Accessibility in the Music Scene: An Introduction To Ableism
by Cassie Wilson and Lu Laurent
- discrimination against disabled people.
People in the music scene have been fighting for civil rights and fair treatment both in and out of the community, yet ableism is often a forgotten issue. Safety and acceptance for all is what everyone is demanding right now, yet the lack of accessibility is an imminent threat to disabled fans and doesn’t make us feel welcome.
Ableism is very much an issue both in the world of social issues and the world of music, especially since it has such a large role in the safety and inclusiveness at shows. Addressing ableism and how to eliminate it is crucial to making an accepting music scene a reality, and not just a marketing pitch for bands to sell more tickets. Many artists advertise their concerts as being a safe place for people who feel like they don’t belong anywhere else which is wonderful, but only if the artists actually believe it, are willing to boost important voices of the oppressed and are interested in making those words a reality.
For artists in a position of power who want to fight to resolve social issues, this one hits close to their home where they have the ability and platform to make a change. PWR BTTM is a great example of a band who genuinely cares about making sure anyone and everyone can attend and fully enjoy their shows. Lead singer, Ben Hopkins, apologized for lack of accessibility at their show in Portland because they always do their best to play accessible venues, and he felt bad that this was an instance where they did not. Artists’ awareness of ableism is a progressive step towards positive change.
Ableism is often brushed off as an overreaction, exaggeration or viewed as an opinion instead of a problem. People, especially those who are able bodied, can very easily dismiss it and dismiss its status as an important topic because they don’t encounter these same problems. The lack of attention and lack of representation of disabled people as well as their struggles certainly makes the issue easier to ignore. The privilege to be able to shut off a topic and the power to shut disabled people down is overlooked far too often and not taken seriously enough.
Accessibility issues and ableism can truly jeopardize someone’s health and well-being, especially in an environment that is as hectic as a concert. Being in crowds as a wheelchair user is unsafe to the disabled person because of pushing and crowd-surfers, but often it feels like the only option because of illegitimate ADA sections. For someone who has chronic pain, standing in general can be pretty awful, especially for back and breathing issues, so standing for longer periods of time can be even worse. It can be difficult on the person’s body, their chronic pain can become more aggravated and their stress or concern over the situation can hurt them even further, making their pain worsen and breathing harder. Accessibility is about making safe, accessible spaces for disabled people, and currently in most venues there aren’t those spaces, so having a safe experience can be challenging from the moment they enter a concert.
Intersectionality is also key in this conversation. Being a part of multiple oppressed groups can lead to struggling more and facing extra barriers. For example, someone who is cisgender, white, and disabled won’t have to worry about other forms of bigotry and ignorance like racism or transphobia like a trans, disabled, person of color would. They won’t have to worry about other hateful attitudes getting in the way of them getting help at a show, aside from the common denominator between the two – ableism. Obviously, there’s other elements on a more intricate scale like whether you have a visible disability or not, religion, class, gender and more.
The current movement that is happening in the music community is to make it a welcoming and accepting place for all people, but in actual situations at concerts, many people have complaints about disabled people. Whether it be us getting let inside first or simply sitting down while the rest of the crowd stands, this judgement makes the environment even less welcoming.
It can feel like this is a problem that doesn’t affect many people, especially because of nonvisible disabilities, but according to the 2010 census, 1 in 5 people (19% of the US population) have a disability, and an estimated 10% of those are invisible. That is 56.7 million people who are affected.
Growing up with a handicap makes being disabled our idea of normal, and ‘dealing’ with the challenges that come with it is also part of our normal. Disabled people have ‘dealt with it’ until we realized that we shouldn’t have to ‘deal with it’. We want change, we want a safer, more inclusive music scene, we want respect. We want accessibility.
Everyone deserves to feel happy and safe at shows, regardless of their physical or mental limitations. All issues should be spoken about with the same compassion and importance, and all people should be treated equally. Discarding ableism ingrained in the music scene and working to make shows more accessible holds unbelievably essential value. Cassie Wilson and Lu Laurent are disabled writers who want to bring awareness to the reality of ableism in the music community.
Cassie has a dwarfism that primarily affects her ability to walk or stand for long periods of time, so she uses a wheelchair at concerts.
Lu has a multitude of chronic health conditions that include symptoms such as constant pain scattered throughout their body, fatigue, breathing problems, and an inability to stand for extended periods of time among other things. At shows, they need to be able to sit.
We hope you enjoy their series and find it very informative.
Please email Cassie and Lu at email@example.com if you are involved in the music community and have a mental disability, are blind, deaf or hard of hearing because we would like your perspective on accessibility. We would also like to hear from any and all disabled artists.