Welcome to the Aidis Trust blog. Here you’ll find our posts on assistive technology that are meant to inform and encourage discussion. Feel free to join in!

Get me to the Gig

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Looking back on the many experiences I’ve had of accessing the theatre and music gigs, I wanted to write a blog about my experience of tickets, seating and booking as a disabled person and what technology and help I get to do this. I also wanted to assess how accessible the venues are and what I think might need to be changed. 

First Up – Booking Your Ticket! 

This, for most people is the easy bit. But when you have a disability, it can be a little bit trickier. When I went to see Lily Allen in 2009 (best night EVER!) I remember my Mum rang up the ticket office at Shepherd’s Bush Empire to make sure that there was disability seating and to see if there were any special considerations made for disabled people. This is a really good way of dealing with ticket sales, as it means that you get to know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for and whether it will cost you extra to have a carer with you or not (it shouldn’t!). 

Phoning to book your tickets is great, but if I want to book a ticket faster, I often try to book online. However, this can be really difficult if the websites aren’t accessible. More often than not, they don’t have large enough print for me to be able to read, and so I use my Mac or my iPad to access this. It works really well, especially with the VoiceOver and Zoom functions and is a really great alternative to using the phone, especially for people who might have difficulty using the telephone due to their disability. The other great advantage to shopping for tickets online is that you don’t end up with that annoying music when you’re in a queue on hold! However, in my own personal experience, I’ve always found it easier to use the phone to make bookings but maybe I should explore the other options a little more in-depth especially with computer/iPad access being so much better lately. 

Next  – The Venue 

Different venues have their own rules for disabled people, and this is one of my main moans. There should be exactly the same rules for each venue around the country – it wouldn’t take them that long to draw up a code of conduct or similar! In theory, my idea is a good one, but all joking aside, it must be difficult to regulate. 

In practice, there aren’t always accessible arrangements made. For example, I’ve heard of many venues that don’t have audio description headsets or hearing loops, painted markers on steps and handrails (if they have any handrails at all!) or wheelchair access and lifts. However, this doesn’t mean to say that my experiences of going to see gigs and performances have been all doom and gloom. 

I always call up in advance to make sure that there are appropriate adaptations for disabled people. For example when we called up Shepherd’s Bush Empire before I went to see Lily Allen, we found out that if someone over eighteen (in this case my Grandma) came as my carer, then their ticket was free because without the disability, I probably wouldn’t need a carer there. This is a great access arrangement and it means that you only pay what you normally would without worrying about the price of bringing a carer with you. As you couldn’t reserve your seats beforehand, we also got to go in to the seating area about half an hour before everyone else, so that I could choose the seat that best suited my low vision. This was great as well and I really appreciated being able to do this. We also got to hang out backstage for a bit beforehand because of the arrangements which at sixteen, I thought was amazing!

There were similar arrangements when we went to see the Disney production of the musical The Lion  King. I went with a few other visually imapired young people and their carers (I was twelve at the time). The day was brilliant as we not only got front row seats but we also had audio description headsets and a touch tour beforehand where we were able to see and feel the masks and props that are used in the production before seeing the show. As amazing as this touch tour was, the one snag is that of course – it costs a lot more money. So unless you go with a big group like I did, or it’s given to you as a gift, the prices really can stack up, although I’m sure it is subsidised where possible for disabled customers.

The main rule I’ve always found with both tickets and seating is to go online, check their accessibility or get their phone number and then ring them up. If you can make use of both the computer and the phone service this can be good for double-checking that the venue’s disability policy matches up to both the website and what is said on the phone. However either option is fine and accessibility shouldn’t be a problem. If you live close enough, you could also consider visiting the venue directly to discuss your specific needs. 

Enjoying The Show! 

Usually, once all the accessibility arrangements are in place, I can enjoy the shows with no problems at all. Sometimes my friends and I have to work out the best way to do this though. I went to see Professor Green at Underage Festival a few years ago (the UK’s only festival for 14-18 year olds). In order for me to get a good view, we had to hang around the stage he’d be performing in for hours just to make sure we’d get in the front row! Accessibility is always harder to come by at festivals and this is something that I think needs addressing. I’m not sure how it could be made easier or safer but the disability community need to get their thinking caps on! 

Another thing I think needs improving is the variety of venues that music artists in particular, perform in once they become more well-known. I was desperate to go to see Ed Sheeran at the end of last year, but when I looked online, he was playing massive arenas and my Mum said even if I was to get a front row seat (pricey!) I wouldn’t be able to see at all anyway. Even though I only have very limited sight, I still make loads of use of the vision that I do have and I’d like to see Ed on stage as much as I can, so I sadly had to give it a miss. I considered going to see him at a festival but I wasn’t prepared to give my friends the responsibility of making sure I was OK and effectively being my carers all weekend! It would be good if artists like him played a variety of smaller and bigger venues so that people could choose where they saw them at and this would majorly improve accessibility. 

Accessibility at gigs and theatres has clearly come quite a way but there’s still a little more that needs to be done. 

How do you access performance as a disabled person? Tell us in the comments. 

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