It has long been said that music unites us all.
However, traditional music festivals often make it hard for those living with diverse abilities to experience the energy and excitement of live music that their friends without disabilities easily enjoy.
Ability Festival aims to fix just that. Curated by beloved Australian Paralympian and disability advocate Dylan Alcott, Ability Festival uses music to normalize disability by throwing a massive party that encourages people of all abilities to get involved.
"I wanted to provide an opportunity where people, no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation, or ability could come together and enjoy live music,” Alcott told the Project Australia. “Nobody cares about your disability or your difference at music festivals. Everyone just has fun.”
Held for the second year in Melbourne on April 7, the festival included elevated viewing platforms, sign language interpreters, quiet zones for attendees with autism spectrum disorder, accessible toilets, and trainee guide dog puppies.
All artists — including headliners The Presets, Kim Churchill, E^ST, and Hot Dub Time Machine — donated their time, with all proceeds helping children with disabilities via the Dylan Alcott Foundation. Last year, the festival raised almost $200,000 AUD.
The festival also aligned with online disability support platform Hireup. Fifty members with disabilities from the Hireup community volunteered during the festival, handing out wristbands and giving directions. Melissa Benson, a blind Ability Festival volunteer, told Pro Bono News the festival has now set the bar for all future community events.
"For a long time people with disabilities have been excluded from enjoying some events because of their special requirements,” she said. “I don’t think it’s that difficult to build ramps, or a wider gate, or a special lane rather than turnstiles.”
Over 4 million people — 1 in 5 — in Australia have a disability.
Australia’s Network on Disability reports that of 2.1 million Australians of working age with a disability, just over 1 million are employed and an additional 114,900 are currently looking for work. Beyond low levels of employment, people with disabilities are more susceptible to insecure housing, low levels of education, and poverty.
A survey by disability service provider Scope and Deakin University disclosed that of 761 surveyed Australians with a disability, 94% said one of the hardest parts about having a disability is not having their needs met for meaningful community participation.
"I know that I am very lucky, given my position, that I get to experience so much of community life,” Alcott stated. “But so many in my community don’t get that. That’s why Ability Festival is so important.”