May 23, 2024

The 2-weekend, six-day Coachella Valley Music and Arts Competition, in Indio, California, is among the most well-known and well-attended annual music occasions within the U.S. With over 100,000 attendees packed right into a sprawling venue and 100-degree desert temperatures, it’s additionally a possible nightmare for accessibility.

Austin Whitney, the pageant’s ADA compliance coordinator, is chargeable for guaranteeing that nightmare by no means materializes. Because the president and founding father of Ten Fifty Leisure, the main supplier of accessibility and visitor providers for giant occasions, Whitney works behind the scenes to make sure that different disabled individuals can get pleasure from no matter reveals they select to attend.

dog sitting next to man in wheelchair on concert grounds with the stage in the background
Austin Whitney has made many occasions extra accessible, together with Quicker Horses Nation Music Competition and Coachella.

For Coachella, which means organizing a fleet of accessible golf carts for shuttling attendees; overseeing ADA viewing areas; coordinating accessibility service hubs across the venue; offering signal language, captioning and digital accessibility providers; making certain there are meals choices for individuals with allergic reactions; and offering individuals who expertise overstimulation a spot to decompress. That’s to not point out numerous different smaller and extra mundane tasks.

Offering a superb accessible expertise is private for Whitney. He attended his first Coachella in 2008, solely 9 months after sustaining a T12-L1 harm in a automotive crash. Whitney was nonetheless getting used to life in a chair, with bouts of despair and doubts about what he might do, when a school pal invited him to go. He virtually stated no. “I imagined Woodstock,” he says. “I imagined these enormous crowds, and I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna be capable to see the primary stage. I’m not going to have the ability to use the restroom. No, that’s not for me.’”

However with nothing to do throughout spring break, and feeling a have to raise his personal spirits, Whitney answered sure. He and his pal navigated the crowds and a great quantity of inaccessibility — and had an absolute blast. He noticed a few of his favourite artists, made new buddies, bought energized by the crowds, and simply felt free. “If I look again on that point,” he says, “the primary 12 months after my automotive accident, that was form of the breakthrough second of that point interval, the place it’s like, ‘OK, issues would possibly go on. I would be capable to be completely satisfied once more.’”

An Training in Incapacity

That optimistic expertise performed a key function in beginning Whitney on a profession path that led him to founding Ten Fifty Leisure. Within the spring after attending Coachella, he transferred to the College of California, Berkeley. He at all times thought-about the hillside campus his dream faculty due to its observe document for growing leaders. He quickly found it was additionally the birthplace of the incapacity rights motion and residential to an lively incapacity group.

A category on the historical past of the incapacity rights motion helped Whitney perceive how activists make the world a extra accessible place. “If I’d been born 40 years earlier, my life could be completely completely different,” he says. “Individuals had been experiencing widespread inaccessibility again then, and so they stated, ‘We demand change.’ That caught with me.”

man in wheelchair at an outdoor concert with a dog on his right and woman with green hair standing next to him on his left
Austin and pal at Coachella.

His ardour for dwell music grew as he attended festivals whereas an undergrad, however the extra he attended, the extra he noticed how little thought was given to accessibility. “I had reveals the place individuals needed to put me on their backs and carry me down stairs,” he says. “I had reveals the place I couldn’t see a stage and couldn’t use the restroom.”

In his senior 12 months, he bought an internship with one of many Bay Space’s main occasion promoters. Being behind the scenes gave him a way of what was wanted to considerably enhance accessibility. “Once I first bought began [in the entertainment industry] in 2011, I stated, ‘OK, I need to spend a while engaged on this drawback as a result of everybody ought to be capable to get pleasure from these items,’” he says.

To develop the talents to assist understand his aim, Whitney enrolled in regulation faculty at UC Berkeley in 2012. The next 12 months, he bought an opportunity to design his first ADA compliance operation at a Southern California pageant referred to as Lightning in a Bottle. He informed the producers, “I feel I can use my expertise, and should you give me a tiny sum of money and a bunch of volunteer passes to present my buddies, I could make your occasion extra accessible.” The producers agreed, and the present was successful, with noticeably improved accessibility.

Whitney didn’t comprehend it, however his identify was making the rounds within the pageant {industry}. Inside a couple of months, he bought a name from an occasion manufacturing firm doing a number of reveals a 12 months, and he labored with them to assist make their occasions extra accessible. The belief he might work on a number of festivals on the similar time motivated him to take the following step.

Throughout the summer season of his second 12 months in regulation faculty, Whitney approached his faculty roommate, Oren Shani, with the thought of beginning Ten Fifty Leisure. Named after their Berkeley, California, handle quantity, the mission started as a nonprofit, however rapidly cut up into the for-profit Ten Fifty Leisure, offering accessibility providers to occasion producers, and the nonprofit Accessible Festivals, specializing in getting individuals with disabilities to festivals.An Business Chief

Final 12 months, Ten Fifty Leisure supplied accessibility providers to 99 dwell occasions, together with 70 of the 100 highest-grossing dwell music festivals within the nation. These occasions occurred in 22 states, and Ten Fifty is branching out with worldwide occasions in Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada and London.

They work totally on music festivals but additionally handle accessibility at sporting occasions, conventions and municipal occasions. Ten Fifty’s present shoppers embody Coachella, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Competition, Rolling Loud, EDC, Formulation 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix, the PGA Championship, Star Wars Celebration, and a number of other of the nation’s largest short-term occasions. Many happen in venues that depend on short-term infrastructure, together with levels, viewing platforms, tents, concessions and restrooms, and rules affecting entry can fluctuate by state. Due to that, Whitney and his crew needed to develop pointers from scratch and refine them over time. “One factor that attracted me to this area is that that is all short-term,” he says, “which implies if I work a present this 12 months and I don’t like part of it, I’ve a clean canvas in 2024 and might begin over.” This leads to ever-improving accessibility for attendees with disabilities.

Whereas Ten Fifty Leisure handles the logistics of staging occasions, Accessible Festivals works to deal with the extra private and cultural points of occasion accessibility. Whitney now serves as board chair, working with Government Director Amy Pinder to develop the group.

“I might say Accessible Festivals is sort of a massive umbrella entity,” says Pinder, who can be a speech and language therapist. “We’ve lots of applications and tasks in place that each one assist the thought of advocating for extra accessible experiences within the music pageant area.” Whitney and the AF crew give accessibility trainings to {industry} employees and have a consulting program for extra in-depth tasks.

Accessible Festivals hosts the Inclusion Competition, an annual three-day occasion in Pennsylvania with dwell music, immersive experiences, and each academic and leisure workshops. Pinder says the “sensory-friendly” occasion hosted about 1,000 attendees in the summertime earlier than the pandemic. “We prefer to see how we will transcend ADA necessities,” she says, citing applied sciences like vibrating backpacks so deaf concertgoers can really feel the beat of music. These SUBPACs can be found now at among the bigger festivals that Ten Fifty Leisure helps.

Back view of concert crowd showing an raised platform where people are seated including a man in a wheelchair
Raised platforms
are one lodging
for higher stage viewing.

Sharing the Expertise

The Accessible Festivals mission closest to Whitney’s coronary heart is the Dan Grover Memorial Ticket Grant Program, named after a music-industry pal of Whitney’s who had muscular dystrophy and handed away in 2022. As a part of this program, Accessible Festivals provides away pageant tickets to individuals who haven’t attended one since they grew to become disabled. “I need to give one thing for individuals to stay up for, that may assist them out at a time the place they may actually use some assist,” Whitney says, harkening again to his transformative expertise at Coachella. “So, we constructed out this program, and I bought many of the {industry} to take part in it, which is the cool half.”

Kimmi Churchill attended a few music festivals a 12 months earlier than her T4 spinal twine harm in a automotive accident in 2020. “I didn’t actually suppose that I might have any extra enjoyable, you recognize, in a wheelchair,” she says. “That was, till I noticed Accessible Festivals on Instagram. And I’m like, ‘They appear to be they’re having enjoyable, so it’s attainable to nonetheless be accommodated at a pageant like that, or at a rave.’”

Churchill signed up for the Dan Grover Ticket Program on-line and bought a ticket for HARD Summer season, a Los Angeles-based music pageant. She ended up assembly a number of individuals and making “new wheelie buddies” on the ADA platforms. “I simply bought increasingly more assured [from day 1 to day 3], got here out of my shell extra and all that,” she says. “The expertise bought higher and higher because the weekend progressed.”
She says going to HARD Summer season “has been actually nice for my journey and restoration.” It additionally rekindled her love of dwell music: After getting residence, she purchased tickets to the Jackpot NYE rave in Las Vegas and is again on observe to attend two occasions a 12 months.

Churchill is one in every of greater than 20,000 disabled visitors whom Ten Fifty Leisure and Accessible Festivals work with yearly. Whitney and employees say they get loads of suggestions in particular person and on-line, and so they vow to proceed enhancing. “I really like my job as a result of I get to see individuals having fun with the factor they love to do,” he says. “It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a rustic present, if it’s a motorized vehicle race or a present with music that I like, a rock present. I similar to serving to individuals get pleasure from no matter they’re into.”

Whitney desires the {industry} to maintain evolving with widespread accessibility and extra cutting-edge providers like these pioneered at Inclusion Competition. “I might undoubtedly encourage individuals to go to festivals,” he says, “as a result of it’s simply gotten so a lot better and it’ll preserve getting higher.”

In case you’re involved in making use of without spending a dime tickets by means of the Dan Grover Memorial Ticket Grant Program, go to accessiblefestivals.com.