Fringe Festival apologizes following rejection of disabled volunteers

WATCH ABOVE: Organizers of the Edmonton Fringe Festival are apologizing after telling a volunteer with disabilities his skill set doesn’t match the job. Kendra Slugoski reports.

EDMONTON — The Edmonton International Fringe Festival has spoken with and apologized to Daniel Hughes, a man with disabilities whose application to volunteer at this year’s festival was rejected.

In a statement released Tuesday, the chair and board president of Fringe Theatre Adventures said Hughes’ family has accepted their apology, calling their discussion positive.

“We were informed that Daniel has decided not to volunteer this year, but will be looking forward to an opportunity to volunteer at next year’s festival,” said Marc Carnes.

“As we work towards improving inclusive practices within our volunteer program and in our own offices, we have asked Daniel and his family to advise us along the way. They have graciously accepted. We can’t thank Daniel and his family enough for their understanding. We let them down as an organization and in response they offered us their partnership to help us improve.”

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The apology comes after the festival came under fire for rejecting Hughes’ application.

The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival sent rejection letters to four applicants with disabilities, including Hughes, saying their skill sets didn’t “match those of the job.”

Hughes expressed his disappointment on social media, saying the Fringe letter told him he basically doesn’t belong.

“It upsets me that I cannot volunteer at the Fringe this year as I have many years ago as a friendraiser greeting people,” Hughes wrote.

“I enjoyed doing it and now according to this letter, not even addressed to me but to my primary support person, I do not belong.

“I can’t believe they think they will make things better by inviting me to a special needs party. Why can I not be a citizen and participate like others?”

He also posted that letter on his Facebook page.

“As a not-for-profit registered charity, Fringe Theatre Adventures values the support of the community and endeavors to find meaningful ways to interact and involve members of diverse community populations in our volunteer ranks.

Over the years, our needs for volunteer support during the Festival have changed and evolved, and due to the nature of the current demands on our Festival, we are now obligated to engage only those volunteers whose skill sets match those of the job. For instance, all volunteers on the FriendRaisers Team must now be able to actively communicate and engage with Festival Patrons, both asking for donations and explaining how the Festival benefits from this support.

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We realize that opportunities for individuals who may have volunteered in the past without these skill sets may be impacted but we must meet the needs of our organization.

We will not be able to accept your client, Daniel’s application to volunteer this year.

In order to continue positive interaction with the community and give back in a way which is possible under our mission and mandate, the Fringe Festival will host its first ever Community Day at the Fringe. This day, Saturday, August 15, will be designed as a day to ‘welcome’ all members of the community to the Fringe and will feature a non-profit ‘tradeshow’ at the ATB Community Patio from 1 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. This event will feature 10-12 not-for-profit organizations sharing information on who they are and how they support the community with Fringe patrons and will allow Fringe Patrons to get a glimpse of the larger not-for-profit community of which we are part. The day will be about ‘giving back’ and being ‘inclusive’ and we welcome all to attend.

As special needs volunteers are one of the community sectors impacted by our volunteer direction, we are inviting you/your client to attend Community Day to experience the Fringe from a broader community perspective. Special effort will be made to welcome you as a guest, and when you check in at the Community Day event at the ATB Financial Patio, we will present you with a small token of our appreciation for coming out to show your support. Please find the invitation attached.

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Thank you for your support and interest in the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.

Since the Facebook post, there has been a lot of backlash. On Monday, the Fringe said it wanted to work with Hughes and “make it right.”

“We feel terrible,” said Carnes. “This is obviously not what we wanted as an impact in the community. We do apologize to Daniel and those affected by this.”

“We realize that the community is very passionate about this and we are very committed to resolving it.”


Carnes said the festival still has a great deal to learn and do to make the situation right.

“Our immediate next steps are to contact everyone who received a similar letter to Daniel’s and work with them to find meaningful volunteer opportunities for them in this year’s festival.”

Carnes said the festival is committed to becoming a stronger organization and will work with groups who have come forward with offers to help.

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News.

*Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Monday, July 6, 2015. It was updated at 11:20 Tuesday to include more information from the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. 


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