Short answer: yes. Not only that. It’s also the first of its kind Down Under.
So there’s no need for me to write an entire post about it, right? But the reasons behind its conception are definitely worth shining a light on.
Because you can’t talk about Ability Fest without mentioning the festival’s founder.
Before I dive into the deets, let’s chat food for a second.
Where does pizza taste the most delish and authentic? In Italy, yeah. But not everybody has a chance to travel to Europe. So the next closest thing would be a pizza from a place run by an Italian expat or – even better – an Italian chef.
And why is that? Because only Italians know what pizza is supposed to taste, feel, smell and look like. It’s something they grow up around making and eating. So if somebody tries to tell them that prawns and/or peas belong on it, they roll their eyes in disbelief. They actually do know better in this case. Are you still with me?
The same applies to pretty much everything else in the world.
It shouldn’t be a surprise then that a truly accessible event would be best organised by someone who knows something about living with a disability first-hand. And, in our story, this person is Dylan Alcott.
You might have heard about Dylan Alcott as a sportsman. Amongst the many competitions he’s won, I’d highlight being the Aus Open quad singles champion every year since 2015. But he also won Gold for Australia at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics with the men’s wheelchair basketball at the age of only 17.
The beloved Aussie is also an entrepreneur, philanthropist and motivational speaker. In 2009, he was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia which is granted for achievements or meritorious service. That’s where the OAM next to his name in all official bios comes from.
Aside from all that, Dylan is a massive music fan. You might have heard him on triple j or seen him hosting ABC’s live music show, The Set.
Yet, all those achievements are not enough. So he decided to organise an accessible music event as well. Why? Because “a festival was the first thing I went to where I felt normal and truly accepted”. And he wanted other young people with disabilities to feel the same way.
The inaugural Ability Fest took place in April 2018 in Melbourne’s suburb of Coburg. There was another one a year later, but Covid forced an unexpected break in 2020. Luckily, the festival is happening again in just a few days as one of the first major live events to return to Victoria.
Judging by the photos from the previous editions, it is surely going to be a blast!
Now, let’s talk about the accessibility aspect.
Music festivals are probably the best thing ever invented. But they’re not necessarily the best place for people whose mobility or communication ability are limited or “atypical”.
Those of us living without a physical or mental disability rarely think of having to move around in the mud to buy a bevvy, or not finding a quiet spot to calm down as an obstacle to attending a gig. Additionally, not everyone realises that visually impaired or hard of hearing people might want to enjoy a music festival all the same.
For many years, festival grounds were neither safe nor suitable for disabled people. Thankfully, big music events, festival promoters and touring companies have acknowledged the push for more diversity and inclusion in all aspects of life. They’ve started introducing new features and policies to adjust to the needs of audiences with disabilities.
It’s mostly thanks to the people who have been very vocal about wanting to live a normal life with a disability, like Dylan Alcott.
He has even started a collaboration with major game changers in Australia “to make live music more accessible and inclusive for all”. His organisation Get Skilled Access, provided training on accessibility for Live Nation staff. And Ticketmaster, partially inspired by his activism, is apparently developing “new technology to give fans with accessible needs easier access and more choice when purchasing tickets”.
But back to Ability Fest. What makes it so special then?
For starters, it welcomes people with disabilities because it was created WITH them in mind. It “aims to use music as an inclusive platform to normalise disability“. Nobody will explain it better than Dylan himself:
To be fair and honest, despite all the efforts to be inclusive, the event has faced some criticism. It has been pointed out that strobe lighting makes people with migraine and epilepsy feel unwelcome at Ability Fest. I guess this is the next thing the organisers might want to look at. And I’m sure they’ll treat this matter seriously.
But let’s summarise all the accessible features the event does offer: special parking and drop-off and pick-up zones, elevated viewing platforms, ramps and hardened pathways, guide dog relief and water bowls, a dedicated sensory area and quiet zones, companion ticketing, accessible toilets and highly-trained volunteers.
Let’s not forget the Auslan (= the sign language of the deaf community in Australia) interpreters. And they’re known for stealing the show.
There’s another aspect of the festival that makes it one of a kind – its noble character.
In the past, almost half a million dollars was raised for the Dylan Alcott Foundation. This charitable organisation “so far [has] given kids right across Australia wheelchairs to go to the Paralympics, put young adults through University and even funded their own startups to help them achieve their dreams”. The proceeds from this year’s event will also aid the foundation’s work.
But does it all mean that only people with disabilities can attend the festival?
Of course not. It’s open to everyone, provided that you’re over 18, have a valid ticket and are in Melbourne on 27 November. Plus, you will definitely not want to miss it if you see the 2021 line-up.
Covid hasn’t made it easy on the organisers, though. With the Melbourne lockdowns, up until last month, they were still unsure whether the event would go ahead. Two acts, Cub Sport and Sumner, have also pulled out because in their respective territories Victoria is still considered a hot spot. Confidence Man and KYE have jumped onboard instead. So it is gearing up to be an awesome party!
To summarise, let’s get back to the original question. Not without some challenges, but yes – Ability Fest IS the most accessible music festival in Australia right now. And Dylan Alcott’s activism is to blame 🙂
A Dylan Alcott Foundation & Untitled Group cooperation
Presented by triple j
Saturday, 27th November
12:00 PM – 11:00 PM AEDT
3 Boathouse Drive
Melbourne, VIC 3004
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