Adjusting to the Special Needs and Challenges of Today

Submitted by Peter Åstedt

I have attended many showcase festivals over the past half year. What strikes me is how organized most of them are, but how lost they are in some fields including people. I have been looking for a while now at how many of how them are accessible for handicapped and special needs and to be honest it’s sad to see the lack of support and awareness in this area.  

Almost none of them have handicapped speakers, but worse is that they don’t have handicap-friendly venues or facilities. At the same, they almost compete to have small stickers to have on your badge if you are he, she, or them it’s totally ignored that there is around 26% of people that is handicapped or challenged, or if there are people that have special needs. Or that around 11% actually are in wheelchairs, something you very rarely see at festivals. In fact, in Sweden, a person in a wheelchair was thrown out from a festival because he wanted to get further ahead to see the show since people were standing in front of him.

I am handicapped myself so I experience these challenges on a regular basis. And in many countries, there are laws and rules that should be followed but seldom are. My handicap is not seen, I’m part of a kind of big mass that you can’t tell is classified as handicapped. If you meet me, you won’t notice,and if my condition is worse at times, then I walk with crutches. I usually avoid that since it will take ages to explain what is wrong with me and why I use a cane or crutches. My handicap makes my legs hurt and makes it hard to walk up and down stairs or stand for a longer time. I get by with a barrage of painkillers that take the edge of the pain away, but not totally. The only way to see my handicap is that I walk kind of slowly and with a severe limp. And that I often sit in the corners of the room.

The handicap is making me excluded. On one of the showcases, I just visited they had a big opening ceremony. It was a couple of blocks away from the main convention. Sure, I can take an Uber or Taxi, but just three blocks feels a bit stupid. So, I tried to walk, and when I got there it had already started since I had to walk kind of slow. 

Of course, the ceremony was held on the second floor. Since it was a concert hall, I understood there was an elevator somewhere. The staff didn’t really know if there was one. When I found it, you needed a special key to get up so in the end I took the stairs and just dealt with the pain. 

I made it up to the massive hall. They held speeches and played songs. Just after the first five minutes, my legs couldn’t take it anymore after my walking. Of course, it was planned as a meet and mingle, with plenty of round tables to stand around, and no chairs. I went around the premises to see if there was a chair to just sit down on. A staff member managed to find a bench in another room. So, I sat there alone in the other room listening to speeches on how we should include people and people’s differences should be seen. Rather ironic.

After the mingling, we headed out to see bands. Most gig places were close to each other so I was happy about that, with my slow tempo I could see two bands each hour. The problem was the gig places. After going from the mingle to the first gig place my legs were hurting like hell. I needed to sit down. The gig place had some tables and bar stools in the back. Unfortunately, they were all taken. I managed to get a plastic chair from the staff to be put out right beside the entrance door so could I could see and hear a couple of songs sitting outside the venue. 

Then I managed to get over to the second gig place. The same problem, just a standing audience. No chairs at all. There were seated tables but only if you were eating. There were some chairs on the side of the stage, probably for artists like a backstage area. I didn’t give a damn and sat there and saw the show from the backstage area. 

The rest of the festival was around the same. The rest of the gig places all had steep stairs both up and down with no elevators. Several had chairs though since they were bars. But all the free chairs were in the back quite far away from the stage and most of the time they were taken. I cannot occupy a seat either since I usually must go to the next gig place after each show since in my line of work I need to see as much as possible. Some also had no chairs at all; you had to stand for the whole gig, which is impossible for me. Like at other festivals, I have heard many concerts from staircases, back rooms even the floor where I found I could just sit down.

But I’m lucky, I can walk, and several of my colleagues are in wheelchairs or have a severe handicap they wouldn’t stand a chance to have seen the concerts I saw or listened to at other festivals.

I know several handicapped people in the business that have the same problems with these challenges. It’s never addressed. We are seldom picked to be on panels. To be honest, I have visited over ten festivals in the past half year, none had handicapped speakers. What is even worse there were several handicapped industry people on the ground so there was a chance. We probably need to address this more, including the question, do you need assistance? Can we reserve seats for handicapped people on public transportation as they have in other countries like Canada?

There is a lot to be done, I will try my best to make it happen on my own festival which is not perfect at all, but hopefully, we can start to make it better somewhere. We need to adjust to the special needs and challenges of today. 

Editor’s Note: Peter Åstedt has been working in the music industry for over 35 years. He has started record labels, distribution systems, and publishing companies. Peter also runs several major showcase festivals and is an advisor for INES and co-founder of MusicHelp/Discover Sensation. He has worked with the Top Ten most streamed songs and had music on both the Olympics and Super Bowl. Peter has currently taken up the seat of Station Manager of Cashbox Radio, working with MD, PD and station owner, Sandy Graham. In 2021, he worked as the European Consultant for Heal the Earth – An Earth Day Celebration. His latest venture is a new Showcase Festival in Sweden, Future Echoes Peter is a Managing Partner and Editor of the newly launched Record World International.