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Accessible Carnival! by Kristina Veasey / 26 July 2011

photo of two women in wheelchairs on the grass with several carnival performers in the background

Kristina Veasey and Suzanne Bull at the carnival

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A sunny Sunday and the perfect day for a carnival! My partner and 3 year old in tow, I headed off to Horsham Park in West Sussex. Horsham Carnival goes by the name of Sparks In the Park and this year has been included as part of the London 2012 Open Weekend. A celebration of the one year countdown to the olympic and paralympic games, the carnival encouraged local people to ‘Shout Out’ about the themes they cared about. Local guides groups chose Water Aid as their theme of choice and had created beautiful coloured flags that were used in the carnival procession.

There was also a big shout out about disability, and peace and love too, if the songs emanating from the Blue Touch Paper Horn were anything to go by. The song had been created by members of The Strawford Centre who have been involved at every stage of the Blue Touch Paper project. The aim of the project is to make carnival accessible and the song, costumes and dance were the culmination of skills learned from collaborations with carnival professionals over the last year. I have to say the song was incredibly catchy and I have enjoyed listening to it through the website too.

If you want to know more about Blue Touch Paper you would do well to visit their very accessible website www.btpcarnival.co.uk There is an Easy Read tab at the top of every page, concise and informative text, and lots of photos to take you through the ideas, objectives and creations of this journey. There are also a couple of videos showing the collaborative processes of designing and creating different aspects of the carnival, and also the planning and design of the website itself - a great learning tool for any organisation looking to engage in an accessible and empowering way! I have to say though that on a personal note, the key feature of the website was the map – I would have been quite literally, lost without it!

Horsham Park itself is massive and we enjoyed exploring the quieter sections, such as the maze and the pond area, when the whirl and bustle started to get too much. Fortunately the funfair which had some of the fastest most terrifying rides I have ever seen was situated to one side of the main fete/carnival areas allowing those who wanted to, to give it a miss. It also avoided it overshadowing the less commercial nature of the rest of the event. I was grateful and pleasantly surprised to find that the central area had been set up around an area with good paths. This was a relief after toughing it through the grass on my hand cycle (next time I will check the battery before leaving home!). Everything had been well spaced out, so despite the huge number of people, the event felt lively but not squashy or claustrophobic.

There were separate sections for the sporting displays and competitions (part of Set4Success) and as an athlete I was encouraged to see so many young people engaging in so many different sports. As we waited for the parade to arrive we lay back in the grass and enjoyed watching young people having some real belly-laughs whilst enjoying a game of volleyball. It was all quite idyllic really. My only disappointment on the sporting front was that there were no disability sports on offer or, as far as I could tell, any provision for disabled athletes to take part - a shame really. I would have thought it would have tied in nicely with the accessible carnival theme, the London 2012 celebration, an opportunity to increase public awareness around disabled people, and for promoting opportunities for disabled young people to participate in sport. The apparent lack of inclusion became more bizarre when I spotted fellow Paralympian, Sascha Kindred, revealing anecdotes of his swimming career on the main stage! So, I’m not really sure what happened there - a bit of a missed opportunity.

Still, the sheer size of the event was impressive and in general there had obviously been a lot of thought into accessibility and inclusion. The layout of the event really worked well, so a big pat on the back to the team that thought that through so successfully. However, a bigger thanks and congratulations has to go to all those involved in Blue Touch Paper who have developed the ground-breaking and wonderful map that allowed me to arrive informed and reassured. This is really a great legacy from the project, and it is hoped that accessible maps like this will be used at all festivals and large public events in the future.

Designed with disabled people this is an electronic map of the location with key areas and facilities marked by symbols and/or photos. When a symbol is clicked on, text appears giving further details. An example is: ”Good View From Here Last Updated by Helotrix on Jul 12 This would be a good place to see the carnival as it is normally less crowded and you have more space.” Until this day out I hadn’t really realised how much I felt the inherent anxiety of making a journey out to an unknown destination and not knowing what barriers I might find when I got there. From this map I was able to plan in advance where I could find free and accessible parking, where I would find my colleague Suzanne Bull to quiz her over her role with BTP and Accentuate, and a photo of the cafe serving refreshments and which had an accessible toilet! Brilliant!!!! This is as close to being there as you can get, a real first- hand perspective from other disabled people.

So, all in all it was a really enjoyable day. There is no way I could do justice to the colour and vibrancy of it all so I do recommend having a look at the BTP website and seeing the photos posted on there from the day, and indeed from the project as a whole. It was all a bit of a whirl and the BTP carnival participants were fairly preoccupied so I didn’t get much opportunity to find out their feelings on it all. However I know Suzanne has been busy interviewing them all so I would be keen to hear more from her on what she has learned. Perhaps a blog response on that note would be possible?