Having all kinds of people (volunteering) is just important for the diversity of the community

To read on Edmonton Journal website:

Fringe Festival adjusts volunteer protocol after disability controversy

For nine seasons, Alex Sutherland has been a volunteer at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, working at the front-of-house, or ticket area. The 33-year-old has some cognitive challenges, but they don’t get in the way of his ability to guide patrons toward the right venue for their show.

“We have a lot of plays to tend to,” says Sutherland. “We do look around the areas, and try to help people try to be on time and ask the guests ‘what are you doing’ and try not to lose their children. That can be scary.”

“I love it there,” he says of his volunteer commitment to the Fringe.

Sutherland is one of up to 1,200 volunteers yearly who donate their time to form a much-needed brigade, because the Fringe only has 12 full-time staff (with some extra part-timers in the summer) with which to host patrons.

But last year, the festival’s reputation as an organization that welcomed volunteers was tarnished when a local disabled man, Daniel Hughes, was told he couldn’t volunteer because his skill set did not match those of the job. In the past, Hughes, who is non-verbal, had volunteered as a “FriendRaiser.”

Last year’s incident was unfortunate and we have learned from it

In a letter to Hughes, a Fringe staff member wrote “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.”

The decision riled those within and outside of the disabled community and forced the Fringe to revisit its policy. Acting executive director Adam Mitchell says that while the festival has “always been inclusive and been perceived that way,” the incident led to a thorough review of all volunteer policies.

“Last year’s incident was unfortunate and we have learned from it,” says Mitchell.

He says the organization has since worked with a number of support agencies, including the Gateway Association and Inclusion Alberta, which “helped us focus in on our volunteer department and to learn more about how to accommodate people in roles and jobs and helped us review our own practices and policies.”


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