Earlier this month, Ability Fest launched Australia’s first fully inclusive and completely accessible music festival which raised over $200,000 for people living with disabilities. The event’s success only indicates that we need more accessible events to promote inclusiveness and offer people with disabilities positive and memorable experiences.
Hosted by The Dylan Alcott Foundation and Untitled Group, Ability Fest was an inclusive one-day event that aimed to normalize disability by encouraging all patrons to celebrate live music regardless of age, gender, disability or race.
Making its debut in Victoria, Ability Fest was inspired by Dylan Alcott’s passion to allow young people with disabilities access to some of Australia’s best music and live entertainment. After achieving stardom as a Paralympian, motivational speaker and professional wheelchair crowd surfer, Dylan Alcott is quickly becoming an Australian icon and spokesperson for young people with disabilities.
A regular attendee at music festivals, Alcott realized that most events were not accessible for people with disabilities. Working tirelessly with event organisers, he established Ability Fest – the first Australian event to cater for all patrons regardless of their abilities. With onstage AUSLAN translators, accessibility platforms, paths for wheelchairs throughout the venue, accessible bathroom facilities and shuttle bus transport, Ability Fest made sure every patron had a safe, accessible and memorable night.
Dylan Alcott said of the night: “Nobody cared about their race, gender, sexual orientation, and most importantly, their disability. I had so many people with disabilities come up [to me] and it was the first time they’d ever been to a festival with their family and friends, in tears, saying thank you”.
Every dollar of the $200,000 raised at Ability Fest went directly to the Dylan Alcott Foundation which helps young Australians with disabilities gain respect and self-esteem through sport and study.
Events that unite a variety of people for a sole purpose like Ability Fest or the recent Commonwealth Games’ Para-sports Program are undeniably effective in bringing awareness to the large population of people living with disabilities. They also simultaneously emphasise that inclusive events are the exception rather than the norm.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 7 per cent of Australians under 15 years old have some form of disability while 15 per cent of Australians between 15 and 64 years old report having a disability. Many of the 7 million Australians living with disabilities face social and cultural prejudices which can lead to mental health problems, reduced productivity and diminished confidence.
Ability Fest did many things well: it raised charitable funds to continue supporting young people with disabilities, successfully united 5,000 individuals of all walks and celebrated the effervescence of live music, but most importantly, it hosted patrons in a way that eliminated the barriers between ability and disability.
Following the success of Ability Fest, the Gold Coast’s Commonwealth Games Para-sports Program broke inclusion records: the two-week ceremony saw over 300 para-athletes compete and awarded 38 medals across seven sports. These numbers mean that the participation of para-athletes in the world-renowned Games have almost doubled since 2014’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Considering the success of the Gold Coast’s Commonwealth Para-sports Program and Ability Fest, it seems that Australia is breaking barriers and enabling people with disability to participate in activities that many take for granted.
If disability-inclusive events like these become the norm, we can start to tackle the social and cultural prejudices that many Australians living with disabilities face and promote a society that is open to all abilities.
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