Burning Man Festival is one of the wildest and most infamous music festivals. Set in the remote Nevada desert during late summer, it’s a two-week music and art event dedicated to inclusivity and openness, intending to educate others about compassion and cleansing the soul. At the end of the festival, a literal wicker statue of a man is set ablaze to cap off a brilliant two weeks of fun in the hot desert sun.
You’d never know it without diving deep into research, but Burning Man is one of the most accessible music festivals to attend. “Hang on a second,” you might be wondering, “how can a desert-based festival be accessible for those using wheelchairs or scooters?”
It all began with Dani “Rat Lady” Moore, one of the first “Lamplighters” to use a wheelchair at Burning Man. Lamplighters are the people who guide patrons back to camp with lanterns and lead people to the wicker man’s torching. Since Moore made festival history, she has inspired hundreds of those in similar situations to make the trip to the Black Rock Desert and experience the magic of Burning Man.
Moore is now the leader of Burning Man’s Mobility Camp, a campsite for attendees with mobility disabilities or those looking for a safe space to sleep, eat and commune together.
It’s one of a few fan-led groups that help make Burning Man more inclusive to those with disabilities.
Mobility Camp provides charging for medical equipment for those that need it and a place where those with children can go to escape some of the wilder sides of the festival. They also provide transportation to art installations around the grounds. For the last 24 years, Mobility Camp has opened the door for many festivalgoers with disabilities while providing an enriching, uplifting experience for everyone.
Burning Man lives by the principle of “all are welcome,” but that’s easier in theory than in practice. The harsh desert setting does not make it easy for people with disabilities or illnesses to attend without taking significant precautions. Yet, Mobility Camp and the empathy of fans have welcomed those from all walks of life to promote inclusion and raise awareness about social and environmental issues. They even have some green policies, such as Leave No Trace at campsites, ample trash clean-up and onsite composting.
Another major part of Burning Man’s inclusion mission is the Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV), an official section of the festival experience that provides transport for those with issues walking.
Ironically abbreviated “DMV,” it showcases wacky and stupendous homemade transportation.
Since Burning Man is in a wide-open, foot- and bike-friendly space, some have built motorized vehicles to get around quicker. Mobility Camp has partnered with the DMV to find creative ways of efficiently getting guests with disabilities around. Riding in these creations makes guests feel more included and look extremely cool while riding in these homemade vehicles.
Mobility Camp has inspired plenty of attendees with disabilities to keep persevering and returning to the desert. In a National Geographic piece about Burning Man, festivalgoer Emily Jacobs told her story about how Mobility Camp saved her from deep depression after she lost her leg in a severe car accident. While her first experience was difficult, it inspired her to return to Black Rock for five years in a row. “It’s healing to have independence and receive help when you need it, without judgment,” Jacobs said.
Since the Mobility Camp opened in 2000, the festival has featured groups for the blind, deaf, and those with food allergies, including the Blind Burners, Da Dirty Hands and Uni-Corny. The American Disability Association (ADA) hopes Burning Man’s inclusionary measures can be applied to other music and arts festivals, including wheelchair accessibility and American sign language interpreters. Currently, more than 61 million Americans living with disabilities cannot attend several festivals due to a lack of accessible facilities and services. Luckily, Burning Man is setting a new standard that other outdoor music events can follow.