In the year 2016, the music scene has tried to be more progressive and inclusive. There’s an apparent long road ahead of us but bands, venues, and fans are trying to make a clear effort to make shows more safe and welcoming.
Unfortunately, it tends to only be seemingly at times. As a disabled concert-goer, you tend to tune into things and struggle more than the able-bodied attendees around you. Part of that is dealing with the accessibility of a show: Can this venue provide a safe environment for you?
There has been some good conversations about accessible venues, such as disabled front woman Kayln Heffernan’s interview on the topic, band’s making help hotlines, and sites like “Is This Venue Accessible”, but there’s still much to cover.
A safe environment and the accessibility of a show can be dependent on many things for many different people. Is the venue friendly for wheelchair users? Are there ramps, lifts, and spaces for their chairs? Are there places to sit for people who physically can’t handle a general admission pit? How easy is it to get such accommodations? Can you get in the venue and navigate around it easily? Obviously, the list goes on, and venues that I might consider safe and accessible for me may not be for someone else as well as vice versa.
More concerns include the restrictiveness (and usually unfair) nature that comes with most disability seating sections of venues amongst other things. Often, accessible sections are far away from the stage, sometimes being blocked by able-bodied music fans standing in front of them. Accessible sections like such can be quite small and tend to come off as a last minute thought that no one really cared about. They also tend to limit how many people are allowed to be with you, ignoring the fact that disabled people are also social people or need someone to be with them to make sure they’re doing alright.
Concerts are often considered happy, safe spaces by many. The music being able to transport you to a state of mind where you can forget about troubling things and feel comfortable is a wonderful gift that not everyone can get. While going to shows with health issues – especially ones that have pain harder to manage – flare-ups can really be killer and can put you in an even worse and potentially dangerous situation if you aren’t in a safe space.
Hence why having accommodations and what not for disabled attendees is so important. Inclusivity is also lucrative for venues, the more inclusive your venue is the more business you’ll bring in.
For me, personally, a safe venue includes somewhere to sit, venues that let me bring my needed medications in, and preferably not a large flight of stairs – which, to be fair, I only realized that last one after my latest show. On top of all other accessibility needs, are the venue staff respectful of disabled people?
I have had both wonderful and terrible experiences at shows due to my health issues and due to locations not being as chronic pain friendly as they claimed they were. Some venues and their staff are very understanding and cooperative while some others are rather subpar when it comes to being able to provide that environment.
During a trip to Milwaukee for a show recently, I encountered a slightly intense sort of the latter.
I had heard that the building was rather accessible from word-of-mouth, the venue’s site also included information that made the location seem very disability-friendly. However when we got there, things proved to be a bit different.
We walked up to a security guard near the entrance to a seated balcony area and informed him that we needed to go up to the balcony since we had two disabled people in our party. Once they looked at our tickets we were denied access. Since we had general admission tickets and not balcony tickets, none of us were let up into the balcony area where the seats are located including those who needed disability seating.
[Sidenote, during the band’s presale that guaranteed you tickets there had been only one ticket type available and if this really was the case – to have a presale excluding disabled fans – fuels the ableism that is already rooted deep within the community. Charging twenty more dollars for said tickets and having regulations in a venue like such that could exclude disabled people who are coming last minute, or couldn’t afford the more expensive option, or are simply unaware, is once again is very restrictive. Not to mention denying someone who needs disability seating can be extremely dangerous for the disabled person.]
One of the members of our small party went to go figure things out by asking more staff members while another sat me down on the floor since I was wildly high on my pain scale that day and not in the shape to be standing during a stressful situation. While talking to different security and staff about getting accessible seating, they seemed very careless about the situation as they came off as if they weren’t really listening to what was being said, giving rude looks and brushing the issues off.
Ten or so minutes and a token respectful security guard later, I was let into the seated balcony area but could only bring one person with. We didn’t see our other disabled friend for another fifteen minutes as she also had problems getting up. The rest of our party was never let up, which on one hand is understandable but on another hand is the unfortunate situation that you can’t be disabled, safe, and social with friends at shows like everyone else.
We were told once we were up on the balcony that we could not leave, we could not go down for merchandise or anything of the sort otherwise we would not be let back up – something we argued against and were eventually given the option of going down and returning. Security assigned to our section, if you will, said that there was an elevator to the restrooms if I “really, really, really needed it,” extremely hesitantly.
Before the first opener, I started exchanging conversation with the person next to me who were also up on the balcony for health reasons. They explained how the venue had not let them up for disability seating because they didn’t believe them, because they didn’t look disabled. On top of that, the venue repeatedly lied about its accessibility to them, promising to accommodate to their needs and let them in earlier as well as have seating for them. When later asked, the venue responded with uncertainty and ultimately broke those promises.
When calling the venue less than an hour later about all the altercations, they claimed that it never happened and that we had no problem getting up to accessible seats, ultimately lying to keep up their reputation.
Even after fighting with security and box offices and simply being seated, all of us still felt extremely uneasy and uncomfortable at the show.
Disabled people should not have to fight for fairness and respect and belief at shows, no one should have to look a certain way or have to pay a certain amount of money to be safe at a concert. We should not be greeted un-welcomingly.