Access All Areas?
ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS (unless stated otherwise): Unsplash
How Disabled Gig-Goers Are Still Being Ignored
ONE need not be confined to a wheelchair…
or have a pronounced physical injury to be considered disabled. As someone who suffers from depression (an illness rather than disability) the ‘invisibility factor’ is a daily stress. It is assumed that, unless you are constantly weeping and suicidal, there is nothing really wrong. Even when you explain the severity and depth of depressions; many write it off as a minor thing and a personal problem – not something that should burden other people. I cannot imagine the sort of ignorance that extends to venues and live performance spaces of the world - to those who have limited access and genuine disabilities. Those disabilities can include deafness and blindness. People from all walks of life and ailments have a passion for music and, therefore, should be provided the opportunity to participate in gigs. It is an inalienable right for everyone: not something that should alienate those who are less able-bodied and mobile as the majority. A fantastic charity called Attitude Is Everything has a manifesto and business plan that aims to reverse the stigma and restrictions imposed on those with disabilities. They say, on their website:
“Attitude is Everything improves Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry.
Having begun as a pilot project in 2000, we are now a fully independent charity and part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio of Organisations. We encourage events producers to go beyond the legal obligations set out in the Equality Act and implement best practice, providing a fair and equal service to their Deaf and disabled customers.
IMAGE CREDIT: Attitude Is Everything
I have heard a lot of stories concerning those who, visibly and not, have been turned away from gigs or been unable to enter the premises. There are more and more venues considering disabled patrons and making accommodations. That might include wider seating and easier access to the venue; priority seats for disabled patrons – little improvements so that people are not needlessly turned away. Whilst many of us have no issues getting into venues once our tickets are purchased; for some, the experience they face when at the entrance is shocking and unacceptable. Some have been turned from the door because they had no visible physical issues and were able to stand. If you are deaf or blind, it might be clear-cut in terms of your needs and disability. There are conditions that affect mobility and access that do not necessarily present themselves in an overtly physical form – some people might need easier access to toilet facilities or be unable to scale steps/aisles to get to their seats. Even if you are a smaller venue; it can be intimidating, once in the place, to get enough room and visibility. Is this an issue that affects all venues? How large is the problem? Reading an article from early last year; it seems, at least, there is an improvement occurring:
“Access to live music for disabled people is improving, according to the head of a leading disability charity.
In 2016, Attitude Is Everything found a third of live music events had "no access information" on their websites for deaf and disabled people.
Since then, CEO Suzanne Bull MBE says that 40 festivals and venues now have dedicated pages online.
"Most disabled people are going to want to make an informed choice about where they're going to spend their money.
"What is the point of buying a ticket if you don't already know if you're going to get into that venue."
Band On The Wall is a venue in Manchester which was awarded Attitude Is Everything's gold status, which the charity uses as an example of somewhere which provides excellent disabled access.
Gawain Forster, Projects and Facilities Manager at the venue, says the changes mean they often get repeat customers.
"Customers with access needs come here regularly and often. If you make it easy for someone to attend and they have a good time, they keep coming back.
"That is the basic principle of business".
What happens when you are one of those people who is not confined to a wheelchair or need an aid to mobilise you? Do you suffer unfairly and are treated poorly because, if you are able to walk around, your disability cannot be that bad?! Many have, lately, spoken out regarding getting into venues and having their pleas ignored – they have been refused entry or not had their requirements taking into consideration. I have hinted at how the issue seems to be lessening.
Around the same sort of time as the previous article I quoted; another one, from the Independent, looks at deficits and worrying statistics:
“A study of 251 live music venues and 135 festivals, backed by Arts Council England and carried out by disabled music fans on behalf of the campaign group Attitude is Everything (AIE), found that a majority failed to provide adequate information on access for people with disabilities. Among independent venues, 69 per cent gave no prior details at all and 50 per cent of the remainder offered information described by the report as “poor”.
The findings provoked Emily Eavis, organiser of the Glastonbury Festival, to “urge all festival and venue organisers to ensure that they provide high quality and comprehensive access information” for disabled music fans.
Fans recounted stories of being ordered out of disabled toilets for taking too long, having their vital medical equipment subjected to searches and being doubted by staff over their need for a raised platform because they are not wheelchair users”.
It can be hard proving a disability if there are not clear physical signs. Most music-goers would not fabricate an illness or problem to get better seating. Everyone wants to get in and would not have to lie about a disability to get entry to a venue. There is such a demand for live music that many feel they are unable to do anything about the seating position/width and access rights; others are unable to spend the money making life easier for those with disabilities.
We need to make music as accessible and open to everyone. If we place barriers in front of those who are less able to get around and have a disability then we risk sending out a very poor message to the world. I know there are venues that are set up a particular way and, to adapt them to better accommodate disabled attendees, then it would require a big overhaul and capital input. In a lot of cases, it takes more understanding and tolerance from those who police venues and take tickets at the door. There is ignorance around what constitutes a disability and how some are unable to put their point across. Going back to Attitude Is Everything, and another part of their website caught my eye:
“We support the music industry to understand Deaf and disabled people’s access requirements at music venues and festivals by building equality into the strategic process using a Charter of Best Practice. The ethos of the Charter is that Deaf and disabled people should be as independent as they want to be at live music events and over 100 venues and festivals have already signed up”.
A piece, written by Rob Maddison, shows the experiences he had when performing and D.J.ing:
“…When I got out of hospital, I quickly discovered why: access. The first problem I encountered was how to get into my old rehearsal room, quickly followed by the challenge of getting into venues. Almost all the places I used to play, from small rooms to 2,000-capacity clubs, had suddenly become an impossibility for a musician in a wheelchair. Even a small step could appear like a mountain. Yes, there are helpful roadies and stage crew who can carry you up stairs, but this is extremely risky at the best of times. One slip and it’s all over”.
There is enough testimony and experience to see a split: some venues are adapting to the needs of disabled goers and others are not. It seems, at any rate, a survey needs to be conducted to ensure there is adequate access for disabled musicians and gig-goers. The fact there are so many visible disabled musicians might stem from the poor awareness and lack of accessibility. Deaf and disabled customers put so much into the gig economy and are invaluable to the music industry. If they are turned away then it risks haemorrhaging an important stream of revenue and faithful customer base; making it know the music industry is for the able-bodied solely. That is not what we want to tell people. More investment from the Government needs to happen, that is for sure. In any case, before then; we need to better informed regards the spectrum of disability and why the wheelchair is not the definitive symbol – the only disabled people are those restricted to a wheelchair. They need to be considered, of course, but there are so many who suffer restricted mobility or have neurological issues that limit their access and movements. I have hopes things can change – I am saddened there is ignorance and lack of understanding towards the disabled community. It might take more money and conversation but, if we can get the cogs turning and changes happening; it will make gig-going a much more pleasurable and less upsetting experience for…
THE disabled community.