Three Ways to Make Gigs More Accessible
Posted on 04.08.2017
By Si Braybrooke-Gibbens
I'm disabled, which took me a long time, and the friendship of another disabled person, to understand and embrace. I have psoriatic arthritis, which is life changing when you're still of an age where you want to do things at 100mph. However, I've learnt how to take more control of my disease rather than letting it control me.
I love film, theatre and travel, but above all I love music – especially live music. When I go to a gig, I look like any other gig goer, in so much as I don't 'look disabled' – or at least I'm not what some people would generally imagine a 'disabled person' to look like. I have a 'hidden disability' and this appears to make people judge me a little quicker.
Gig going is an experience that starts from the moment you buy a ticket through to the moment you leave the venue afterwards. When you add disabled people into the mix, some venues manage the whole process with due diligence, so their disabled customers can enjoy an event as much as everyone else. They work hard to instil policy throughout their staff and contractors so everyone is clear on their role in making the experience accessible.
However, some venues attack the process haphazardly, picking and choosing depending on what's the most pressing or obvious. It's in these situations where disabled people can get let down. If staff aren't trained to understand that anybody entering a venue could be disabled, then instances of discrimination, embarrassment and prejudice can quickly come to the fore. Here are some ways they can be avoided:
1. Put access information on your website.
I will typically book my tickets online, but my first stop is usually the venue website to look what their access is like. Some venues have excellent information for disabled customers, going into detail about the physical accessibility of the building, seating, toilets, accessible parking and public transport. This is an incredibly easy thing to get right, but still many venues fall at this hurdle.
Some venues have no page at all, some bury it deep in their website so it’s difficult to find – and when you do it can be devoid of the basics. If I don't know this information – do I want to attend a gig at a venue where there are so many unknowns?
2. Provide PA tickets at no additional cost.
Secondly, I want to know if the venue has a free PA ticket policy – allowing Deaf and disabled customers to be accompanied by somebody free of charge, meaning they can have their access needs met at no additional cost. When I go to a gig, I take a PA with me to help me in case I have any difficulties, like going up and down stairs; helping me to enjoy an experience equal to that of another gig goer.
However, many venues offering PA tickets only accept a very limited range of proof as evidence of need – often in the form of a disability benefits letter. This is fine if they allow staff to use discretion and accept other evidence – I have all manner of proof of my disability, including an Access Card, but I'm not in receipt of any government benefits.
3. Train your staff.
The third stage of the customer service is face to face, at the venue on the day of the gig. This is where many venues can be let down by staff, even if their website is amazingly informative and they offer a free PA ticket.
Due to the nature of the entertainment business, more and more staff are part time. Most will be employed by the venue, but some, like security, may be outsourced. But this doesn’t mean that they can't train their staff in disability awareness, and ensure outsourced staff are aware of the venue’s policies.
Most of the times I've been let down by venue staff has been at the door or ticket office, and it’s usually due to ignorance and lack of empathy. I've been left in tears after one experience where I very much felt I was being tested on whether I was ‘disabled enough’. At times I've felt like making a t-shirt listing the medications I take on a daily basis and why, just so I can get people to understand that not every disability is obvious.
Venues are getting better at awareness and accessibility for disabled gig goers, but it’s a process that takes time. These three simple steps – providing access information, free PA tickets for people who need them, and training staff – are all easy opportunities to make a positive difference.