For years I dreamed of going to Burning Man, but with all the difficulty of getting a visa to the States, it never happened. However, I didn’t miss the first official Midburn ticket sale which caught me while I was sunbathing on a beach in Thailand, barely connected to WIFI.
Two months after I bought my ticket, there I was bringing equipment down to the event site in the desert. I wanted to make sure that the Family Camp that I chose to join would really be fun for kids, great for parents and fun for all. So, I decided to lend a hand with setting up the camp. “Radical Self Reliance” is what some of us might call it. Because, it’s a desert here, right? There’s nothing there. And you can’t buy anything. So, whatever you may want while you’re there? You just gotta bring it yourself. And with that, Midburn sucked me in very quickly.
Throughout the entire event, I found myself stuck – literally – in the Family Camp. Combine tons of sand and a wheelchair – my wheelchair- and you have what’s probably the biggest mobility obstacle at Midburn. Don’t get me wrong. The event was super fun, extremely amazing, and out of this world. What I mean is, even just to sit in one place and watch the colorful, mad circus around me with thousands of people celebrating and expressing their radical selves, was wonderful. Who even needs to wander around?
But in the end, I decided it was important to offer my criticisms and feedback to people who I knew and respected in the production team. “ It was wonderful, buuuuut, I wasn’t able to see much of the city, and the handicapped toilets were in the furthest possible place ….” Yada yada yada.
The production team, especially Nati, took my criticisms to heart.
Not long afterwards I received a call from Nati. “So, this coming year: are you interested in volunteering to head Fundraising or Ticketing?” I didn’t need to think twice. It was so obvious. I would be responsible for Accessibility. Remember? Radical Self Reliance.
Ironically I don’t know much about accessibility – well just as much as anyone with a pair of glasses knows. Both of us are supported by a prop that reduces the restriction of the body and the world’s obstacles. If I only knew ahead of time how nearly impossible it would be to make Midburn fully accessible…
When I got started, I had absolutely no idea what needed to be done. Anyone sitting in a wheelchair automatically thinks that the main accessibility problem at Midburn is getting around in the sand. But I didn’t even think about the challenge of making our content accessible to deaf people! I mean, who woulda thought of that! And yet, with nearly a hundred theme camps that are running all different kinds of activities, the question arises: how can we make sure that all of the activities and information about them is available, and accessible, to people who cannot hear?
And we haven’t even touched upon how one goes about making all of the playa’s interactive art installations accessible to the blind! Ok, but hold on…maybe we don’t need to make the art installations accessible to blind people. How many blind people will even be coming to Midburn???
And along with that, we can’t forget about the wheelchairs. How do we take a city system based on lanes of sand that run for kilometers and turn it into a network of streets that allow for easy movement in a wheelchair? It’s quite a difficult feat- nearly impossible. Especially when the city is a temporary one – one that comes alive for a week, and then dives back down into the dunes without leaving a trace.
The more I learned about the topic, the more I understood how impossible this task was.
Why do I even need this headache? Let’s be honest. Midburn, at its core, is an event where participants are expected to handle extreme conditions, where they are challenged to apply the principle of “Radical Self Reliance”. So, what’s the deal?
Forget about our legal obligations as a non-profit for a sec, and put aside our obligations to the Burning Man principles. The way I see it, we want to try to do things on our own terms, according to our values, and our own beliefs … and I think we can all agree that the best Midburn is a Midburn where anyone who wants to can participate. I guess this is why we acknowledge the headache, and try our best to make it better.
Here’s where the fascinating tension between the two principles, Radical Self Reliance & Radical Inclusion, arises! And here’s where it falls upon the community to combine the two in order to create accessibility at an event that is expressly inaccessible.
It’s Midburn 2015, Tuesday afternoon, and I’m riding around on the official Midburn Accessibility scooter. To my right sits a woman who sprained her ankle and therefore wasn’t able to get around the city (who would have ever thought that accessibility would also involve cases like this….). We started chatting about the theme camp “ Desert Hands”. The Desert Hands camp is comprised of people who know sign language. There are more than 20 deaf and hearing impaired individuals along with a number of interpreters. Let’s talk about the fact that there’s even a camp like this at Midburn ( At decompression 2015 many of the camp participants took shifts at the bar, and I saw that in 2016 they’re planning to build a full on art installation as part of their theme camp!) The way I see it, with these conversations on the playa and with these initiatives in the community, Accessibility at Midburn is already a massive success.
What began as a way for me to organise myself a more comfortable way to get around ended up bringing unforgettable, intimate, exciting and moving moments with it.
This year Midburn Accessibility has got a newbee spearheading the team who we call “Ganesh Ha’Mangish”, which you might translate to “Accesso The Accessibleator” (good luck Rotem!) – but he has no clue about accessibility either. (In fact, he may not even have glasses!). But what he does have is his own opportunity to invent and conjure up amazing solutions that will push the Accessibility department, maybe even moving it forward beyond all these difficulties.
Because, what is truly amazing about this festival/carnival/city/massive art installation/community, is that everything rises (and falls, but mainly rises) at the hands of people who give their own time, their own resources, their talents, their knowledge, their money, their tools, who give their whole selves, in order to bring their dreams to life and support the creation of the dreams of those around them.
You want something? Do it. That’s how you can be sure that it’ll get done. On the way you’ll meet tons of amazing new people who want to help, you’ll learn new things about yourself that you never knew before, and you’ll become an expert on topics you knew nothing about. Midburn enables you to grow, to develop, in the most accelerated way. It’s extremely hard, it pulls all of you, your energy and your resources inside.
And that’s one of the hardest yet most satisfying things that ever happened to me.
This year I’m moving to fireplay.
Because if I want there to be a fire performance that combines a wheelchair and fire torches, I guess I just have to create one myself. With lots of help around me…