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THINKING - June 2013

Scrolling through Twitter yesterday, I noticed some disability outrage on the topic of disability segregation at public concerts and the poor level of disabled access to facilities at concert venues.

I, for one, am happy to see more of us articulating our dissatisfaction with this. I have been banging on about it since my first year as a wheelchair user in 1998 when, attempting to go to a Kenwood concert, I was informed that I had to sit in a special area separate from my friends so as ‘not to spoil the enjoyment’ of other concert goers.

After a few ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’s …’, I slammed the phone down and boycotted Kenwood from that day on (and Kew Summer Concerts now as they appear to have adopted the same policy recently).

Subsequently, I have realised this was less unusual than I imagined and I have spent the past 15 years not being happy about access to, and my treatment at, various venues.

Friends are generally amazed when I describe how ‘access but no toilet facilities’ is run of the mill for us wheelchair users at most public venues as is 'totally accessible' meaning:

  • having to book in advance because wheelchair spaces are only available during advance booking; none, thereafter, for spontaneous nights out
  • access that means ‘get up a few steps’ that other wheelchair users have miraculously managed (how many wheelchair users are able to stand, I wonder?)
  • traipsing through filthy alleys, past dustbins, via kitchens, storerooms et al because access is 'round the back'
  • finding a wobbly ramp of planks nailed together being the only mode of entry
  • gazing at a vertiginous ramp whilst thinking ‘WTF… and H[ow]TF?’
  • baulking as several muscle-y men - always of different heights! - grab your wheelchair as you yell, ‘not by the footplates …’ (which come off if lifted up)
  • lifts that are not working when you arrive
  • staff who have no idea how the lifts work
  • strangers who grab your wheelchair and try to take charge of you
  • people who stand in a full lift and look at you, refusing to get out to let you on when the stairs/escalators are merely feet away

I actually could go on but I do get that anyone who is disabled feels my pain(!) and anyone who isn’t is now thinking, ‘but it is so much better than it used to be. They’re so ungrateful …’

That sentiment was, pretty much, expressed by Michael Portillo on This Week when they covered some disability issues recently. Yes, many people used to be racist/sexist/prejudiced too - that most of us know better now doesn’t excuse those of us who don’t.

And you might be ungrateful too if people clambered over you in your seat, kicked your feet and legs, used your knees as props to support themselves, smashed into the your back etc. - all of these things happen to me regularly. Amazing, no? I truly cannot imagine, in my pre-wheelchair days, having such little physical regard for a person in a wheelchair and, yet …

So, with more of us noticing our poor treatment, buck up, non-disabled people and get with the times. Numbers of old, sick and disabled people are increasing. We want good access. We have friends that we go out with when we are able. We like using the facilities as much as you do. We’ve even got spending power - en masse, if not personally. Maybe it’s time to give us some thought, ask us what we want and how we want it. There will be some money in it for you quite soon.

Meantime, why not get ahead of the curve, do the decent thing and bring us in from the cold? We’ll all be better off if you do.


PS On the plus side, venues with good access do serve us well and if you like theatre, even for sold out productions, wheelchair spaces might still be available. I got tickets to see Tom Hiddlestone in [an otherwise sold-out] Coriolanus today - so huge thanks to one of my favourite theatres - The Donmar Warehouse.

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