Cosmic Slop #66: Venues need to do more for disabled audience members
Seeing the frustrations first-hand, Shaun Ponsonby adds his voice to a current burning topic.
Originally published on Getintothis
This week’s Slop is going to be more serious than usual. It is going to be a bit of a vent and it isn’t a subject I really want to make fun of.
So, I will make a deal with you; if you patiently sit through this quite serious piece, then I will let you see a video of a cat singing. It is what the internet was made for, and I think there are times when you just gotta give the people what they want.
Like many of us, it was my dad who really got me into music. His collection has always been vast and varied. As I grew up and started branching out into different stuff, he took notice and gained a new appreciation for music he previously hadn’t considered, or even actively disliked. He has always been very open-minded in that sense.
He goes to a lot of gigs. Always has done. He’ll go and see pretty much anyone, and I have very rarely heard him say he didn’t enjoy a gig. It’s probably the only thing he is optimistic about, come to think of it.
He had an accident many years ago, and it has left him disabled. He can walk – just about; he needs crutches and he often struggles, but he can walk. His spine is permanently injured, has severe arthritis on top of that and the medication he is prescribed has led to stomach problems. Going to gigs is one of the few ways he feels he is still able to keep in touch with the world. It is one of the few activities where he feels the added pain of travelling (however short the distance) and being in an uncomfortable room full of sweaty idiots is worth it.
But his disability makes the actual gig going problematic. Most venues’ treatment of disabled audience members leaves much to be desired, and as I have often accompanied him, I have witnessed it first-hand.
Let me be clear first of all, it is usually just circumstance. A lot of older buildings were built at a time when stupid people thought that the disabled were witches or being punished by God for this, that or the other, some were built in the 70s and 80s when understanding the needs of others was about as high a priority as re-running old episodes of Jim’ll Fix It is now. Venues and their staff nearly always do their best to help, but as much as their efforts are greatly appreciated, it is often still not good enough. This is not reflective of the people, but of the state of live music in general.
No venue is perfect, and no venue is completely terrible either.
The O2 Academy have always been very helpful. They allow him to use the service lift, and provide a chair for him to sit at the side. The only problem here is that if he is seated, and everybody around him is standing, then he can see less than Arsene Wenger (rare football joke from me, there…hope it makes sense). A small, raised platform would be needed for him to see.
They have a raised platform near that back of the Manchester Apollo, which is great because the venue has no lift. Problem is, if he has to get seats upstairs, he struggles greatly.
When he had some trouble at the Echo Arena, they gave him free tickets to a show of his choice. It was a kind gesture, but they ended up giving him tickets at pretty much the furthest point from the disabled parking, which seemed a bit moot and led to a different set of problems.
Manchester Arena have been less helpful. I worked there occasionally a few years ago, and know for a fact that at one point, disabled audience members were allowed to enter the venue via a side door. When we went there last summer, we were told that they do not allow entrance there, and that we should go to the other side of the building where there is a lift he can use. So we walked…and walked…and walked…and walked…during this time the strain on his back worsened.
We found the lift and joined the queue. The lift took us to the entrance at the top of a humungous flight of stairs. When we got inside, he needed to use the lift to get down to the floor. Guess where that was? Halfway to the other side of the arena. So once again he walked…and walked…and walked…and walked. The lift came out at the back of the auditorium. Our seats were near the front. So, again…he walked…and walked…and walked. All of which made him quite ill.
When he emailed staff there to raise the issue after the fact, he claimed they dismissed his points and basically called him a liar. This is the one time a venue have been such almighty berks to him, though it seemed to annoy me more than him.
Don’t get me wrong, my dad isn’t perfect. There are ways he could make things easier for himself. There are times when he has been buying tickets and not checked the box for disabled tickets. This tends to be an oversight when panic buying for a big show that has gone on sale and there is a big clock counting down how much time he has to buy the tickets. Human nature.
He recently discovered that, as a blue badge holder, he can apply for special seats and tickets at some venues. He discovered the information completely by accident. The information is on the site, but he isn’t particularly tech savvy and at no point in all of his conversations with all of these venues did anyone ever point him in this necessary direction. He has now opted into a couple of these schemes, and I imagine it will make things easier in some ways. But it doesn’t change massive issues he has with simply gaining access to so many venues.
I don’t wish to single out the venues I have criticised here. Let me be abundantly clear; in most cases, it is not the fault of the staff or even the management. It is a deep, unfair problem that runs through the heart of the live music industry and must be changed. I’m aware that this isn’t going to happen overnight, but a greater effort must be made.
All of which leads to one, final, hugely important question; Do you want to see a video of a cat singing?
Sainsbury’s have claimed to be the largest seller of vinyls in the UK…OR…the largest retailer that stocks vinyls.
Gary Barlow is on the official list of the Queen’s spin-approved greatest songs. I think that Knighthood he has quite obviously (and pathetically) been campaigning will be on the way soon.
Not many people can proclaim themselves to be “The Greatest” without irony. The world is losing too many heroes. We’re gonna need some new ones fast.