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Edinburgh International Book Festival is the most accessible yet

This opinion piece is over 4 years old

Frances Sutton shares the accessibility innovations at this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest public celebration of the written word in the world, welcoming over 900 authors from 55 countries to Charlotte Square Gardens this August. Over the 18 days of the Festival 260,000 visitors enjoyed over 800 stimulating events, discussions, readings and conversations, or just relaxed in the bookshops, cafes and gardens.

The Book Festival has always worked hard to design a Festival that is accessible to all our visitors. We create our magical festival village from scratch each year, so certain elements of our accessibility were relatively easy to achieve – fully ramped access across the site, into all venues, bookshops and toilets. Level wooden walkways, which were covered, protected all our visitors and staff from the occasionally inclement weather, enabled access to all areas of Charlotte Square Gardens, wheelchairs could be borrowed free of charge, and all our staff underwent access training and were always on hand to assist when needed.

However, creating an accessible and inclusive festival goes much further than ramps and level walkways. With the help of players from People’s Postcode Lottery this year we were able to include many new innovations such as a Changing Places Toilet, more BSL interpreted events, more screen captioned events, events in the programme specially designed for adults and children with learning disabilities, an Additional Needs badge and an easy-read access guide to the festival.

Frances Sutton
Frances Sutton

Infra-red hearing systems were available in almost all theatres and hearing receivers and earphones could be borrowed from the Information Desk in the entrance tent. We scheduled some British Sign Language (BSL) performances in advance in the adult and children’s programme however we also operated an ‘on demand’ service. Anyone could request a BSL interpreter for any event in the programme and we did our best to provide one. A number of events were also live captioned. Captions appeared on the venue screen over the centre of the stage and were visible from all areas of the theatres. In total this year 22 events were BSL interpreted, 11 were live captioned and three were designed to be suitable for people of any age with severe or multiple learning disabilities.

We also made changes this year to welcome those with less visible disabilities. Ear-defenders were available to borrow for anyone who was anxious about crowds or busy venues, and we also introduced an Additional Needs Badge for anyone visiting the Book Festival who has additional/hidden needs and wanted to discreetly make our staff aware. Staff could recognise these otherwise unremarkable badges and find out how they could make the visit as smooth as possible.

An Easy Read Introduction to the 2018 Book Festival was produced in collaboration with PAMIS, ARC Scotland and the National Involvement Network, and was available to download from our website.

The changes we made this year resulted in the Book Festival winning the Euan’s Guide Best Pop-Up Venue award. Euan’s Guide is a review website written by disabled people for disabled people and this is the third consecutive year we have won this particular award. We are extremely proud that Euan’s Guide recognises the improvements we make each year.

Frances Sutton is press manager for the Edinburgh International Book Festival



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