way, it’s often this digital first port of call which prevents disabled people from accessing arts events in the first place. It is great to offer specialist box office staff, for example, but if a disabled person can’t find out the telephone number, or where to go because the text on the site is unreadable for them, they are still unable to book.

With such a clear commitment to accessibility and such a huge range of performance on offer, we’d love to see the Fringe taking this on board with more accessible features on their website – so the festival can truly live up to its open access status.

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