May Balls have often been considered to be an integral part of the Cambridge student experience, yet they are not accessible to all.
May Balls have often been considered to be an integral part of the Cambridge student experience, yet they are not accessible to all. As a wheelchair user, I’ve had a lot of problems with attending May Balls and other events in the past. Old colleges can be difficult to access in my chair, and many committees don’t incorporate ramps, and other accessibility measures into their planning. But this isn’t just about wheelchair accessibility. There are students at Cambridge with a wide range of disabilities, and we wanted to make sure that balls could be accessible to everyone. The scheme strives to incorporate the experiences of all disabled students. I’m really proud to say that the scheme has been endorsed by the May Ball President's committee, and almost all 2022 May Balls have signed up to the scheme.
Originally conceptualised in 2020 by myself and former Disabled Students’ Officer, Rensa, Access-A-Ball was inspired by the Sustain-a-Ball scheme which encourages balls to put into practice certain behaviours to make their balls more eco-friendly. We wanted to run something encourage balls to be more accessible and actively consider the experiences of disabled students in their planning. I’m so excited to finally see the scheme through this year, two years after it was conceptualised, on the first May Balls since the pandemic began.
So how does it work? The scheme takes the form of a series of training sessions for committee members. One of the first things committee members are taught is how to write clear access statements, as it is crucial that students are able to make an informed decision on which balls they want to buy tickets to. The ball committees are also taught about a wide range of access measures, such as clear allergen labelling, easy to read signage, quiet spaces, accessible social media posts, bathroom provisions, anything that a disabled student might have to consider.
At the end of the scheme, the ball committees will submit photos and other evidence of how well their ball managed to incorporate accessibility into the event, and will be graded on how well they did. The committees will receive either Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum awards for their balls, which in coming years will set a precedent for the following year’s committees to live up to - proof that each college has a certain potential accessibility wise.
I really hope that my experience of poor access at balls will be a thing of the past thanks to this scheme - all students deserve to have a fun time at May Balls!