“Big changes can be made if disabled customers work alongside the music industry”

Posted on 06.09.2016

“Big changes can be made if disabled customers work alongside the music industry”

by Rosie Mayes

When I was injured in 2009, I had been a regular at gigs and club nights at The Leadmill for the past two years. It was my favourite club in Sheffield so I wanted to ensure that I could still enjoy the venue after I became a wheelchair user.

I knew that the club already had disabled access and toilet facilities. But after contacting the manager I found that the venue had no viewing platform, so I decided to go to a gig to work out whether or not this made a difference to my experience.

Getting into the venue was no problem as the room was all on one level. The biggest difficulty was navigating the crowd, although people were very accommodating when they finally looked down and realised that I was there!

I did enjoy the gig, but found it very hard to move amongst the crowd, and could not see the stage for most of the night. The atmosphere was the best part of the experience.

Once I had tried going to The Leadmill as a wheelchair user I contacted the manager to suggest that a viewing platform should be installed to improve the experience of disabled customers. I was invited to visit the venue so that the management could consult me about the location and measurements of the platform, after which the venue sought assistance from Sheffield City Council’s disabled access officers.

A platform had been installed with a ramp and a great view of the stage, which really transformed the experience! I had a perfect view but still felt involved in the audience.

When I next went to a The Leadmill a couple of months later, the difference was amazing! A platform had been installed with a ramp and a great view of the stage, which really transformed the experience! I had a perfect view but still felt involved in the audience. It's brilliant to find that when venue management have the right attitudes, changes can be made that make so much difference for disabled people. I am delighted that working with the manager allowed us to create accessibility at this venue!

The other main experience that encouraged me to get involved in improving disabled access at live music was Leeds Festival. I had been to this festival before I had a disability and loved the experience, so I was keen to go again after my spinal cord injury, despite knowing that the whole thing would be much more difficult.

Viewing platform at Leeds Festival 2016.

Viewing platform at Leeds Festival 2016.

Festival weekends always take a lot of planning. But planning one when you're a wheelchair user is even more complicated! For most people, the main issues involve how to keep clean or how much beer to haul into the campsite. Yet after my injury, simple things such as moving between the stages and campsites, and keeping warm became serious concerns.

The first challenge was to hire an all-terrain wheelchair. After a lot of searching the Internet, we found a chair that fitted the bill. Even so, the mud was so thick that I got completely stuck and had to be rescued by a lot of kind strangers. By the end of the weekend the chair was so clogged up with mud that it was completely unusable.

Also, it was freezing cold and pouring with rain nearly all weekend. As many people with disabilities find, low temperatures and damp conditions make health problems and pain levels much worse. Staying in a windswept tent provided no break from the bad conditions.

But all these issues did not stop me from enjoying the festival. Just being there and proving to myself that it could still be done felt like a big achievement! And I could see that with small improvements, such as the provision of more pathways for wheelchairs, disabled access would be improved enormously.

Through attending such a large outdoor festival, I saw that big changes could be made if disabled customers work alongside the music industry.

Staying in Leeds Festival's accessible campsite allowed me to see that improvements were already being made, as a result of the work of Attitude is Everything. Their volunteers welcomed us and helped my friends and me to pitch our tent. They had worked with the festival to provide accessible toilets and wheelchair charging stations. 

Through attending such a large outdoor festival, I saw that big changes could be made if disabled customers work alongside the music industry. This was really encouraging to me and I then began mystery shopping for Attitude is Everything, because of its active role in creating positive changes. It is important to emphasise how facilities that help disabled people to access live music should never be presented as 'luxuries' - they are basic essentials that have a huge impact on our lives.