Festivals, celebrations, and parades are more than simple parties; they often have significant historic and cultural roots, which maintain our connection to important triumphs and traditions. Incidentally, it is this connection that serves to foster a burgeoning global heritage. Thus, each festival brings together millions of people annually to celebrate an increasingly diverse and inclusive community, as a testament to the indomitable human spirit.
Steeped in history and focused on community, below is the 5th and final destination on our tour of the world’s largest accessible celebrations (see the others here):
Burning Man: Black Rock City, Nevada
Beginning with an 8’ scrap-wood effigy burning on a San Francisco beach in 1986, Burning Man has since become one of the world’s largest cultural festivals. Following a denial by the Golden Gate Park Police to allow the burning of the effigy in 1990, the celebration moved from San Francisco to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
Every year, festival members (called Burners) erect a temporary community in the Black Rock Desert for a week. This community, known as Black Rock City, attracts roughly 70-thousand people annually to celebrate an unrestricted human experience focused on self-expression and community rather than commercial needs. And according to the festival’s website, experiencing freedom and connection is the festival’s major point:
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience. (“The 10 Principles of Burning Man”. Immediacy. Accessed June 26, 2017)
Getting to Black Rock City
- By Plane: The Reno-Tahoe International Airport is the closest airport to Black Rock City. Wheelchair services are available, though the airport does ask that requests for those services be made at the ticket counter during check-in. In addition, those traveling into Reno should contact their air carrier in advance about wheelchair or other accessibility services from the landing gate.
- By Car: After landing at the Reno-Tahoe airport, the easiest way to get to Black Rock City is by car. The airport provides access to nine different rental car agencies. These agencies will be able to accommodate most disabilities. However, it is recommended that travelers call a rental car agency at least a week prior to arrival to ensure that a vehicle equipped with the necessary accessible accommodations will be available. In addition, those attending Burning Man may choose to join the festival’s rideshare or book passage on the Burner Express Bus. However, without making proper arrangements beforehand, it may be difficult to find a ride depending on the nature of some disabilities.
Getting Around in Black Rock City
Mutant Vehicles: Burning Man makes use of a wide range of public vehicles throughout the festival. For example, Mutant Vehicles (essentially floats or motorized art projects) are a frequent sight at the festival, in addition to bicycles and electric bikes. These vehicles must be registered with Burning Man’s Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV) and, in doing so; their operators agree to provide rides to anyone at the festival whenever possible. Some of these Mutant Vehicles are also specifically for assisting those with disabilities.
Disabled Vehicle Licenses: Those with disabilities can attain a “Disabled Person’s Vehicle License” to operate their vehicle around the festival. These vehicles must either be a Mutant Vehicle or otherwise conform to the festival’s vehicle guidelines; generally speaking, nothing larger than a standard size truck. More information about vehicles can be found on the festival’s website.
On Your Own
Wheelchairs: Due to Black Rock City’s rudimentary conditions, certain considerations must be taken when deciding on wheelchair travel. The desert environment may be harsh, so powered wheelchairs can be an easy way of conquering the terrain quickly. However, the dirt is difficult on mechanical components, and those using a powered wheelchair will have to find a way of recharging the batteries. Manual wheelchairs, on the other hand, are easier to upkeep, though they will demand more physical strength. Regardless of the type of wheelchair used, wide, mild-tread tires, as well as a patch kit and pump, are highly recommended. The Burning Man website offers further suggestions about the use of wheelchairs in the desert, such as considerations of weather conditions at Black Rock City and how they may affect wheelchair use.
Mobility Camp: Camping is an essential part of the Burning Man experience. That said there are parts of the camp that are “themed,” or dedicated to specific ideals in order to further the sense of community developed by the festival. One such camp is the “Mobility Camp.” The Mobility Camp website offers a “survival guide,” as well as other resources that may be useful, including information for joining a camp.
Streets: Strictly speaking, there are no streets at Burning Man; rather, there are dirt pathways throughout the camp that separate each “block” of the city. While the ground packs down hard initially, the wind may carve ruts, dust storms can set in quickly, and rain is always a possibility. In such cases, the terrain may be challenging. However, as it is the desert, storms pass and rain dries quickly. The Burning Man website recommends carrying ample water and making friends with your neighbors in the event of dust or rainstorms. Other suggestions are available through the Burning Man website.
* Wheelchairlift.com would like to give special thanks to the Burning Man and Reno-Tahoe International Airport websites for informing much of this blog entry. For more information about taking part in the Burning Man festival, connect with festival staff and Burners here, or sign up to receive the festival newsletter, the Jackrabbit Speaks, for information about the Burning Man experience and tips for preparing for the festival. For those interested in flying to Burning Man, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport website provides information for requesting accessibility accommodations, on-line searchable flights, and travel tips.