Accessibility is an issue that is very close to my heart. As an able-bodied person with close friends and family members with visible and invisible disabilities, the question ‘are concert venues accessible enough?’ isn’t an issue that is far removed from my daily life. In fact, it is very important to me. In this article I’m going to tell you why concert venues should be accessible, and what we can do to make a world where everyone is included.
I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that most people, put simply, do not care about disability, and to no fault of their own. Most people don’t have a close friend or family member who cannot bring themselves to go out and meet friends, even for a drink to catch up, because they cannot actually get out of bed and get in the shower due to pains from arthritis; or cannot make the journey because they are sensitive to light and sleep all day in a painful haze from fibromyalgia. I can definitely hypothesise that most people have not tried to get around the airport with a family member in a wheelchair due to an invisible disability; and had to face the doubtful eyes of other passengers who just saw you walking around the airport perfectly fine and think you and your family members are frauds.
The thing is, there is no fault in being unaware. It is not your fault that as a society, those with disabilities get different treatment, which can stem from being over-helpful down to not helping at all. What is in your remit is ensuring that those with disabilities are able to negotiate our streets and our cities with as much ease as we do, in an environment that supports them rather than stigmatises them.
Speaking of whether society ‘cares’, I had a conversation once with close friends of mine that really riled me up in which we spoke about club accessibility for those with disabilities; specifically visible ones that may impede you. The line of argument was that it isn’t actually up to clubs, venues or business holders to make modifications or spend money to ‘appease’ disabled people. If they know they are disabled, why are they going out of their way in a society that doesn’t cater for them? You can imagine my anguish. A simple answer would be that it is discrimination and it’s against the law. No business should be exempt from making their venue as accessible as possible yet most places aren’t; this includes stations, blocks of flats and countless others.
A friend of mine from school, Katouche, has cerebral palsy and was denied access to a club in Dalston in 2016 due to ‘safety’ issues. From ITV, the BBC, and Buzzfeed to The Sun and the Daily Mail, the incident was widely reported. I asked her for her opinion on whether concert venues are accessible and this is what she had to say: ‘Accessibility has a long way to go in terms of the wider society. But I must say so far, my experience of concerts has been pleasant. I think concerts are well attended by a lot of differently-abled people and therefore there is a precedent on how to meet their requirements. A lot of my friends who are also disabled know that they can have a good time and experience their favourite artist in concert. However, I do know of an incident where some of my friends who are wheelchair users were put in danger at a festival when the disabled viewing platform was broken by over-crowding of other zealous fans. They said it was horrible, but they were reimbursed and thankfully not injured. Wider society can learn from this and come up with a policy that allows everyone to be able to experience different forms of leisure. This is especially to avoid repeats of what happened to me in Dalston a while ago. Disabled people are consumers and participants in society just like everyone else and should be respected and catered to as such.’
It’s apparent that there is a long way to go for accessibility both in concerts as well as clubs. I think as a society we can all aim to be more accommodating to those with disabilities and can push for it in our places of work, university, and our day to day lives. Write to your MP when you see there are cuts to services for the disabled or see an accessibility issue. Talk to your boss or educate your friends when they say something detrimental to the integrity of those with disabilities. There are countless instances where we have fallen short; one being a video I saw of a disabled woman being forced off the bus by a woman with a buggy, despite the fact that it was a wheelchair-designated area. Such instances make me feel this is the prevailing attitude of us as a society, which I think we should all try our hand at changing now. We as a people are inclined to think about ourselves first and foremost, and others and their experiences after. This is true for me most of the time, as I am sure it is for you.
If you take away anything from this article I would hope that it would be that we all have it in ourselves to push for a change in establishments and that it is our duty to ensure that all of us have the same rights. Not every disabled person is outgoing or can muster the strength and courage needed to fight for their rights on a day to day basis, so it falls to us to help them. Disabled people shouldn’t be viewed as a hindrance in the UK in 2018.