Access at Edinburgh International Festival ‘an absolute disgrace’


Disabled artists have labelled access at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) “an absolute disgrace”.

Ju Gosling, aka ju90, who was appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with her exhibition Abnormal, said the International Festival had only arranged two BSL-interpreted performances, two audio-described performances and two touch tours.

The EIF programme included 120 dance, visual arts, classical music, opera and theatre events, with a total of 170 performances.

Gosling believes the EIF, which receives nearly £4.8 million public funding, is breaching its legal duty to promote equality under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Gosling, a wheelchair-user, was also unable to access Lee Mingwei’s Letter Writing Project, organised by the EIF at the city’s Dean Gallery, because of steps leading to the exhibit.

Following her complaint, the gallery investigated and concluded there was not enough room for a temporary ramp, a claim she strongly disputes.

Gosling is also concerned that arts funding cuts led to the biennial Degenerate disability arts festival being scrapped from this year’s Fringe, which runs alongside the EIF.

She said strong links were expected between the festivals and the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and added: “I don’t think any of this bodes well for 2012.”

Adrienne Sinclair Chalmers, a Scottish disabled artist, raised the issue of access with the EIF in her role as a vice convener of the Scottish parliament’s culture and media group last year.

She agrees with Gosling’s criticism of access and said it was time for improvements and “creative solutions”, with 2012 only three years away.

Another disabled artist, Penny Pepper, was told she would have to perform from the floor at a Fringe “open mic” session, before a ramp eventually appeared. She also faced problems with access information at another venue.

Meanwhile, RNID volunteers found none of 14 Fringe box offices – including the main Fringe box office – had induction loops for hearing-aid users, while only a fifth of 110 Fringe venues they surveyed had loops.

An EIF spokeswoman said they take access issues “very seriously” but “acknowledge we can always do better”.

She said many productions arrive in the city shortly before opening, leaving too little time to arrange audio description or BSL-interpretation, a claim strongly disputed by Gosling.

The spokeswoman said it was “unfortunate” the Ling Mingwei exhibit was “not as accessible as we would want”.

A Fringe spokesman said its 250 venues were run independently and so progress on access was “not as fast as we would necessarily want it to be”, but they would examine the RNID report and discuss access with venues.

3 September 2009