From Elin ‘My Blurred World’
ACCESSIBLE CONCERTS: WHAT DISABLED FANS WANT FROM VENUES
Lack of accessibility information, limited disabled access tickets, four hour long queues to get through to the accessible tickets line… It’s safe to say that there are a lot of hoops disabled music fans have to jump through before arriving at an arena to see our favourite artists live.
And when we do get there, challenges still populate venues, tainting an experience that’s meant to symbolise and celebrate fun, freedom and unity.
At the start of a year like this, so many people commit to new goals and resolutions, so many pinpoint the ways in which we can be better, do better and I’ve been thinking a lot about how this should extend to organisations and institutions too.
Every year, we hear of the same access barriers that have existed in all the years that have gone before. Echoes of previous inequalities still reach from the past and whisper in the ear of a new year, still existing, still discriminating, still excluding.
With this in mind, I’d like to highlight some of the barriers that exist when it comes to the music industry, concerts in particular.
As an avid concert-goer myself, I’ve come across a fair share of access barriers over the years and I know that I’m not the only one. My voice alone wouldn’t give justice to the whole landscape of obstacles that are out there so took to Twitter to ask fellow disabled gig-goers what barriers they find themselves coming up against most often, and what changes they’d like to see from venues to make the concert experience more accessible and inclusive.
The introductory list barely scratches the surface in terms of the barriers that exist, so I hope the rest of this blog post serves to highlight how and why concerts need to be more accessible.
So, venues, listen up; these are just some of the barriers that exist for disabled music fans and what you need to do to make your events accessible and inclusive to everyone. Let committing to and actioning access be at the top of your New Year’s resolutions list.
ACCESSIBLE CONCERTS: WHAT DISABLED FANS WANT FROM VENUES
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? ‘Accessible tickets’ are two words that have previously coaxed me into a state of anxiety and uncertainty because the process of purchasing them is far from straight-forward or stress-free.
An overwhelming amount of people who so kindly shared their thoughts and experiences with me referred to accessible tickets in one way or another, marking it as a barrier from the get go.
It all starts with ‘working out how to book tickets’, according to Ameena and I for one echo her sentiment.
More often than not, accessibility information is hard to come by. Artists’ websites will usually refer to the venues site only for them to bury the information, often very little information may I add, in a hard to find page before sending you back to the link you’ve just come from. It turns into a very tedious game of website ping pong with no winner at the end.
The process often warrants an email to the venues’ access team in order to secure the information that should be available at a click of a button.
All of this comes before buying the tickets themselves. If you’re a concert-goer, you will have most likely experienced those ticket-buying butterflies; the anticipation as you wait for the clock to hit the on-sale time. But that anxiety is magnified for disabled fans.
‘Inaccessible online booking systems or not being able to book online at all,’ proves a top concern for Holly. Many agreed, branding the process of buying tickets as ‘inaccessible’ since booking by phone is so often the only option.
Not only is it inaccessible for many but booking lines often have very long queues, take my recent 4-hour long wait to buy Ed Sheeran tickets as an example. A process that would take a non-disabled person two minutes to complete online snatched half of my day simply because I needed accessible tickets.
But many of us endure these long waiting times to secure the golden ticket to the show. My friend and I were lucky that our wait was worth it in the end but it’s often not the case. Like Zubee says, the long queues mean that ‘tickets are sold out’ by the time you do get through to someone at the other end of the line.
This is often the result of limited accessible tickets/seating being available in the first place and it’s an issue that sees many of us being denied the opportunity to see our favourite bands and artists live.
It’s also important to note that ‘queues/short time frame to book before selling out doesn’t work for variable/unpredictable conditions. If you’re sick on that day you miss out,’ says Nic who also added that alternative ticket options should be offered to those who might not be well enough to attend a concert on the day.
- Provide clear and detailed accessibility information, including details about how to book tickets, the personal assistant scheme, accessibility in and around the venue etc, ensuring all of this is provided on a fully accessible website, of course.
- Offering accessible alternatives to book tickets.
- Offering transferrable tickets or the opportunity to swap to an online ticket for those who aren’t able to attend on the day due to their impairment/health condition
PERSONAL ASSISTANT TICKETS
Sticking with the theme of tickets; the personal assistant tickets scheme, available at many venues, allows for a disabled person to secure a free companion ticket if they can’t attend a show alone. But, as with anything when it comes to access, it’s littered with fallacies.
In a further list of barriers shared with me, Nic referred to the fact that often, you can only get a ‘free carer ticket or book disabled space if you get PIP, which is so difficult to get with chronic illness, variable or invisible disabilities these days.’
This need for proof of eligibility through medical based evidence nods to the fact that the bones of the scheme lie heavily in the relics of the medical model of disability, meaning that those who are eligible for a companion ticket are often denied one.
The process of supplying this evidence is rarely accessible either with many venues requesting a completed form by post. And let’s not forget the minimum two-week waiting game to find out if the application has been approved or not…
Another issue in relation to the scheme was flagged by Emma who highlighted that only being allowed one companion ticket means ‘we can’t sit with groups of non-disabled friends,’ which provokes divisions that shouldn’t exist at gigs.
- Offering alternative ways to be approved for the scheme rather than the need to supply evidence such as receipt of PIP. Recognising how shifting to the Social Model of Disability can promote more inclusivity
- If forms need to be completed in order for a free PA ticket to be approved, ensuring that these forms are offered in accessible formats, including plain text and Easy-Read.
- Offering alternative ways of submitting forms to the scheme, including e-mail and the opportunity to complete by phone.
INSIDE THE VENUE
Have you ever attended a concert alone, or have the urge to? Many do but there is a lot of anxiety attached to the idea of attending alone as a disabled person or even with disabled friends. One of the main reasons for this being staff awareness and training, or lack there of.
Kevin said, ‘I’ve never even contemplated the idea of going to a gig by myself, just because the idea of staff not meeting me at the end or feeling like I can’t easily get to where I need to be is overwhelming.’
This concern was mirrored in many responses with some saying that they stray away from concerts due to the lack of awareness, support and understanding they expect or have previously experienced there.
- Regular staff training: One session can’t teach you all you need to know about disability awareness so continuous training is required to ensure that what is learned is actioned. These sessions should be led by disabled people/consultants themselves of course, nothing about us without us.
- ‘Some sort of access employee at the venue who could sort me out with things like: getting to the bar, guidance to the loos, getting set up in a good spot to listen, etc.’ – Black Cane Diary
LIGHTING & CROWDS
The overwhelming nature of the lighting and crowds was noted as a barrier for many.
Meg said that she finds herself having to ‘turn around and crouch down’ so that the flashing lights don’t bother her. That’s not a dance move anyone should have to commit to.
Another issue when it comes to lighting is the fact that there isn’t enough of it when navigating around an arena.
Sharing a list of some of the top barriers for her, Molly noted ‘dark stalls to buy drink/food. Break out areas being dark. Toilets being dark.’
Kiki bolstered this list with her own concerns, saying that ‘dark lighting with no guide lights to find my seat or even navigate, also strobe/flashing lights,’ proves to be huge barriers.
‘There’s no reason for it to be pitch black before the event or once it’s finished,’ says Ben, adding that ‘walkways to the bar, toilets etc should be clear and well lit.’
- Better lighting throughout the venue
- ‘Having lights on the steps.’ – Emily
- Introducing quiet areas: ‘I would be more willing to go to large live events if I knew there was a quiet place I could go to have a bit of relief. So much noise + light flashing + crowd starts to overwhelm, but I could go if there were break areas.’ – Julie
Nic highlighted that there is ‘no method of disabled booking for non wheelchair users (e.g. comfy seats, quiet zone, step free access, bypass queues)’ etc.
Limited accessible seating options was a barrier echoed by many respondents to the tweet and the lack of accessible seating/spaces at venues has seen many of us miss out on the opportunity to see our favourite bands/artists live.
- Increasing the number of accessible seating/disabled access tickets available
- The opportunity to remove seats in venues to accommodate more wheelchair spaces
- ’More wheelchair access at the front for wheelchair users with vision impairments’ – Emma
- Offering aisle seats to make it easier to locate your seat
Many of the barriers mentioned here serve to highlight the fact that live events so often remain veiled in a layer of inequality.
Many of us recognise it as something which is embedded in so many pockets of society, but when it saturates an aspect of our world that’s meant to symbolise enjoyment, escapism and freedom, it somehow feels even more degrading.
Yes, there are barriers, but there are also solutions. Now’s the time for venues to recognise and action them so we can all connect with music and our favourite artists the way we deserve to.
Music is universal, it’s time that access is too.
We’ve covered a lot here but I know that, in some cases, we’ve only scratched the surface. From more accessible signage to having BSL interpreters at events, I know that there is so much more that could have been mentioned here, so if you have any of your own barriers to highlight or proposed solutions to remedy them, please do share, I’d love to add your voice to the conversation.
Finally, thank you so much to everyone who so kindly shared their experiences and suggestions with me. I hope that displaying such a diverse collection of thoughts on here helps to give the topic the attention it deserves. Together we can make a difference, but we need people to listen. We need venues, tour providers and ticketing vendors to listen so we can be there in the crowd, listening to our favourite artists live like everyone else.
There are positive stories of accessibility and changes being made out there, I’ve proven them myself, but they shouldn’t be one hit wonders. So lets make access a hit, and let’s get it to number one so everyone remembers the tune.