It’s Time For Greater Live Music Accessibility

For those familiar with my blog, it’s well-known that I love Roger Waters and named his 2010 tour stop in Toronto as the best concert I had ever seen in my life.  Growing up with a father well-versed in Pink Floyd and other amazing bands, I appreciated his work early.

Naturally, when a second round of touring was announced for Toronto, my father and I were extremely anxious to see it again.  From moment one, however, we were apprehensive – not about the show, but the venue.  The previous outing was at the Air Canada Centre, a venue that is tolerable but not the most comfortable.  For this leg, Waters had opted to book the Rogers Centre, a venue that we both dread.

For starters, for a semi-modern venue, it is built very small in terms of seating.  One needs to be a slender person with average length of leg to be remotely comfortable in the stands.  For my father and I, who both suffer from debilitating chronic leg pain, he also being overweight due to his various ailments, the stands are literally impossible.  As a result, our only option was to default to the floor seats, which are only slightly more tolerable.  An issue of health forced us to spend top prices to attend.  Strike one.

Strike two:  to guarantee floor seats at a high demand show, we went through the Roger Waters site’s presale.  Yes, it guaranteed great seating (we had 25th row dead center), but there was no way to select an aisle seat, which my father counts on for his leg in any venue.  Despite my request and explanation in the special information box, it was completely ignored, and we were placed in the center of a row.

Strike three:  unlike most venues, the floor seating can only be accessed at Rogers Centre via a long staircase down from the 100 levels.  That’s right:  there are no general elevators for use by people with disabilities.  There are no bathrooms on that level, either.  For someone like my father, this meant he had to not use the facilities once downstairs (which took several minutes due to the pain it caused to descend). The folding metal chairs used are twist-tied together tightly, leaving no room between strangers of average size, even.  It’s all incredibly miserable and many people around us complained.

All of this is fairly unpleasant and rather unbelievable for a major venue in Toronto, but it gets worse.

The moment Roger Waters stepped on stage, the entire floor section stood up for nearly the entire show.  The stands, by the way, remained seated.  Our view seated was perfect, so there was no logical reason to stand to see.  To see anything during the hours of the performance, my father and I were forced to stand as well.  My chronic pain is to the point where ten minutes of standing leaves me fighting tears despite a cocktail of medications; my father’s is worse.  We are, however, tremendous appreciators of live music and we persevere.  The ignorance of people at shows cannot be controlled.  I know this.  I will speak to this further in due time.  But first, let’s return to the venue for one last failing.

By the end of the show, my father and I could barely walk, let alone climb a huge flight of stairs (at least 40, I’d estimate).  I hobbled over to security with my fiance and explained the situation, asking if there was any other way out of the area.  Surely, we posited, there was some sort of exit or elevator?  The Rogers Centre employee was unsure but suggested contacting a supervisor via Guest Services.  My fiance headed there.  A security officer from the hired company (Northwest Protection Services, although he noted he was only contracted to them for this event, not a direct employee) had to badger this employee to help us, as he initially refused.

While awaiting the supervisor, we were harassed by three different Northwest guards and another Rogers Centre employee to get out and leave.  As a former security supervisor, I understood why:  as the Rogers Centre employee explained nicely, teardown was already in progress due to the complicated set and the floor chairs needed to be removed ASAP to facilitate it.  However, we were waiting help with a medical concern and further, we could have been approached politely.  Rudely snapping, “You need to get out of here” is not appropriate.  Calmly stating, “Hey, we do need to clear everyone out so they can tear down the set” and then listening to the situation would have been acceptable.

Eventually, we were escorted to a service elevator, where several others with disability concerns awaited being shuttled up or down.  This process took nearly fifteen minutes.  It was ridiculous.  The employees didn’t have radios to communicate with their supervisor?  The contracted security guard who’d been helpful and kind from the start stated flat out that he would likely refuse to subcontract for the company again, as their direct employees were incredibly rude to people all night.  That’s sad.

My pain issues have never before been such a hindrance to me, but after recent experiences with NXNE and this show, I am more acutely aware of how ableist our society is, live music venues included.  Take a look yourself the next time you’re on Ticketmaster, and see how little is offered for those in wheelchairs.  Notice that they are never afforded prime seats, cannot buy them online in many cases, and so few are available that it’s often the case that people simply cannot go at all.  Next time you hit a live music show at a bar, take a look at how often the only bathrooms are down a flight of steep stairs, how little seating is provided, how narrow the entrances are.  Next time you’re at a venue with seating, consider the impact of standing up for the entire show on the people behind you.  Consider that not everyone with a physical limitation is visible.  I for example carry no cane, do not use any devices, and walk surprisingly fast to and from my seat (the reason being that I operate on the ‘get it over with’ philosophy).

Live music fans are everywhere and come from all walks of life.  For some of us, music is therapeutic.  It eases the psychological distress of chronic pain.  It’s a way to channel our feelings.  There is nothing more devastating to a music fan than being denied live music by uncontrollable factors like poor health.  As I’ve had to confront my increasing limitations at a young age, I find myself rather despondent.  Music has always been a fact of life for me, as necessary as oxygen.  This blog began from that understanding.  To find myself seated and unable to see a thing for an hour from what should have been prime seating was painful for my heart, never mind my legs and back.

We can do better than this.

Venues and Festivals:  Band together.  Petition the government together for funding to improve accessibility.  Provide options for those with struggles.  If your seating is generally first come, first served and minimal, offer the option for patrons with disabilities to call ahead and reserve a seat. Provide more options for accessible seating.  Make it easier to purchase aisle seats online.  Provide safe zones in GA shows to avoid pushing and shoving if blind/injured.  Provide more information on accessibility online.  Train security to be more sensitive, including not insulting people for carrying anti-anxiety medications and calling them drug addicts/abusers (yeah, that’s happened to me).  Think outside of the entertainment box.

Rogers Centre:  Make the availability of an elevator more known for those with difficulties.  Stop strapping your chairs together on the floor so tightly.  Train your security to be sensitive as per Ontario protocols on accessibility.  The training is available online for free.

Bands and Artists:  I love your presales.  I love your devotion to ensuring actual fans get great seats at face value.  Please, in setting up your ordering, allow for accommodations.  Allow us to ask for aisle seating or accessible seats.  Consider your venue choices and insist on accessible venues where possible.  Question inaccessible venues and why they don’t accommodate.

And last, Music Fans:  Please be less selfish.  Please consider other fans.  If you are 6’5″ and a 5’0″ person is standing behind you at a GA show, be kind and let them in front of you for at least part of the set.  If you’re at a show with seats, please consider the impact of standing for a whole show.  Consider sitting for slow songs at least.  If you notice someone behind you miserable and sitting, ask if they would appreciate you sitting for a few songs.  If you notice someone with a cane in the middle of a crowded row, consider switching them for your aisle seat. If you notice a blind woman in a GA crowd, be considerate and look out for shoving people, and tell them why that’s a shitty idea.  Enjoy yourselves, by all means – dance, shimmy, party.  But if it would help someone to skip dancing to 1/4 of the set, it’s not a lot to offer up in my opinion and would mean the world to someone in pain.

No one should leave a live show in avoidable agony or emotional turmoil/frustration.  No one should feel like a lesser human being for not being in perfect health.  We are all united in love of an artist.  Why not help each other a little?


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