The normalization of ADA accessibility at Boston Calling Music Festival

BY TABITHA REEVES
Co-Managing News Editor

BY RISHA INAGANTI
Co-Managing News Editor

With a golf cart to help festival attendees get around and the willingness to make accommodations as needed, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) team at Boston Calling Music Festival made an effort to ensure that all persons could enjoy the festivities to the fullest extent this year.

The ADA program offered a 50-seat wheelchair-accessible seating platform near the two main stages for those with physical disabilities, as well as American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters on a raised platform by the stage for those who are hard of hearing or deaf. 

“The goal is basically to give equal opportunity to everybody,” Josh Rosenberg, the ADA manager at the festival, said. “It’s not a VIP program. … The whole program is designed so if someone has difficulty experiencing the festival in the way that we would, then we try to find a way to change that.”

Throughout the course of the weekend – May 26 through May 28 – more than 200 festival attendees used the accommodations, according to ADA team member Amy Rappaport. Use of the ADA program did not cost extra for ticket buyers and services were available by request.

“It seems like I’ve always had to fight for [accessibility options],” Rosenberg said. “The guests have always had to fight for basically anything for the program. But this year and last year, since the pandemic started, things that aren’t specifically related to our programs seem to be becoming more accessible.”

Rosenberg explained that vendors’ counters this year were lower in height than those of previous years, making it possible for wheelchair users to order for themselves. 

Additionally, Rappaport said that this year, the festival provided mats to lay over gravel patches on the grounds to make traveling by wheelchair more convenient.

There were nine requests for an ASL interpreter to translate performances over the course of the weekend, according to Donnie Gibbons, one of three  interpreters on call that weekend. 

Gibbons has been working at Boston Calling by request since 2014, in addition to translating an estimated 80 shows per year, including two Taylor Swift concerts in the past month.

“This weekend at Boston Calling people were ecstatic,” Gibbons said. “There were people there where it was their first time at a show with interpreters.”

Gibbons recalled a hard-of-hearing child attending the festival with his family of die-hard Foo Fighters fans. The child was so excited after having an interpreter for the Foo Fighters’ performance that he gave Gibbons a grateful hug after the show.

“The people who do this aren’t getting rich,” Gibbons said. “It takes preparation and dedication, and it’s really a labor of love.”

Ethan Grandin/THE REVIEW

According to Gibbons, it takes anywhere from 20 to 40 hours of practice to be prepared to translate a performance. In order to rehearse far enough in advance, interpreters do a statistical analysis of songs performed at past concerts to determine what is most likely to be played in the artist’s upcoming show.

“It’s a difficult task,” Gibbons said. “Not a lot of interpreters are even willing to take on the challenge. … The bulk of the Deaf community doesn’t really have access to music, since it’s just not a part of Deaf culture. So it is a difficult task to provide a culturally rich equivalent.”

In recent years, there have been vast improvements to overall accessibility at Boston Calling, but some ADA team members see plenty of room to grow in upcoming years.

Though logistically strenuous, Rosenberg believes that it would be ideal to have interpreters for every single set at the festival. Furthermore, Rappaport commented on the fact that she would like to offer a larger disability viewing platform since it can get very crowded with the limited number of seats. 

Concert accessibility can help increase overall festival attendance, according to Rappaport. She explained that people talk about their experiences within their communities, and a positive reputation for accessibility practices means that a festival is worth traveling long distances for.

“There’s a lot of people who are not local who are traveling in to be a part of this because they know that they’ll have the ability to have a viewing platform and have the services they need here,” Rappaport said.