WHEELCHAIRS ON THE PLAYA
So you're coming to Burning Man and you're in a chair. It is critical that you read the Survival Guide, and take its advice seriously. If you are an experienced camper or adventurer, it should give you enough information to know what you will be facing at Burning Man and what you need to do to prepare for multiple days in the desert. If you haven't spent much time camping or roughing it, here are a few more tips that will help make your experience at Burning Man more trouble-free.
It is important that you understand that Burning Man is not for the faint-hearted or beginning camper. It is based on personal preparedness and participation. Before you can participate, you must make sure that you have taken care of your own needs and are truly prepared for the desert environment. Being prepared will not only allow you to participate but will also allow others to participate because they won't need to be worried about you.
Burning Man is a community and embraces everyone. There will be a limited number of wheelchair accessible porta-potties. These are clearly indicated on the map distributed as you enter the event. These are the only special accommodations that you should expect.
Here are some other helpful tips:
There are some serious advantages to having powered mobility. Powered chairs will get you around the event faster and with less fatigue. The sun is hot, the days are long, the city never sleeps and it is well over a mile from end to end. The event has grown so large, with so many wonderful things to see, that some kind of powered transportation is almost imperative. However, there are some disadvantages to a powered chair. How do you charge your chair? The alkali dust and harsh environment can wreak havoc on your equipment. If your power chair breaks down and you can't fix it, you're finished. It's best not to bring your everyday chair; if you have a spare chair, you should bring it.
When the weather is good the playa is packed hard and lends itself beautifully to wheeled transport. The playa surface is alkali and corrosive on skin. Gloves are advised. You will be tempted to bring out your big rough knobby tires for the wild terrain, but as soon as you hit someone's emptied sun shower puddle (or worse, it rains) you will quickly gather more mud in those treads than you believed possible. The best bet is a mild tread. The wider your tires, the better. This also goes for your front caster wheels. If you plan on only using your arm strength to get you around, you'll wish you hadn't. The event is vast, and you really will want to use a powered vehicle at some point like an art car, golf cart, or some other creative mode of transportation (friends towing you with bikes.) Be advised that no motorcycles or ATV's will be allowed. Be prepared to clean your chair, manual or powered. Bring a patch kit and pump and any tools you might need for adjustments or repairs.
If it rains, you are STUCK! Plan ahead for weather. You'd better get to know your neighbors, because if it rains or there a high winds you will probably need some assistance securing your camp or getting to a dry place. Have some type of emergency plan with those your camping with if one of the big storms hits. Carrying a portable radio with you to listen to one of the many Black Rock City radio stations will keep you advised of incoming storms. All of this is important because once the rain hits no mode of transportation, other than feet, can get very far in 4 to 6 inches of wet sticky clay. If the day is hot, things will dry up quickly, but if the rain keeps up, it will be a while before anything moves: most importantly, you.
You should plan to come completely self-sufficient. Even better, come with a support group of friends that you can camp with. Depending on your disability, you will need different kinds of assistance. It would be useful to keep a good group of friends near by. Also get to know your neighbors and your immediate surroundings. Know where the Ranger outposts are, where the medical tent is, where the accessible porta-potties are and where YOU are as you travel through the city. Remember to always pick out landmarks when you head out of your camp on adventures.
Water is key in the desert. Bring lots of it and drink lots of it. Remember that many people with disabilities are more prone to urinary tract infections. If this is true for you, it will only be multiplied in the desert. Pack based on the assumption that you will get a UTI. Bring any supplies or medication you might need. Dehydration is the most frequent medical emergency at Burning Man. It sets on quickly and relief is far, far, away. You will also need water for washing and keeping yourself and some of your stuff clean. Bring at least 2 gallons per person per day.
Probably the most difficult part of being on the playa is using the porta-potties. As much as the project encourages respect for the accessible porta-potties, people are not always considerate. Porta-potties are dirty by nature, and they are going to be scorching hot inside. Be prepared to get in and out of them quickly and efficiently. Bring extra supplies for your porta-potty needs, like handi-wipes, water, antibacterial soap and a hand towel. There is the possibility of using locks on these facilities. If that is the case, you will need to check in at Playa Info in center camp, for access keys.
If you can, try to bring something you can relax in aside from your chair. A thick sleeping pad will be invaluable.
If you have any further questions please email us at wheelchairs(at)burningman(dot)com. We'll see you out there!