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Published: 2009/06/11

From the Bonnaroo Beacon: Access for All At Bonnaroo

By John Patrick Gatta
When you look around Bonnaroo, you see the makeup of Tennessees sixth largest city. And just like any bustling metropolis, it contains a diverse group of people that spans a wide range of ages, social classes, education, jobs and even musical tastes.
The Access Program For Patrons With Disabilities ensures that everyone gets represented in order to enjoy the four days of music, comedy, activities and camping.
A lot of consultants out there are working on making the post office accessible, the restaurants accessible…Were still a long way to go with that stuff, too, because it’s really important work but there isn’t anybody who’s really focusing on making the fun part of life accessible, said Laura Grunfeld, Bonnaroos Access Consultant.
Now in its fifth year, the Bonnaroo program offers numerous services to persons with disabilities. With a staff that reaches nearly 100 in order to prepare the site, run the Access Center, the Access Lane at tollbooths and other duties, it provides support for those who use wheelchairs and have mobility disabilities as well as those who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who are blind or have low vision.
The really great stories are the individuals that get to come to Bonnaroo and participate as fully as possible, she said.
Grunfeld, who founded Everyones Invited to focus on accessibility at festivals, relates examples of those who face their obstacles, but determinedly move beyond them — a woman using an Assistive Listening Device, a man who finds pleasure in the music via sign language, a woman who is blind and receives an advance copy of the program guide in order to schedule her Bonnaroo experience before entering the gate.
Tyler Rudy, a 19 year old UC Berklee student who is a paraplegic, makes his second trip to the festival this year. At Bonnaroo Rudy camps out with a companion and moves around the grounds in a motorized wheelchair.
Speaking about the Access Program during a phone interview shortly after his plane landed in Nashville Rudy said, I didn’t know how great it would be, but I knew about it.
A trip closer to home at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival convinced him that he could attend a multi-day event. They also have an Access program. I would say it’s not quite as good, but it’s still good. Camping there just convinced me, I can camp. I can do whatever. It’s really no worries.
He credits the staff and setup at Bonnaroo in making his time here run smoothly. The Access Program at Bonnaroo is great. Laura makes it so great. She really looks at what Bonnaroo has to offer as far as the grounds go and she makes sure that disabled people, whether they be in wheelchairs, blind, deaf, whatever, that they have just as great of a Bonnaroo experience as everybody else. They have the platforms everywhere, accessible camping, all that. It’s really super-accommodating.
With a cell phone answering service that blares the Dead Kennedys Holiday in Cambodia, its not too surprising to find out that Rudy grew up in the Los Angeles area, amidst the SoCal punk scene. But, he points out that his love of music and excitement to be here goes beyond those sounds.
I grew up on punk rock and heavy metal, but I love all kinds of music. I love soul… I don’t tie myself down to anything. The vibe and energy at Bonaroo is just so amazing. There’s great people. Great music. It’s really a total package.
Grunfeld arrived in Manchester nine days ago to oversee the setup for the festivals eighth year. We’re making improvements. I think we’re just beginning to hit our stride so that the changes that we make each year are not as huge. One such move involved adding a sign language interpreter program in 2006.
She attributes the purchase of a major portion of the 700 acre farm by Bonnaroos promoters as a positive contributing factor not only for those with disabilities but all those who reside here in mid-June.
They’ve done a lot of infrastructure on the site. For instance, they worked on drainage. That helps a lot. That’s one of the things about Access is that sometimes we’re making changes that are not evident to the public. They can’t see that we’ve been working on drainage, but that kind of work makes a huge difference for accessibility. It’s a huge investment for Bonnaroo to make for the whole site.
Grunfeld adds that the biggest inspiration for her work comes from those that gain an improved opportunity to fully experience all that a festival has to offer.
The people I’m meeting who come to festivals, they’re powerful people. They’re willing to put up with rugged conditions and they still want to come. They still want to participate and be part of it in every way. A lot of times, it just takes making a small change and then a lot more people can participate. The most important thing is that people with disabilities are people like anybody and that we treat people with disabilities as you would treat anybody. And that is, we hope, with respect and consideration.

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