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7 Tips for Going to a Gig as a Wheelchair User

There is something magical about seeing your favourite band perform live. Whether that’s to a handful of fans in a small intimate venue or a stadium full of fans all screaming at the top of their lungs. But, going to a live event in a wheelchair can be a challenge depending on the accessibility at the venue. As a full time power wheelchair user, I’ve had my fair share of good and bad accessibility experiences over the years. So I’ve put together some of my tips for going to a gig as a wheelchair user.

1. Research The Venue Accessibility

Live music shows range from small intimate bars or clubs to massive arenas and stadiums. Each with very different levels of accessibility. So it’s important to research the venue accessibility before going ahead and booking tickets. Unless of course, you’ve been to the venue before and are aware of what it’s like going to a gig in a wheelchair at that venue.

The first thing I always do when researching the accessibility of the venue is to look on their website. I will look for the accessibility section and hopefully, there will be information on how to book accessible and carer/PA tickets, the accessible viewing area, toilet, parking and more. If the information is vague, nonexistent or I can’t find images to back up the information, then I will either email or call the venue directly.

Always do your research. It’s best not to assume the venue is accessible and spend money on a ticket, travel etc only to turn up and have to leave if there is no access.

A red neon sign with the words 'BAR LIVE MUSIC DOWN STAIRS'

2. Call The Venue

Give the venue a call if you can’t find the answers on their website. Have a list of questions prepared and anything you’d like confirmed.

You may want to ask about accessible parking, how far the accessible toilet/changing places toilet is from the viewing area or the policy on bringing an assistance dog to the venue.

If you still aren’t sure about the accessibility, don’t worry, ask for photos to be taken and emailed to you. Seeing photos of the toilet, viewing platform or entrance may be more helpful to you than someone trying to explain what they think is accessible.

3. Free Carer/PA Ticket

Most venues now offer a free carer/PA ticket to disabled customers. This information may not be provided on the venue’s website so always ask before purchasing your tickets online.

For venues I regularly attend, like O2 Academy, I know that I can purchase one standard general admission ticket online for myself and then email to request a free carer/PA.

If accessible tickets are only available to book over the phone, then it’s important to ask the agent if a free carer/PA ticket will be provided as they may be unaware and charge you for two tickets.

Many disabled people prefer or require someone to attend a gig with them to provide care or support, so offering free carer/PA tickets is incredibly beneficial and makes the gig more accessible for disabled customers.

Emma, Allan, her friend Hannah and Megan on the viewing platform at BST Hyde Park.
Emma, Allan, her friend Hannah and Megan are on the viewing platform at BST Hyde Park.

4. What Can You Take In With You

Most venues will carry out a bag search and have a policy on what is and isn’t allowed into the venue. If you need to carry medication with you or any specialist equipment then it may be best to check on the venue’s website or contact them directly. Let them know what you need to take with you and ask whether you’ll need to provide a doctor’s letter etc.

5. Viewing Area/Platform

Personally, I much prefer to be seated in a designated viewing area or platform for wheelchair users and disabled guests. I know some disabled people would rather be amongst the crowd or be as close to the stage as possible. However, at the risk of being accidentally elbowed in the face, fallen on, leaned on, being too low down and not being able to see anything, I don’t think it’s worth it.

Being in a viewing area or raised viewing platform gives a much better view and allows you to enjoy the band comfortably and safer. Having confirmation prior to attending will hopefully save any uncomfortable and unnecessary conversations about your medical needs with door or venue staff on the night.

A view of the accessible viewing platform at Glasgow Summer Sessions.
Accessible viewing platform at Glasgow Summer Sessions.

6. Early Entry Vs Late Arrival

In my experience, most venues allow early entry to disabled customers. This means you get to enter the venue before everyone else starts piling in. Early entry is handy for beating the crowds and queues, but also for finding a good spot to watch the show.

This is especially helpful if it’s a general admission show and there is no designated accessible area. Entering before everyone else also gives you time to get a drink, grab some food or go to the toilet.

Personally, I don’t like going before the doors open. I’d rather go a little bit later when the support act is on or shortly before the main act come on stage. This may not suit a lot of people, but for me, it works best as I tend not to drink when I’m at gigs so going from 6pm until 11pm can be too long without drinking etc.

Also, I get sore sitting in the same position too long, so the less time I’m there the better. So if you can’t be there early for whatever reason, don’t worry, staff are usually good at guiding you through the crowd to your viewing spot. Everyone is different so it’s important to work out what works best for you.

7. Accessible Toilets

Accessible toilets are so important. Your favourite band may be playing at a small bar or club which has an accessible entrance, but there may not be an accessible toilet. If they do have an ‘accessible loo’, it is likely to be on the small side. Always double-check what their facilities are like beforehand.

If you still really want to go to the gig regardless of being able to access the toilet, a backup plan with the closest accessible toilet is a good idea. I’ve been in many small venues and once the show starts it is impossible to move from your spot.

So going to the toilet mid-show is not an option unless you weave your way through the packed crowd of most likely, drunk, excited or oblivious gig-goers who can’t see you because you’re low down and not at their eye level.

It’s always good to know where the accessible toilets are and mentally plan a route from where you’re sitting in case you need to go.

Ask beforehand if you will need a Radar key to unlock the accessible toilet. It’s always a good idea to bring the Radar key with you in case.

Emma sitting in her powered wheelchair in the Changing Places toilet at the SSE Hydro Glasgow.
Emma in the Changing Places toilet at The SSE Hydro Glasgow.

Bonus Tips

Extra tips and advice for going to a gig in a wheelchair:

  • Plan how you are getting to and from the venue i.e. bus, train or car. Book train assistance in advance.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up if something isn’t right e.g, you can’t see the stage.
  • As tempting as it is to take a million photos at the gig, it can leave you with a dead phone. Try not to run your mobile battery down too much in case of an emergency or change to travel plans.
  • Crowds aren’t much fun to endure in a wheelchair, so it’s a good idea to leave a few minutes before the show ends or wait until the majority of the crowds have left the venue before making your way out.
  • Get your an Access Card which “informs providers quickly and discreetly about the support you need and may gain you access to things like concessionary ticket prices and complex reasonable adjustments without having to go into loads of personal detail.” You can read my blog on the Access Card here.

Tips For Going To A Gig In A Wheelchair

It’s no surprise that some venues aren’t as accessible compared to the arenas or stadium events. Accessibility does vary quite a bit, but going to a gig in a wheelchair isn’t impossible. It is very much possible and something you should absolutely do.

Accessibility at venues is getting better with disability awareness and facilities becoming more of a priority all the time. Of course, there is still room for improvement. Although the majority of the time a venue is going to do what they can to make it as accessible as possible.

Music makes us feel things. It is incredibly powerful. It can affect us in many different ways. Music lets you get lost in the moment. That is powerful and amazing. Live music has all that and more. Everyone is there to have a great night and enjoy the music. To see your favourite band live is incredible and you will be able to cherish the memories from that night forever.

With that said, going to a gig in a wheelchair can be challenging and a little stressful at times, but as long as you are prepared, and do your research, you will have a fantastic time.

For gig and festival reviews, check out the Gig section.

What are your top tips for going to a gig in a wheelchair? What is your favourite accessible venue?

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Meet Emma

Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

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4 Responses

  1. Great analysis and comment, Emma! I had wonderful service at a number of theatres when we were in Glasgow, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and London last year, with the exception of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall where they were under the illusion that accessible seating included stairs. Other venues, including the London Eye, the Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre were wonderful!

    You are right. Bring a RADAR key if you have one. Ask about everything and make your needs clear. Plan, plan, plan.

    We have the Access 2 Entertainment Card in Canada through Easter Seals Canada. It has saved me hundreds of dollars. Always ask for a free attendant ticket. We got a free attendant ticket and VIP line up support at the London Eye without even asking for this. I was using a four-wheeled walker.

    1. Thank you for your great comment Allan! I’m so pleased you had a great experience at most of the theatres you visited during your UK trip.

      The Access 2 Entertainment Card sounds fantastic. We have similar cards, but they don’t sound as good as your card. It is great you have that available in Canada – amazing savings and benefits.

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