My name is Claire and I’m currently living in the beautiful countryside of East Yorkshire. I injured my back in my early teens and now spend most of my time in a wheelchair.
My Dad is a keen gig-goer who took me to a lot of music events when I was young. This continued after my injury - although a bit more planning was now required! I love all kinds of music ranging from pop, dance, R&B and indie and have been to over 300 music events - everything from big festivals and arena shows to tiny gigs with 20 people in the audience.
Unsurprisingly, the accessibility of music venues varies enormously. Outdoor shows and festivals are often the most challenging in terms of getting around, particularly given the unpredictability of the British weather. There have been times when my wheelchair has been stuck in nearly a foot of mud and I’ve had to be carried across fields to avoid getting completely marooned.
Older or smaller venues can also be tricky. I’ve arrived at some gigs to find a long flight of stairs to the entrance, no accessible toilet and no chance of getting to the bar. If there isn’t a disabled viewing area, I position myself near the stage to get a decent view, but people often don’t see me and trip over the wheelchair - sometimes emptying their pint over me at the same time, usually followed by many apologies!
Staff attitudes also vary enormously. Some stewards go out of their way to make sure the gig experience is a good one, while in other places I’ve been treated as a nuisance. One venue turned me away from a gig because they claimed I might restrict access to the fire exit.
But many of the bigger venues are well equipped when it comes to disabled access and have dedicated viewing areas, clean and spacious disabled toilets and disabled ticketing schemes. The Leeds O2 Academy is one of the best venues I’ve visited, particularly given that the venue is in an old converted church with uneven floors on several levels. They offer a free PA ticket for disabled customers, and their staff are incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. The viewing area is roped off, so disabled people aren’t crushed by other patrons and the view of the stage is fantastic and completely unobstructed. Even their bars and merchandise areas have lowered counters for disabled guests.
I’ve definitely noticed a change over the past decade or so where more venues are working towards greater accessibility, and staff attitudes towards disabled people have changed considerably for the better. I think a lot of this is down to the work of Attitude is Everything and the work they do to raise awareness of the needs of disabled customers. Attitude is Everything has developed in to a fantastic unified voice for disabled music lovers in terms of working with venues and improving facilities, and with their help I think access to music gigs for disabled people can only get better and better.