Today I was asked by the Attitude is Everything campaign to take part in a Radio 4 interview for the You and Yours programme to help highlight the launch of their new hashtag campaign #MusicWithoutBarriers, a campaign for equal access, raising awareness of the barriers that deaf and disabled people are currently facing, looking to change perceptions of disability and highlight the support for making gigs accessible.
In raising such awareness the campaign wants to highlight that improving access to live music doesn’t have to be costly, there’s a strong business case for improving accessibility, advanced event access information is crucial and that not all disabled people are wheelchair users. All of this follows on from the hugely successful (and insightful) State of Access Report launch that I attended in January this year.
Support for the campaign is growing rapidly with many musicians, industry figures and venues already pledging their support, so on the day I was asked by the host Peter White to give an example where I’d had personal difficulties in accessing a venue or event. Like many my first thought was “where do you want me to start? I’ve got loads!” But eventually settled on my attempt to access Lady Gaga tickets a few years back for a friend’s birthday (obviously not for me!).
Being the talkative chap that I am I had to rattle through this story pretty quickly but the main points I got across I’m fairly certain have been experienced by countless others. Peter then asked what access was like these days which led me on to my second bug bear about wheelchair users often being restricted to the back of first tier seating as an after thought, but things are slowly improving. What venues do need to (and are starting to, thanks to campaigns like this) is realise that wheelchair users only account for around 8% of the disabled community, so simply being accessible to those users is nowhere near comprehensive enough.
I managed, along with a campaign representative, to get through all of that in little under 5 minutes so if you’d like to listen to a recording of the segment, you can do so on the BBC website. I can’t have done badly because straight after the broadcast Belle and Sebastian got in touch with the campaign to pledge their support, now Stevie Wonder has even signed up too which is a huge coup.
Peter didn’t have time to ask but said afterwards that with the opportunity he would have asked me what three things I would have on my wishlist for things to change when accessing music venues or events. Cheekily I said I would have asked for four, but with good reasons:
- Booking systems: the ability for deaf and disabled customers to purchase tickets online at the same time as regular customers (including pre-sales) whilst being able to either state their access requirements or get follow up customer service to understand their requirements. This includes better phone options so users aren’t forced to ring premium rate phone numbers for accessible bookings
- Carer ticketing policy: most venues are starting to offer a free carer ticket if a disabled person needs someone with them at all times, but still not all. The confusing array of discount levels/concessions leaves many users either confused or at a significant financial disadvantage to their peers.
- Inclusive seating: sticking wheelchair users at the back of a tier or insisting that people with disabilities can only sit in specific areas often ruins that user’s experience of being able to enjoy the live event atmosphere with friends and family. New arenas are starting to provide better options where users can sit at multiple different levels rather than segregated areas so more creative thinking can and needs to be done by venues rather than simply meeting “minimum access requirements”.
- Better access information signposting: ultimately all deaf and disabled people want is the same opportunity as anyone else to access events. If we’re beaten to the tickets by someone else fair and square then that’s ok, but too often at the moment it’s not a level playing field…
But, it is starting to get there!