Campaigners Prompt Review Of Comedy Festival Access

Two comedy fans and wheelchair users are working with the organisers of Leicester Comedy Festival to improve access, the BBC reports. Alice Evans and Lucy Wood, who host the lABLEd podcast which tackles the issues faced by disabled people, booked tickets for the gig last year, which had no prior warnings about stairs only access.

However, when Alice and Lucy tried to attend the gig with a competition winner from their podcast show, they discovered it was held in a basement, which was only accessible via a flight of stairs.

Ms Wood, who uses a wheelchair, said: “There was no access information to say ‘don’t book here if you are in a wheelchair’ so we didn’t think anything about it. This isn’t a new feeling that we both have – not being able to get into venues – but we are working with the festival to make changes for next year’s event. And they are willing to change which is a good sign.”

The lack of inclusiveness for disabled people was particularly ironic in this case, because the bill featured Rosie Jones, the professional comedian who lives with cerebral palsy. Rosie is known for appearing in TV shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats and The Last Leg, and hospital drama Casualty. She also uses her public platform to challenge ableist attitudes.

Ms Wood, who works for national disability organisation AccessAble, told the BBC that it wasn’t the first time she had missed out on a night out or cultural experience because of lack of disabled access. She is encouraging event organisers to be upfront about access on the booking information page, to help avoid future disappointments.

She adds that if it is not possible to arrange any access for wheelchairs, then more effort could be made to livestream the event to an audience at home. The directors of the Leicester Comedy Festival have already agreed to make improvements for future events.

Geoff Rowe, founding director of the festival, said: “When we booked this comedian, we made sure they weren’t just doing one performance in a venue which some people might find inaccessible. They are doing a number of performances which are in wheelchair accessible venues and as always, we had several discussions about this amongst our team.”

He added: “I’m sorry these two customers are unable to see the performance which is at a venue downstairs, and we have already met with them to speak about their experience.”

Despite some progress in changing attitudes to disability, the government’s recent National Disability Strategy has been heavily criticised, and ruled unlawful by the High Court, the BBC reports. The document was informed by the UK Disability Survey, which was carried out in early 2021. However, campaigners argued that the limited nature of the questions left disabled people unable to express their views effectively.

The government defended the survey, saying that it was an information gathering exercise only, and it will the seek permission to appeal against the High Court ruling.


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