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‘Frustrating’: B.C. couple highlights accessibility roadblocks at Rockin River Music Festival

Click to play video: 'Couple pushing for change after experiencing accessibility roadblocks at Rockin River Music Fest' Couple pushing for change after experiencing accessibility roadblocks at Rockin River Music Fest
A young Lower Mainland man who has been unable to walk since an ATV accident in 2017 is advocating for equal access at music events after he and his partner encountered roadblocks at Rockin River Fest in Merritt last month. Kristen Robinson reports – Aug 7, 2022

A young Lower Mainland man who has been unable to walk since an ATV accident in 2017 is hoping to spark positive change after encountering accessibility roadblocks at Rockin River Music Festival last month.

Mitchell Garrett, 27, and Haley Brown, 25, said they had a great time at the event aside from a couple of “hiccups” with security staff regarding communication over accessibility access.

“It was just really unfortunate to have this experience,” Garrett told Global News on Sunday.

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The shuttle buses to and from the Merritt, B.C. festival site were not accessible.

Garrett, who has paralysis in both legs, said his buddies would lift him into the shuttle on most trips but when they weren’t there, he was forced to climb up the steps himself.

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The couple asked one of their drivers, Brad Mackay, to film a video of Garrett maneuvering himself onto a bus seat in order to highlight the need for wheelchair-accessible services.

“Unfortunately it’s something that I’ve become accustomed to living with a disability,” said Garrett.

“This world is adapted for people who are (of) able body and we’re just living in it.”

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With no accessible stalls at the festival’s washroom stations or near the beer garden, Garrett said he asked security if he could go behind a gate for privacy.

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He said he was told to urinate in the open or leave.

“It was very frustrating,” Garrett recalled.

Days later, the pair encountered the same guard at another gate when Garrett also needed to relieve himself.

“I didn’t ask for permission because I knew he wouldn’t allow me and that’s when everything escalated with this security guard,” he said.

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No festival staff, they say, knew where the nearest accessible facilities were, and Garrett said he had no choice but to tuck behind a security fence.

Brown apologized twice to the guard, explaining the desperate situation Garrett was in.

“That’s when he said — no reason — ‘Your boyfriend’s disrespectful, he has no brain, and that’s why God put him in a wheelchair,’” Brown told Global News.

“It was tough,” Garrett added.

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Brown said Garrett is really good at brushing things off and not letting behaviour like this get to him but she was shattered by the hateful comments.

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“I was heartbroken, it really affected me deeply,” Brown said.

“Security guards are there to make you feel safe and this guy, multiple of them, made us feel threatened and unwelcomed and like we shouldn’t be there because he has a disability.”

After sharing the experience on social media, Brown said Rockin River festival staff were apologetic and took their concerns seriously, promising to do better next year. Global News requested comment from Rockin River Music Festival but did not receive a response by deadline.

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The company that provided the festival’s security personnel did not respond to a request for comment from Global News. Guardteck’s website, however, states it takes pride in its “professional, positive approach.”

The couple said some Guardteck staff members were amazing, but believes all festival security should know where the accessibility features are – since they are the first point of contact for attendees – and that everyone deserves equal access.

“Any place that’s meant for an able body should also be meant for someone who’s using a mobility aid,” said Garrett. “That’s pretty much what it comes down to.”

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