exclusion in the most inclusive spaces

The dangers of inaccessibility at concert venues

Graphic by: Nicole Meade

I feel like it’s safe to say that most of us probably enjoy listening to music in some capacity, and we each likely have an artist we’d love to see in concert if we just had the time or the money, but what if what you needed was much more than a ticket and a night off? My least favorite places are inaccessible concert venues.

We all have varying physical and mental abilities in this moment, but they’re never guaranteed and tend to decline with age. As a disabled person, going to inaccessible concert venues is a lot of work, an emotional rollercoaster, and usually dangerous.

Imagine this: you need to use a wheelchair to get around, or you can walk a bit but have chronic pain and maybe need other mobility aids, but every time you want to go somewhere you love, there’s a flight of stairs leading to that place, and no other way up. There’s no elevators, there’s no ramps, and the law doesn’t do much to protect you. This is my reality when trying to go to a lot of places, but especially concert venues.

Fortunately for me, I use a manual wheelchair and I’m able to walk up the stairs with some time, a railing, and an extra hand, so when I go to inaccessible venues I’m able to get to the show floor, and someone carries my chair up, but this isn’t the case for a lot of disabled folks.

Anyone who can’t walk up a flight of stairs can’t access these spaces. For those of us who still try anyway, we’re putting ourselves at risk of falling or being physically exhausted because what comes up must come down which means using the stairs at least twice. That being said, if the restrooms are on street level instead of the show floor, then you’d have to go down and back up if you need to use them during a show.

There are some venues in Portland like the Crystal Ballroom, Wonder Ballroom, and Roseland Theater that have elevators, but once I’m inside my overall experience at shows is questionable. This is because general admission venues don’t tend to have somewhere for disabled music fans to be able to see the show and be safe at the same time. I almost always end up sacrificing something.

There’s been plenty of occasions when I ask every staff member at a venue if there’s somewhere better for me to see, and I’m left with no options, sitting alone in the back of the room where I can’t see over the crowd.

Alternatively, I could be front row, but then when there’s pushing, crowdsurfers, and mosh pits, I become a danger to me and everyone around me just because I’m trying to see, and everyone else has to worry about their own safety before they can worry about mine.

It leaves me feeling powerless and unwelcomed to be in these situations. Every single thing that is inaccessible to me is a reminder that disabled people are still being forgotten. A lot if it is due to lack of awareness and the assumption that the ADA is being strongly enforced, and that it’s illegal for buildings to be inaccessible which is, unfortunately, not the case, and having to constantly advocate for an equal experience for myself everywhere I go is exhausting.

When I’m left with no options and unable to see I usually get pretty upset, and I even end up getting bored as I decide whose back to stare at because I could have just stayed home and listened to the music for free. Sometimes I skip shows at troublesome venues if I don’t think it’s worth putting up with accessibility complications.

This is all pretty messed up considering a concert is an event that’s meant to bring people together. A lot of the artists I see will get on stage and talk about how everyone is welcome at their shows, and it’s a safe space to forget about one’s problems, but when I’m sitting alone in the back of the room, unable to see them say that, it’s hard to believe it’s anywhere near true.

Disabled people are being excluded from even the most inclusive communities, and it puts a lot of the work onto the disabled person needing accommodations. It’s dangerous, and mentally draining.

If you find yourself disabled, the current state of music venues would not be accessible to you. I hope you haven’t and never have to “deal with” inaccessible venues as a disabled person because concerts should be memorable, but not for the ways that venues discriminate against you.

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