ADA Accessibility with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
As most of you know, I am a total concert fanatic. Other than art (which in most cases is at least 50% work), I don’t have a whole lot of hobbies. Concerts give me a chance to get out of my house (where I live AND work) and to allow me to take a break from the real world. It’s not only a change of scenery, but also a total and complete brain rest.
Here in New Orleans, we have a massive music festival every April and May called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. There are usually no less than nine stages set up the Fairgrounds, some with small jazz and gospel groups and others with larger popular artists like Fleetwood Mac or Maroon 5. The line-up is usually crazy good, and my friend and I try to go for a couple days every year.
A few years ago, I was presented with an opportunity to help Jazz Fest improve their ADA and wheelchair accessibility. Because the event takes place on a dirt horse racetrack, there are certain issues, like mud and bumpiness, that can’t be avoided. However, the ADA administrator and I found that there were a lot of smaller issues we could improve on to make people with disabilities a little more comfortable at the festival.
In return for a one-day volunteer pass, my friend and I take a few hours during Jazz Fest each year to go around to all of the stages, food vendors, bathrooms, and ADA access areas and write down both what has been improved from previous years and what could still use some work. At the end of the festival, I give my feedback to the head of the accessibility department and they take it into account when they are planning the next year.
It is absolutely amazing how much this festival has evolved their ADA accessibility over the last five years. When before the only areas for wheelchairs to see the main stages were up on high platforms and located practically a mile away, there are now closer viewing areas that contain incredibly talented sign language interpreters for those with hearing impairments. There are handicapped accessible port-a-potties that are locked to all guests except those in need that are given the code upon festival entry. This not only allows people in wheelchairs quick access to bathrooms, but they also stay fairly clean as far as port-a-potties go. The pathways get better and better each year, and now there are even designated pathways for people in wheelchairs to get quick access to food, drinks, and staging areas. When I saw ADA designated COVERED eating areas this past year, I nearly fainted (and not from the heat!). That is a HUGE step for Jazz Fest, and I hope that they continue in that direction in years to come.
My friend and I go to at least two to three festivals per year, and Jazz Fest has been by far the most ADA accessible. I think that by having someone who is actually in a wheelchair come and survey their accommodations, it has helped them improve by leaps and bounds from year to year. I have had some pretty horrific experiences at festivals in other parts of the country, and I hope that one day they follow in the footsteps of the Jazz Fest administration and have someone like me come and help them out. It is impossible to make effective change unless you know what needs to be changed. My work with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a testament to that.
PS-Quick shout out to Molly. You are doing an awesome job! Keep it up!