For wheelchair users, attending a concert is like flipping a coin. On one side, you have access and inclusion. On the other side? Exclusion and discrimination. Unfortunately, sometimes it does come down to luck. Which side of the coin the event or concert reflects comes down to if you’re lucky enough to have a combination of a great venue and knowledgeable and inclusive staff. But sometimes no amount of planning can prepare you for which side of the coin will be flipped.
Thankfully, my recent concert experience saw the coin flipped to the accessible and inclusive side!
I was very fortunate to score tickets for myself and my sister (who is also a power wheelchair user) to Troye Sivan’s exclusive, intimate and free concert held as part of the Aloft Homecoming Tour. Getting free tickets to a concert with an artist as big as that is huge! But what was even more exciting to me, was that I could use this experience as another avenue to advocate for wheelchair access at concerts.
Recently, I have been campaigning an advocacy issue for people with disabilities to access concerts and make venues accessible, the petition (you can find here) has over 20,000 signatures – and is a real issue for those who use wheelchairs.
Prior to the event I had done very little preparation – not like me when it comes to attending concerts! Usually I have to send quite a few emails and social media messages to secure and purchase the tickets I want, to ensure I’ll be ‘allowed’ in, and to organise the practicalities of wheelchair access. This time was different though. Given the event was free, I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations. So I simply sent an email off asking if there was wheelchair access. They replied a few weeks later with ‘yes, the venue is wheelchair accessible’.
Wheelchair users such as myself aren’t asking for anything special – we just want the same opportunities as everyone else.
Fast forward to the day of the concert and it was quite nerve wracking actually! Will the venue actually be wheelchair accessible? Will the staff actually let me in? Will I be segregated away from others? All questions running through my mind as I arrived early to line up at 3:30pm in the afternoon, with doors opening at 6pm. Surprisingly, there were only 9 other people in front of me in line – perfect! Given the event was general admission, I wanted to make sure that getting to the front of the stage wasn’t because of special treatment or because I was in a wheelchair. That is something that is pivotal in my advocacy for accessibility at concerts and events. Wheelchair users such as myself aren’t asking for anything special – we just want the same opportunities as everyone else.
After around an hour or two of waiting in line, a member of Troye Sivan’s team came and approached me and my sister. After asking how we were doing, he then offered to let us wait inside the lobby (up until that point we had been lining up outside the hotel) and told us that we would be taken up the lift to the performance area first. This truly set the tone for just how accommodating and accessible the venue and staff were!
Just before 6pm, another member of Troye Sivan’s team came and told us we were going to be taken up early to allow me and my sister to get a drink and settle in before the crowds came. I was also told that they had worked out “the perfect spot” for us. When someone says this in regards to wheelchair users at concerts – it’s not always a good thing unfortunately! But she then proceeded to say that the front and middle of the mosh pit can get hectic so she would recommend finding a spot to the side. She then added: “..but it’s ultimately up to you.”.
This is how a concert experience should be! To have choice and control over the experience I want to have and what ‘perceived risk’ I put myself at is my decision.
My sister and I parked ourselves at the front of the stage just right of centre and had the time of our lives! Making eye contact and singing along with an artist such as Troye is a truly magical experience! What was great was that once people were let in, they all wanted to stand with us because they could see over the top of us and thought it would be safer then standing elsewhere. That goes against everything other concert venues have said when it comes to the safety of wheelchair users in general admission areas.
Ultimately, I think the message of the day is that if the promoters and staff of the Aloft Homecoming Tour and a venue like Aloft Perth can make a concert for wheelchair users as stress-free, accommodating and inclusive as this, what excuse does that give other venues and promoters who charge $100+ for a ticket? Not many, if any, excuses at all!