Part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe thrill is navigating its many shows and people to find hidden gems. However, if you are a visitor with additional needs this can be daunting. Imagine tackling Fleshmarket Close with a cane or deciphering a Princes Street poet via hearing aid.
Fringe Community Engagement and Access Manager Lyndsey McLean said: “The city of Edinburgh is one of the Fringe’s biggest assets, but it also presents one of its biggest challenges; its medieval and Georgian architecture creates an immediate physical barrier, which in many cases cannot be altered. Venues for the Festival Fringe often appear non-traditional theatre spaces, so we work to help venues, performers and audiences improve accessibility.”
Improving venue accessibility can mean anything from installing a wheelchair ramp, to offering autism friendly shows. With such a variety of considerations, Edinburgh Fringe has once again collaborated with specialists at Attitude is Everything to optimise its efforts.
McLean said: “This year we are piloting a Venue Access Award, developed in partnership with Attitude is Everything. This provides venue managers with minimum standard of accessibility guidelines and offers different levels of achievement. This year audiences should start to see venues displaying Venue Access Award certificates.”
The certificates are a natural progression of the projects that Edinburgh Fringe has been undertaking since its founding.
In 2011, Edinburgh Fringe introduced its access bookings team to provide a personal service for disabled audience members. Now the team continues to build its access information database, and has trained customer service staff to provide improved booking services for disabled audience members.
McLean explained: “Audience members can filter their show search by accessibility. This allows you to see which shows are in venues that have level entry, wheelchair space, disabled toilets, and so on.”
She added: “Alternatively, if you find a show you would like to see – either online or in the printed programme – you can look for the access icons next to each entry. If you need more information then you can get in touch with the access bookings team, who will be happy to help.”
The Fringe booking process has also become friendlier with the introduction of free personal assistant tickets, allowing carers or friends of disabled customers to attend shows with them at no added cost.
After making it easier for disabled customers to see its shows, Edinburgh Fringe sought to give them more reason to want to see its shows. To do this the Fringe became an Attitude Champion.
McLean explained: “Being an Attitude Champion means setting goals that range from committing to ensuring that Fringe Society organised events are accessible to everyone, to creating an environment that encourages deaf and disabled people to work and/or perform at the Fringe.”
2017 Fringe shows that focus on disabled issues include include: Tom Skelton: Blind Man’s Bluff – a comedy in which Tom talks about his and many more blind lives; Blank Tiles – a show about life after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis; and Bella Freak: Unwritten – a comedy show on three disabled individuals’ stories. These are just a taste of the many accessible shows that Edinburgh Fringe has to offer, the rest can be found at the Fringe website.
McLean concluded: “The Fringe Society works to make sure that the Fringe is as accessible and inclusive as it can be.”