Accessibility in the Music Scene: Treatment
by Cassie Wilson and Lu Laurent
When it comes to accessibility at concerts, disabled people want to be treated as equally as anyone else there, but with their disabilities and special needs kept in mind. As we established in our previous article, ADA sections are often less than ideal or don’t work at all to be able to safely have a good time. In our own past experiences, we’ve encountered the most ableism when we have communicated with venue staff members about ADA improvements.
Venue staff members hold a position of power over all concert attendees, but especially over disabled concert-goers. They are able to make or break experiences with the decisions they make and the things they say. Even some of the most friendly staff can be misunderstanding, leaving disabled fans feeling like the problem rather than inaccessibility being the issue at hand. “There’s nothing we can do,” “There’s no where else you can be,” and “I don’t know how to help,” are some of the most common responses when reaching out for help. Once problems like this come up and no solution is offered, fans are left unsafe at a show they paid to attend. Staff can come off cold, unfriendly, and unwilling to help, seeming as though they were never trained to work with disabled people at these types of events.
Disabled people aren’t asking for special treatment, but just asking for the same experience and respect an able-bodied person could participate in at a show. They’re asking for a more accommodating and open-minded place to exist at concerts, as well as the cooperation it takes for that to happen.
At times, venue staff and security are nice and helpful, but the other attendees aren’t as mindful of disabled fans around them. Although many people are open-minded and want equality, they don’t take the steps to show it when the chance comes around. I, Cassie, have been in safe spots in crowds when there’s no ADA options, and sometimes everyone around me is helpful to make sure I can be there the entire show. Other times people will passive aggressively try to make me have to leave the crowd even if it’s a pretty tame show. I’ve been to enough concerts now to know where I should be and what is safe or not, so it’s frustrating when other fans add to an already difficult situation instead of just focusing on the show.
Many able-bodied show-goers often have a large misconception about going to shows as a disabled person, thinking that they have just as much knowledge and experience as someone who deals with the mistreatments on a show-to-show basis. Going to a show or two while being temporarily, visibly injured is not the same experience as regularly attending shows as a disabled person, especially someone whose disability isn’t as obvious. Having a good experience while temporarily injured as an able-bodied person can misconstrue the reality of accessibility, leading to inaccurate beliefs about shows and ADA areas.
A popular misunderstanding is that ‘anyone who is actually disabled legally has to be let into accessible areas,’ which is true, but for those with non-visible disabilities, it’s not that simple. Saying ‘actually disabled’ perpetuates the idea that someone has to be a certain kind of disabled and look a certain way to meet able-bodied people’s presumptions. It erases a large portion of disabled people who struggle with being believed due to their disability not presenting itself visibly. Staff and security tend to forget that just because they can’t see indicators of someone being disabled doesn’t meant they aren’t.
While accessibility issues are very relevant and can be extremely harmful, there’s not always enough for a legal case that could really hold up in today’s justice system. Not to mention, most disabled people are already financially limited and bringing cases to life is often quite pricey. Bringing awareness to venues in each city and having a greater amount of people supporting accessibility in music is likely the more realistic route.
In our first article, we touched on intersectionality which is another vital element when discussing how disabled people are treated at shows. How someone is treated will not only depend on their disability but other things like their gender, sexuality, race, religion, class, etc. Disabilities being visible versus non-visible can impact things such as how easily people are allowed into accessible areas and how long they can stay in said areas during the show. People with non-visible disabilities are frequently asked to somehow prove that they’re disabled in order to get the accommodations they need and are often told that they aren’t really disabled, they’re just faking it. Invalidating someone’s disability moments after meeting them is not only disrespectful and uncalled for, but also incredibly unprofessional and deeply rooted in ableism.
Treatment of any kind will always have a number of variables affecting it, but when it comes to accessibility, the easiest fix is for venue staff, security and others around to try to remain as understanding and considerate as possible, so everyone can have a safe and enjoyable time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.