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Annual Black Rock Desert event has made itself accessible to people with disabilities.
Photo: Katy Tahja (all)
Thousands of revelers descend on the Black Rock Desert playa, northeast of Reno, every Labor Day weekend for Burning Man. The event celebrates art, music, and self-expression and has made itself more accessible to a new group of folks—people with disabilities.
At a gathering that stresses radical self reliance and only offers two things for sale—coffee and ice—it’s definitely a “do-it-yourself” environment. At the same time, attendees find themselves surrounded by friendly, supportive people who go out of their way to help each other. Still, anyone in a wheelchair or on crutches might hesitate to consider setting up camp in the Black Rock Desert when they realize it could be a three-mile walk from camp to some of the art instillations.
That’s where the Black Rock City Department of Mobility comes in. Right at the edge of Center Camp is a campsite for people who need an extra hand and might want help with mobility equipment. Over the years this group has existed with changing names and volunteers, but every year it becomes more focused on making this festival accessible to all. Revelers can camp anywhere in Black Rock City and stop by for help, or consider joining this centrally located camp.
Services this mobility camp provide include loans of mobility equipment, plug-in power for recharging wheelchairs and oxygen and CPAP machines, troubleshooting for any form of machinery not responding well to alkaline playa dust, a handicapped accessible shower and Porta-Potty unit, and motorized tours into the playa.
The mobility camp has a trailer with bench seats and space for wheelchairs attached to a golf cart. Everyone climbs or wheels onboard, and several times a day art tours depart. Want to watch the sun rise over the Jackson Mountains? Want to go on the pub crawl late at night? Arrangements can be made to come back hours later for a pick up.
For the reveler who tripped over a tent peg in the dark and twisted an ankle, there are free crutches at the mobility camp. If a person with a disability camped elsewhere discovers the air filter on their art car is clogged they can rest assured the “fix-it” guys in this camp will help. Last year a woman from Morocco broke her ankle three days before flying to the U.S. to attend Burning Man. She came anyway and got the help she needed with the loan of a scooter and a re-charging station in the mobility camp.
Mobility equipment can be turned into art projects and is featured on display. Adaptations to deal with wheelchairs in playa conditions are shared. Art cars cruise by the mobility camp and load up campers for short excursions around Black Rock City. Volunteers stop by just to ask if anyone in a wheelchair would like to be pushed anyplace. These simple acts of kindness by total strangers are the norm at Burning Man.
All week long folks stop by to drop off mobility equipment for free to be used for anyone in need. A donation of two manual wheelchairs came from someone from Louisiana who said they were leftover from Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
In 2012, this camp was populated by people with congenital problems, accident victims, war veterans, folks with degenerative diseases, and those with any kind of conceivable disability. Many assumed they would never be able to attend such an active event in a demanding environment. By weeks end they were all good friends sharing the time of their lives.
One of the most popular vehicles in the mobility camp was a golf cart with a blender wired into the hood. At every sunset the campers would investigate what they could contribute from ice chests and liquor stashes to “Happy Hour.”
The information desk at the mobility camp was staffed 24/7 as passers-by were always asking questions, or lost, or perplexed. The camp maintains a book crossing zone, where free books for adults and kids are available, and a free box of trinkets. Foreign journalists would often drop by for interviews, fascinated to find handicapped people in the center of the action.
As with everything at Burning Man, this mobility camp is a constantly evolving experiment. What happened in the past may not exist in the future, but for years now some kind of operation has gotten the people with disabilities onto the playa, and the camp will exist in some way, shape, or form in 2013—assuring that all are welcome to join in the greatest party on earth.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Aug. 26-Sept. 2, 2013