Every year in late summer, tens of thousands of people come together to build a temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. For nine days, Burning Man attendees fill seven square miles with art installations, temporary concert venues, and DIY camps. People bike from place to place on the dusty, uneven ground. But while one of Burning Man’s ten principles is “radical inclusivity,” it’s often difficult for people with physical disabilities to get around the playa. Mobility Camp is working to change that.
“I had friends who have been coming to Burning Man for 20 years, and they would come home with great pictures and stories. But they always said, ‘Oh, but you could never do it in a wheelchair,’" Dani Moore, 64, tells Refinery29. Then, in 2010, one of Moore's friends lost their driver’s license and asked Moore if she could drive him to Burning Man in exchange for a ticket. After some research, she found the Department of Mobility, a camp designed by and for disabled Burners.
For Moore, the experience was a revelation. “First year on playa, I knew immediately this was this was where I needed to be, this was home,” she says. She volunteered 110 hours in her first year. And after the former camp lead stepped down due to an injury in 2012, she took over.
Currently called Mobility Camp, the community has now existed for around 20 years. Along with being wheelchair-accessible and designed for campers with disabilities, it also offers first aid resources — including crutches and wheelchairs — and transportation for any Burners who need them. That way, everyone can see the art installations and the famous sculpture of the Man.
There’s also an educational aspect: the camp features an obstacle course for able-bodied people to go through using crutches or a wheelchair — something that has inspired participants to change the designs of their own camps. “It gives people the idea that if you don't put that two-inch step at the entrance to your camp, you're making it more accessible for everybody,” Moore says.
This year, just under 50 people were part of Mobility Camp, about 85% of them mobility-impaired. Some campers use wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs, while others have limited balance or cognitive impairment due to a traumatic brain injury or a stroke. While some people return to the camp every year, others attend the camp for one year, learn how to manage their equipment, and then join a camp with their able-bodied friends. “We’re like Burning Man boot camp for the disabled,” Moore jokes.
Emily Jacobs, 34, has been part of the camp for three years now. She first attended Burning Man two months after she had her leg amputated following a car crash. In fact, the man who hit her with his car gave her the ticket. She wanted to go, but wasn’t sure if she would be able to manage. She discovered the camp through a Google search, reached out to Moore, and decided to attend.
Jacobs was new to using her prosthetic and sometimes needed help — for example, she forgot her pain medication, and needed assistance with transportation around the playa — and Mobility Camp provided it. “Burning Man has been a very transformative, healing, positive experience,” she says. “If it wasn't for Mobility Camp, I don't know that I would have come the first year, and then I wouldn't have come any of the years after.”
For Moore, the camp is an extension of Burning Man’s principles. “Burning Man is a place like nowhere else in the world, and everybody should be able to come and experience it,” she says. “One of the ten principles is radical inclusion, and our camp motto is ‘radical inclusion by radical accessibility.’ We don't want there to be this perception that you can't do Burning Man in a wheelchair. We want people to know that yeah, you can, and we can show you how.”