Edinburgh festival pledges to improve access


Organisers have admitted that access at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) was not good enough, and have ordered a major review.

The decision came after disabled artists labelled access at the festival “an absolute disgrace”.

Ju Gosling, aka ju90, had complained that the International Festival – which receives £4.8 million public funding – 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 had suggested the festival was breaching its legal duty to promote equality under the Disability Discrimination Act.

She also complained that she could not access Lee Mingwei’s Letter Writing Project, organised by EIF at the city’s Dean Gallery.

Adrienne Sinclair Chalmers, a disabled Scottish activist, has also written to the festival organisers to complain about access.

In an email to Chalmers, Jackie Westbrook, the festival’s marketing and communications director, told her: “It is clear to us that we need to improve how we operate.”

Westbrook said the festival would now carry out an access audit, consult with audiences and service-providers, study good practice, and then produce an action plan for next year’s festival.

Chalmers, who is a vice convener of the Scottish parliament’s culture and media group but was acting in a personal capacity, said: “I welcome wholeheartedly EIF’s acceptance that they have not met expectations in regard to access and their commitment to change.

“It is good to see that they are planning to address this strategically and not just fouter about [muck about]for the sake of appearances.

“The biggest piece of advice I could give them would be to prioritise what people say themselves about their access needs, not just look at what has been provided elsewhere.”

Gosling added: “Obviously I welcome the change in attitude of the EIF, and look forward to discussing this personally with Jonathan Mills [the festival director]at a later date.

“Actions speak louder than words, though, and I will be working together with disabled people in Scotland to ensure that action is exactly what we get.”

No-one from EIF was available to comment.

17 September 2009