NL Folk Festival in tune with accessibility and inclusion

Posted on July 01, 2021 | By Louis Power | 0 Comments

For Mandy Penney, there’s a lot more to attending a festival than buying a ticket and showing up. Penney, who uses a wheelchair some days and a walker on others, spends a lot of time researching venues and events before she decides to go—or not. She needs to be sure that, at the very least, she’ll be able to enter the venue, get through the crowd, use the washroom facilities and have a view of the show. 

“It is a lot of work, when you have a disability, to do that research,” she said. “And then you’re never really confident that people understand what you’re asking, especially if you have different disabilities. Because everybody has different needs.”

For Penney, and countless others, figuring out whether a venue or event has the accessibility features they need is a cumbersome, but necessary, part of socializing and entertainment. These considerations are taken seriously by the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society (NLFAS) and its flagship event, the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival.


Mandy Penney (right) and Lisa Elton enjoy a sunny day at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival in St. John’s, N.L. For the past two years, Penney has been part of the Inclusion Crew, a group of volunteers that provide accessibility support at the festival. (Photo submitted by InclusionNL)


The festival has become known for its expanding efforts to welcome people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. And it has become one of the few recurring events in St. John’s that Penney is completely confident in attending. At this festival, she said, “I think the only barrier you’re going to face is the weather.”

In recent years, NLFAS has forged a strong partnership with InclusionNL, whose mandate is to support businesses, organizations and events in Newfoundland and Labrador looking to become more inclusive and accessible. That partnership has bolstered the festival’s accessibility features, which include everything from designated blue-zone seating areas to a quiet zone (sensory-friendly area where people who are feeling overwhelmed can get away from the crowd).

“Having InclusionNL being so advanced gives people like me security that they can enjoy the event, but not only that, they can volunteer,” Penney said.


The crew
For the past couple of years, Penney has been a part of the festival’s Inclusion Crew, a group of blue-hat-clad volunteers whose mission is to ensure festival-goers of all abilities can enjoy the event, barrier-free. 

At an event the size of the Folk Festival, Penney said, the crowd itself can be a barrier for a person with a disability. “You can make events fully accessible, but when you throw in a couple of hundred people, it makes things a bit more difficult. So having that assurance of the Inclusion Crew makes it a bit easier,” she said.

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