Music is a big part of my life. It was one of the main things that brought Allan and me together – our love of music during the good old MySpace days lead to our relationship (read our story here). Some couples enjoy going out for a romantic meal and a few drinks at a bar. For us, going to a gig and seeing our favourite bands is what we love the most. Living so close to two main Scottish cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow makes it super easy to attend all the live music at accessible venues as we want. Since we are big gig-lovers with a range of good and bad accessibility experiences throughout the years, I thought I’d share my tips for going to a gig in a wheelchair.
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 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.
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.
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 doctors letter etc.
5. Viewing Area/Platform
Personally, I much prefer to be seated in a designated viewing area or platform for wheelchairs 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.
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 opens. 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 at 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.
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, 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?