The State of Access – Concert and Music Festivals

Music events, like concerts and festivals, bring people together. But are they accessible to everyone?

What single form of art brings people together all over the world? Which hobby unifies people from different backgrounds, interests, and ethnicities? For what do people fuse together to enjoy a commonality? If music is your guess, you’re right.

Music has the ability to bring people together, regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Genres aside, music is something that we can all agree on. Which is why concerts and festivals make up half of all ticket sales worldwide, vastly outselling tickets for sporting events, theater shows, and other live entertainment.

Music events are accessible and open to everybody.

Or are they? Attitude is Everything (AIE), a charitable organization in the UK, is striving to improve access to live music events for people with disabilities. Founded in 2000 as a project, they have rapidly grown into a fully independent charitable organization. Every year, they release a State of Access Report describing the conditions of accessibility in the live music industry. AIE use their annual report as a cornerstone to implement change alongside ticket sellers like Live Nation, festival producers, and venues of all sizes.

Missing Services

Like Disabled Spectator, AIE identifies accessibility as an issue that requires attention. Inaccessibility denies a large portion of the world’s population equal access to what many would describe as common experiences. While Disabled Spectator is addressing accessibility by making the ticket purchasing process forthright and providing vital venue accessible information, AIE is going the advocacy route by directly working with festival producers and concert venues to illustrate where they can make changes. Both paths are effective, provide valuable services that have been missing, and bring about important change.

AIE’s 2014 report truly validates what both they and Disabled Spectator are trying to achieve. They found that 95% of customers with disabilities had problems booking their ticket. Of that 95 %, 88% felt that they were being discriminated against, 83% decided to not purchase tickets because of the experience, and 47% considered legal action. AIE also surveyed 10 of the leading music venues in the UK. They found that while most of them were providing services to their customers with disabilities, only two were selling accessible tickets online.

AIE also found clear accessibility disparities between large and small venues/festivals. 38% of small venues and 75% of small festivals provided accessible tickets compared to 61% of large venues and 88% of large festivals. 62% of small venues and 82% of small festivals provided accessible restrooms compared to 89% of large venues and 88% of large festivals.

The report also highlighted basic amenities such as easily accessible entrances, pathways, and functioning accessible restrooms. Only 44% of venues had all three components mentioned above and only 66% of venues had a step-free entrance.

Viewing Platforms

A common tactic to improve accessibility at venues and festivals is to create a viewing platform for people with disabilities. These platforms create a safe area with unobstructed views for people with disabilities to enjoy the show. In 2014, AIE found that 42% of venues and 67% of festivals had such viewing platforms. When customers with disabilities were asked to rate their viewing experience with and without a viewing platform, they said that the experience rated at 7.1 with the platform and 5.1 without out of 10. At festivals, they rated the experience with platforms at 5.2 and without at 4.3.

While viewing platforms can be part of the answer, they do not provide the complete package. People with disabilities should be able to rate their experience above a 7.1.

Yes, viewing platforms are a safe space for people with disabilities and theoretically, should provide a good vantage point. However, one of the key aspects of experiencing music is socializing and being a part of the crowd. Viewing platforms can rob people with disabilities of that essential aspect of a concert, affecting their experience, and creating accessibility problems.

Viewing platforms are a start, but they don’t fully solve the problem.

Making a Dent in an Inaccessible World

First off, these statistics are from 2014, and it’s very likely that improvements have been observed since. In fact, AIE’s 2016 report, indicates just that. However, until people with disabilities gain complete equal access, the fight for accessibility cannot stop.

The findings and actions of organizations like Attitude is Everything validates what Disabled Spectator wants to achieve. While AIE is addressing accessibility issues in the UK, it’s important to remember that accessibility at public events is an international challenge. It’s naïve to think that the United States provides better accessibility information and services to people with disabilities. In fact, there is nothing to indicate otherwise and it’s entirely possible that accessibility is worse on our side of the Atlantic.

Disabled Spectator hopes that by providing venue accessibility information from around the country, and creating a convenient path for people with disabilities to purchase accessible seating, we can start making a small dent in what is an inaccessible world. To achieve that, we need the help of everybody.

Tell your friends about Disabled Spectator and other organizations like AIE. Share our blog posts with others. Take notice of accessible and inaccessible facilities and amenities at restaurants, hotels, shops, stadiums, bars, concert halls, and other establishments. Share your stories with us and take part in online discussions. The more people talking about accessibility, the more likely real change is to happen.

What Do You Think?

Let us know what you think of AIE’s findings in the comments section below. Share your experiences, accessibility changes or improvements that you’ve noticed and liked, and what else you think could be done. Don’t forget to share this with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

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Josh Appel
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