Earlier this month the National Post reported that the Edmonton Fringe Festival rejected the volunteer application of Daniel Hughes, who volunteered as a FriendRaiser several times in the past. According to the newspaper article, Daniel is “non-verbal” and is well-known for his smile. (Disabled man not welcome to volunteer at Edmonton Fringe Festival after years of involvement, July 2, 2015)

The rejection letter sent to Daniel’s primary support person, rather than to him directly, stated, in part: “…due to the nature of the current demands on our Festival, we are now obligated to engage only those volunteers whose skill sets match those of the job. For instance, all volunteers on the FriendRaisers Team must now be able to actively communicate and engage with Festival Patrons, both asking for donations and explaining how the Festival benefits from this support.”

As an organization that promotes human rights, accessibility and inclusion for people who have speech and language disabilities that are not primarily caused by hearing loss, Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) applauds Daniel for sharing his experience with the public. All too often discriminatory actions against Canadians with speech and language disabilities remain silenced.

Following a public apology to Daniel and other volunteer applicants with various disabilities who had received a similar letter, the Fringe Festival shared on its Facebook page that festival organizers had a positive discussion with Daniel and his family, and subsequently asked them to advise organizers along the way..

CDAC views this as a step in the right direction and offers further suggestions to the Edmonton Fringe Festival:

  • Review the communication tips; many of which are applicable to festival staff when interacting with volunteers, and volunteers interacting with festival attendees.
  • Check out the resource for employers to gain an understanding of the barriers facing individuals with speech and language disabilities when they are seeking employment, whether it be paid or volunteer positions.
  • Complete the free e-learning modules designed to help businesses and organizations make their services communication accessible.
  • Connect with a local organization that works with people with disabilities to find out more about employment opportunities for people with speech and language disabilities.

We ask that Edmonton Fringe Festival bear in mind the inability to speak is not a reflection of individuals’ ability to work or the contribution they can bring to your festival and community.