Access Advice Interview
Edinburgh can sometimes be a challenge for people with physical access needs, but there’s no better way of finding out how to get around the city's more difficult areas than by asking people who’ve done it all before.
We spoke to Judith, an Edinburgh University student who attends the festival every year in her wheelchair, to give us the low-down on how to get around.
What’s the easiest thing about doing the Edinburgh festivals?
Having fun! With so much on you will be able to find something to see and do.
What’s the hardest?
Navigating the city - there are big crowds, and dropped kerbs can be blocked or not there. Also not all venues are accessible.
What’s your favourite place to grab a drink/coffee/meal in Edinburgh?
Peter’s Yard on Middle Meadow Walk has a lovely atmosphere though it can get quite busy. Access to cafés, restaurants and pubs can be hit and miss; they don’t all have accessible toilets so ask when you go in.
What advice would you have on getting around Edinburgh?
Leave time to get from A to B; nothing moves very fast during the Fringe. You may need a companion to move around certain areas because of the crowds. You can always ask for help from the volunteers or police officers who will be more than happy to help you move through crowds. Be aware of street performances in main thoroughfares that may block access.
Remember Edinburgh is built on a lot of hills and some pedestrian routes involve stairs so double check before you set off. Lots of different people attend the fringe every year, so be prepared for people who are not used to disabled people being part of the crowd. Public transport is excellent however the buses can only take one wheelchair at a time, so you will not always be able to take the bus you were expecting to. Also if somebody with a pram is in the wheelchair space the driver can request that they fold the buggy but they are not required to do so*.
[* NB - since first publication of this article, Lothian Buses' policy has been clarified, and their website now states (emphasis ours): "Please note that wheelchair users have priority over everyone else for use of the wheelchair space, since this is the only space in which they can travel safely. Whenever the space is required by a wheelchair user, other passengers must move to make it available, and any buggies must be folded and stored safely elsewhere."]
What other advice would you give festivalgoers with a disability?
Plan, plan and plan! Call ahead to venues to see if they can accommodate your specific access requirements. Some venues are more organized than others and will be waiting to assist you as soon as you arrive. In other venues you may need to inform the front of house staff of your arrival. If a venue asks you to come early try your best to do so as things can get quite hectic even if it means waiting around.
You can usually get a free carer’s ticket when you book; remember to ask. A lot of venues will try their best to get you in even if the methods are not always orthodox, so if you are willing to be assisted up a few stairs it's worth mentioning it.