A student attendee at Hijacked Festival has been working with the festival organisers to improve accessibility, following organisational negligence and discrimination directed towards their condition.
Following the incidents, which occurred over the course of an evening at Hijacked on May 30th, the current plan for disabled festivalgoers has been expanded. These include “more robust” accessibility information on the website, an “egress plan” for those with mobility issues, and the briefing and improving of the conduct of the medical and safety contractor, Total Safety Training & Consultancy.
Ruby Jones, a student at Exeter, and the attendee in question, suffers from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). The condition causes chronic pain and fatigue, consequently often requiring use of a wheelchair. In an email to the organisers posted shortly after the May 30th event, Jones outlined the incidents.
“At around 10:20pm my friend and I decided it was time to leave before all the crowds and before my pain got too bad. We went to the first aid tent so that I could have a lie down and to ask if there was any way they could assist me in getting a taxi.”
The student was reportedly told that “she brought this upon herself”
Unable to walk and denied requests for a taxi to arrive at the tent, the first aid team provided Jones a “tiny wheelchair and said they would wheel me there.”
Comments made by staff towards her were perceived by Jones to be “ableist and discriminatory”. The student was reportedly told that “maybe [she] shouldn’t come to events like this in the future”, that “pushing this wheelchair is hurting [the first aider’s] back”, and that “she brought this upon herself”. Jones notes that they “failed to see the importance and urgency of this medical emergency – by this point I was in so much pain I could barely talk”.
Following an hour of waiting at their destination, the party called an ambulance. According to Jones, an ambulance that approached demanded she move out of the way; failing to comply, they “then tried to grab [Jones] and manhandle [her] up”. A security guard from whom Jones had borrowed a camping chair then reportedly demanded money for her to keep using it.
In an interview with Jones, Exeposé was told that “in the past I have always experienced great access at festivals, but they were on a much larger scale.”
“Ableism happens on a daily basis, whether it is someone talking to the person I’m with instead of me just because I’m in a wheelchair, or someone asking me to ‘prove’ my disability when I’m not in a wheelchair.”
Jones has been impressed by the response of the festival organisers.
Hijacked 2019, following previous years, had advertised itself as a disability-accessible space. Since at least 2016, the website has offered a positive response to the FAQ “Can I attend Hijacked if I am a wheelchair user and/or have a disability?”. The site notes that “Provisions can be made for attendees with disabilities. So we can cater to specific people, please notify us of your exact needs in advance.”
As Jones notes, “I always make sure to ask for assistance I may need in advance, but this flare was unexpected and so I hadn’t planned for it. Nevertheless, I feel the staff onsite should have been able to manage for an emergency!”
Asked for a statement, Hold It Down (the organisers of Hijacked) told Exeposé that “it’s always important to listen and see how all areas of our provision can be improved and be fully inclusive, and we are dealing with the implications around this particular matter internally.”
Moreover, Jones has been impressed by the response of the festival organisers. “The response from the festival has been brilliant. They have already contacted the medical team, who have purchased a more suitable wheelchair for future events”, while also putting “into place lots of accessibility protocols.”
Total Safety, the medical and safety contractor, has not responded to a request for comment.