Personal questions, portaloos, and the dreaded ‘platform’: Kelly, 26, and her husband Jarath discuss the trials and tribulations of music festivals when one of you is disabled.
Kelly: I’ve got spinal muscular atrophy type 3. It’s a muscle wastage disorder. I always get ‘why are you in a wheelchair?’ from strangers. It’s annoying because it’s the most basic question you can ask. A lot of people assume I’ve had an accident. Because I’m confident and outgoing, they can’t believe that this is a natural thing – that I’ve always used a wheelchair.
Jarath: At festivals, people have had a drink so they think it’s OK to ask personal questions – and we get a lot of personal questions. I tend to get creative: I told one bloke that Kelly fell out of a plane and someone else that she was run over by a combine harvester!
Kelly: One of the most annoying things is when people come over and tell me how much respect they have for me… simply because I’m at a festival. It’s not like I’m doing a parachute jump. I’m just having a life!
Jarath: At Global, we were backstage dancing and more people were watching us dance than were watching the actual gig. They kept tapping Kelly and giving her high fives.
Kelly: People often try to dance with me and push Jarath out of the way, pretty much hitting him in the face with fags and beer bottles, to try and get to me. I just think ‘what are you doing? Have you got no respect?’
Jarath: People gravitate towards Kelly and don’t realise I’m with her. They think I’m her mate or carer – never her fiancé. At one festival, I’d helped Kelly up and we were having a dance. People kept telling me to put her down. I was like ‘look this is my missus, leave us alone!’
Kelly: It’s not all bad though. At Reading, we had this big pink duffle bag on the back of my chair and filled it with beer, gin, crisps and sweets. Contraband basically! We sailed past the security guards while other people were getting their bags checked.
The disabled viewing platform
Kelly: The platform is a stage at the back of a gig for disabled people. The idea is that you can see over the crowd. It’s really far back from all the action and there’s never any atmosphere. It’s rubbish.
Jarath: It’s also heavily policed by security guards – you feel like you’re being constantly watched. One time, we got caught with a beer on the platform and got kicked off. Seriously, how many people are having a cheeky beer at a festival but because we’re the ones on the platform, we got spotted.
Kelly: We moan about disabled facilities but at least most festivals try. There was nothing at Global when we went – no charging points, no platform, nothing. I complained to the organisers and ended up blagging us a place in the VIP section.
We asked if we could put our tent next to the guy doing airbrush tattoos because we knew he would have power. I ended up charging my electric wheelchair there every day. When you’re disabled, you have to be creative and find ways to make festivals work for you.
Toilets – or lack of them
Jarath: Once, Kelly got banned from using the disabled toilets at a festival because she couldn’t ‘prove’ she was disabled – apparently she didn’t have the right wristband!
Kelly: I couldn’t use the normal portaloos because of the steps up to them. I ended up having to use a disposable barbecue! We joke about it now – we joke a lot – but it ruined the festival for me.
Jarath: At another festival, we paid to use the VIP area but there were no disabled toilets. They obviously thought you don’t get disabled VIPs! Kelly kicked up a fuss and the best they could offer us was one free drink for the inconvenience. So she told the bar staff we were entitled to free drinks all day. Result!
Kelly: I kicked up such a fuss they ended up using a crane to lift a disabled portaloo into the VIP area. Suddenly we heard the beep beep beep of the crane reversing and looked up to see a disabled portaloo dangling above us. I don’t think the festival organisers will make that mistake again!