With the Edinburgh Festival Fringe claiming this year’s event would be its most wheelchair-accessible yet, a disabled volunteer from one of Scotland’s leading housing and care providers has put this statement to the test.
Suhayl Afzal saw signs of improvement but says that progress is being made at “glacial speed” as his night at the festival was littered with accessibility issues.
The 28-year-old, who has Muscular Dystrophy, claims he would have struggled to manage by himself as heavy doors, cobbled streets and high pavements continue to be a problem.
Suhayl, who volunteers with Blackwood Housing and Care – industry experts in adapting spaces for innovative disabled access – went along to Alex Williamson’s ‘That Guy from the Internet’ at The Gilded Balloon in Bristo Square and sandwiched it with a pre and post drink, but found it wasn’t as simple as he had hoped.
He said: “Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe is a particularly busy time of year for the Capital with people from all over the world descending on the city to absorb the festivities, and the hustle and bustle can be particularly difficult for a wheelchair user like myself to navigate.
“In fact, I normally completely avoid it if I can and this is the first time I have ever bought tickets for a show as I had seen reports that wheelchair access had been improved and wanted to check it out for myself.
“The evening began by meeting another member of the Blackwood team for a drink at Potterow near the venue – something one would assume to be a relatively simple task.
“However, problems arose immediately with transportation and finding an ideal drop off point, as we had to consider ramped access and that countless routes were restricted and parking spots suspended.
“Even when we did find an ideal drop off location, it was on a cobbled street (as many of Edinburgh’s are around the Fringe venues) with high pavements unsuitable for traversing with a wheelchair.”
Suhayl and his colleague moved onto the nearby show venue, The Gilded Balloon, twenty minutes early to ensure they had time for any unexpected issues, but were pleasantly surprised.
He continued: “Outside the venue, we were able to locate the wheelchair lift without too much trouble and the staff were very helpful.
“After the show, however, we visited the Library Bar upstairs for drink and, to access the lift, we had to go through a separate corridor that no one else was using and I was then faced with a large fire door which would have been unmanageable without an accompanying person.
“Obviously some of these problems are the responsibility of the venues or the festival organisers and some might be down to the council, but I would say that the accessibility was very average. It was a fairly straightforward process and wasn’t drastically time-consuming, but as ever there is room for improvement.
“Overall, accessibility does seem to be improving – but at glacial speed. It definitely wouldn’t be possible to navigate the venue without assistance. Had I decided to attend the show on my own and had to rely on the assistance of strangers or staff members, I think I would have had a very different experience indeed.”