Last week it was reported on BBC News website that there has been a call for disabled services at gig venues around the country to be majorly improved and I, among many others, are supporting this campaign. Until you actually experience a gig and trying to get into it in the disabled area and using the minimal facilities available you don’t really know just how bad things are.
Up until a couple of years ago I was just as oblivious as the majority of the population too but after becoming friends and gig buddies with fellow journo student Becky Whitworth and I soon saw just how bad things are for disabled people at gigs. Before I start not all venues are bad, arenas are usually always good, they could do with a few more disabled toilets but bar that they are all pretty good. But it is the smaller venues, again some are good, but many either have no procedure in place, have minimal access or have staff that are plain rude.
A new website, Attitude is Everything, has been set up to get venues to list their accessibility information online in one place, 50 venues have signed up to a charter for best practice so far and the site is currently working with the music industry to improve disabled access to shows. Campaigning group, Trailblazers, were set to meet with MP’s and live music executives last week to discuss the situation and put forward what they want to see changed/introduced: ticket booking systems, lack of seating for disabled attendees and their carer[s], better access in and out of the venue as well as around the venue, more accessible toilets, a better system in place for checking disability forms and a 2 for 1 ticket scheme. Things many would agree with including Becky; “I’d like to see accessible booking made available online and phone booking lines either the same as general box office or open at the same time as general sale starts. Ideally, I’d like to see more wheelchair spaces and in a perfect world all music venues to have something in plan for the disabled.”
Once venues sign up and add their information to the Attitude is Everything site they will be rated Gold, Silver or Bronze depending on their facilities and how good they are. Ticketmaster, one of the biggest online ticket booking services, is working with AIE to make sure it is providing the best service possible for its disabled customers. Though some ticketing sites have said it is not down to them to sort access as they just book tickets on behalf of the venue, with attitudes like that things are never going to change.
The current ticket booking systems are pretty terrible for all venues you have to ring, you can’t book online. Some venues have specific lines for accessible tickets but they are usually premium rate, not open until well after tickets have gone on sale and are difficult to get through to. Some venues don’t have this line and therefore lines are constantly jammed with so many trying to get through. Trailblazers says it wants the option to be able to book accessible tickets online and for all venues to have their own dedicated line for accessible tickets. Many speak about not being able to get through and therefore missing out on tickets and seeing their favourite band. Speaking to Becky, she had this to say about booking systems for accessible tickets; “I go to a lot of gigs and without fail booking tickets becomes such a ridiculously stressful thing to do. It’s something that I’ve come to hate.”
The lack of space and seating available for disabled customers at shows around the country is not brilliant either. Again arenas and stadiums are usually good they have enough areas and plenty of seating for carers dotted around the venue but in smaller venues this is not the case. Some venues do not have a raised area or a cordoned off space available, some have spaces but they are small and oversubscribed with so many people trying to fit into such a small space it starts to become a serious risk if a fire was to occur. Also, lack of space means carers and friends often can’t stay with the people they came to the show with. If medical attention, medication or a supervisor is needed at all times then this can be quite dangerous, although security are there they are usually not medically trained to deal with the array of conditions people that use the accessible area have.
Bigger areas with plenty of space, chairs for carers and security to keep a clear path from the accessible area to the exit, toilets and bar would be very beneficial. As the lack of being able to move around venues easily is also a big issue, there are many times when me and Becky have been stuck, not able to leave the accessible area from arriving until the show has finished and then after shows either having to leave early before the band has finished or wait 15-20 minutes for the crowd to have cleared areas, corridors and doorways. Here are some of Becky’s experiences at shows; “I’ve been to gigs in the past and had to leave half way through because it’s not been safe for me or others (you often become a tripping hazard) to stay any longer. A lot of times disabled are shoved to the back or to the side and it’s a case of out-of-sight-out-of-mind, the view is affected and often you’re split from those you’ve paid to go with.”
This campaign is setting out to change something that should not still be an issue. Venues should realise they need to accommodate as many people as possible especially if they have the space or means to do so. But it is not just down to venues, the Government and councils should be doing something to make sure all venues that can be accessible are, there has been legislation in place for years for buildings to be made wheelchair accessible so the fact some are still not complying with this is surely something that needs to be looked into. Over the years me and Becky have been shoved in disabled areas under stairs, cramped in with so many people to the point of claustrophobia and being a hazard, been lied to about the amount of access to venues, been stuck in the same place for hours at all day festivals unable to go anywhere and spoken to extremely rudely and disrespectfully by gig goers and security staff. There are some really brilliant venues but they are in the minority and it is time that changed, all venues should be accessible, safe and welcoming to all.
I’ll leave the last word to Becky; “I’ve missed out on plenty of gigs because the venues are either not accessible or only have space for a small number of disabled. It’s come a long way in the last few years but it’s still far from perfect.”