Festival season has started – but are the festivals accessible for wheelchair users? We are taking a closer look at five big Swiss music festivals
- 6 minutes to read
- 02 July 2023
- Sima Pöschel
The days are long and warm again and the music festival season has started. Summer, sun, good music and many people who are enjoying the music together. I am a big fan of music festivals. For me they are a special place of joy and freedom because most people there are kind and open and simply want to have a good time while enjoying good music.
However, going to a festival often does not only mean enjoying music but also camping with all its uncomfortable sides. Nevertheless, the festivals want to be accessible for everyone and consider themselves “accessible” or “wheelchair-friendly” in some way or other. But there are huge differences – and these are what I want to explore in this blog post: What’s offered by which festival? This will help you decide which festival might be worth considering for you.
We are taking a look at the following five festivals – sorted by date:
OpenAir St. Gallen
- June 29 to July 2, 2023
- Approx. 25,000 visitors per day
- Mixed music genres
- Top acts 2023: Kraftklub, Lewis Capaldi, Macklemore
- Info about accessibility: website (in German only, see letter R)
The OpenAir St. Gallen has a long-standing tradition and attracts many music lovers with its diverse program. Wheelchair users are not overlooked; however, they are literally left standing in the rain.
What does it offer? Visitors holding an IV-ID are allowed to bring one accompanying person free of charge; this needs to be registered through the website. There are Eurokey washrooms, wheelchair platforms, an easily reachable “wheelchair campsite”, and a price-reduced taxi service.
What’s missing? Especially if the weather is bad, accessibility is not guaranteed. On the German website it says: “Please note that OpenAir St. Gallen takes place on an open terrain. Depending on the weather, maneuvering a wheelchair may become difficult. We are doing our best to make and keep as many trails as possible wheelchair accessible.” In addition, the VIP area is not wheelchair accessible.
- July 6 to 8, 2023
- approx. 60,000 visitors per day
- mostly hip hop
- Top act 2023: Kendrick Lamar, Stormzy, Travis Scott
- Info about accessibility: website (under “Visitors with disabilities”) as well as on this fact sheet
The Openair Frauenfeld near Winterthur is impressive due to its manyfold line-up and surprise guests. Though, also there you would hope for decent weather being a wheelchair user.
What does it offer? Also this festival offers free access to an accompanying person; the registration can be done via this email address. There are accessible washrooms, a wheelchair platform and a separate camping area for wheelchair users. In addition, wheelchair users have access to the VIP areas. The organizers advertise that they are able to accommodate also other disabilities and needs upon inquiries to this email address.
What’s missing? The festival terrain is “generally” wheelchair accessible according to the website. However, same as the OpenAir St. Gallen, there is a warning that it can become difficult by wheelchair in bad weather. “Direct access” to certain stages is only possible via the meadow.
- July 12 to 16, 2023
- approx. 44,000 visitors in total
- mixed music genres
- Top acts 2023: Apache 207, Deichkind, Die Toten Hosen
- Information about accessibility: website (enter “wheelchair” in the search field on top of the page) as well as this site plan
The festival takes place on Berne’s local mountain called “the Gurten”. Also due to its collaboration with the Cerebral Foundation, they are a role model when considering wheelchair users.
What does it offer? Accessible taxis may drop off wheelchair users at the lower station of the Gurten Funicular. The wheelchair accessible funicular railway leads directly to the festival. On the grounds there are two Eurokey washrooms and accessible trails lead to three wheelchair platforms. Electric wheelchairs can be charged free of charge and a mobile workshop offers smaller repairs for wheelchairs. The on-call emergency service of the workshop is supposed to help avoid getting stuck with the wheelchair.
Another highlight is the “Gurtä-Rollstuhl”. It is adapted to this specific environment and masters various types of terrain and barriers. It can be booked directly at the festival grounds.
Persons with impairments who are not wheelchair users can contact the organizer via this email address.
What’s missing? In contrast to other festivals there is no free access for escorts. Instead, wheelchair users get a 20 % discount on the ticket price; booking can be done through this email address.
- July 18 to 23, 2023
- approx. 300,000 visitors in total
- mixed music genres as well as circus and street entertainment
- Top acts 2023: Martin Garrix, Placebo, Rosalía
- Information about accessibility: website
The Paléo Festival near Nyon at Lake Geneva offers a wide range of international and national musicians, newcomers and insider bands – and also a lot of French speaking music. Accessibility is of great importance.
What does it offer? An accompanying person can attend free of charge. Transport Handicap Vaud offers a transportation service suitable for persons with disabilities at reduced costs. Two paved trails lead across the entire festival grounds. Platforms for persons with disabilities are located across of each stage. The locations of the Eurokey washrooms are listed in detail on the website.
Furthermore the Paléo Festival offers persons with disabilities and their escorts a “place to relax”. There they can rest away from the crowds, eat something or receive treatment. According to the website there is “specialised equipment” and “professional care” available.
What’s missing? The disabled parking lot is not paved but “very close” to the main entrance.
- August 22 to 26, 2023
- approx. 25,000 visitors per day
- mixed music genres
- Top acts 2023: Calvin Harris, Robbie Williams, The Killers
- Information on accessibility: website (under “General information" and then “Wheelchair user”)
The relatively new festival takes place near Zurich Airport. When it comes to accessibility, there is room for improvement.
What does it offer? A major plus is the accessibility by public transport. The lines are mainly used by modern trams that are easily accessible by wheelchair. The area has wheelchair accessible, specifically marked washrooms. For the main stage there is a platform for wheelchair users and their escorts.
What’s missing? Similar to the festivals in St. Gallen and Frauenfeld, they don’t promise much with respect to condition and accessibility of the trails: We “try to make as many trails as possible suitable for wheelchairs”, which may mean everything or nothing. Furthermore there are no free tickets for escorts.
According to the law, people with disabilities must be able to participate autonomously and without social barriers in all areas of life. This is a requirement also for private providers of public services such as festivals or open-air concerts with their temporary facilities. However, people often experience that this is not taken too seriously. Unsafe ramps, hardly accessible toilets “suitable for persons with disabilities” as well as inaccessible side stages, shops or bars are more often the rule than the exception.
It looks like all five festival organizers are dealing with the topic accessibility, however, putting it into practice is a whole different story for at least three of the festivals. I am aware that especially festivals on an open terrain can be quite challenging. Though, in my view, the organizers are making it a little too easy for themselves when they say that the terrain is wheelchair accessible as long as the weather is nice – instead of coming up with a solution for rainy weather. After all people have bought a ticket and cannot simply return it if the weather is bad.
Also, more and more detailed information for people with disabilities would be desirable. How many people fit on the wheelchair platforms? Are there enough washrooms suitable for wheelchair users and can they be reached quickly and easily? Can wheelchair users also access secondary stages that don’t have a wheelchair platform?
I have tried to get in contact with the organizers of the festivals to answer these questions. Unfortunately I have mostly received the same unsatisfying information that can be found on the websites. I would therefore be very interested to know:
What kind of experiences have you had with music festivals?