The live event industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Months of lockdown has left the industry scrambling in its fight to bounce back to protect its future. All events have been cancelled since March but even as lockdown restrictions ease many remain cancelled or postponed until next year. However, could outdoor drive-in events be the answer?
Live Nation is just one event organiser planning a series of drive-in events this summer across the UK.
These outdoor physically distanced events are a great way to kick start the event industry again and save many jobs. Unfortunately, many venues, both big and small still face the risk of closure.
Many are unlikely to reopen their doors before the end of the year such as Cardiff Motorpoint Arena and London’s Brixton Academy.
According to the Music Venue Trust, there are more than 400 grassroots venues facing permanent closure.
As a passionate live music fan and disabled gig-goer, I have absolutely missed not being able to go to gigs during the past four months of shielding/lockdown.
Right now, the thought of going to an overcrowded venue any time this year fills me with dread. So I like the idea of drive-in concerts as a way of providing some normality in the meantime.
But will accessibility be overlooked?
What are the barriers to accessibility at drive-in events?
There is nothing like the live music experience, but as a wheelchair user, going to standard gigs and festivals can be challenging at times.
Having been to drive-in movies before I would be interested to experience seeing my favourite bands in this way.
It’s certainly a lot safer, but I do have some concerns about accessibility from a wheelchair users perspective. In particular, toilet facilities and viewing.
Accessible toilets at drive-in events
My biggest concern is the lack of hygienic accessible toilets available at these outdoor drive-in events. Both events I went to did not provide fully accessible Changing Places toileting facilities.
The ‘accessible’ toilets provided were questionable and I would argue they weren’t accessible at all. They were small Portakabin toilets too small to fit a wheelchair inside let alone a wheelchair user plus a companion.
Not only are these toilets not accessible to everyone, but they are also not cleaned regularly or as thoroughly as they should be.
Having a clean and safe toilet facility is very important for many disabled people, but more so in a COVID world.
It’s vital that event organisers ensure everyone is welcome by providing Changing Places toilets.
Mobiloo is a charity that provides clean/safe fully accessible mobile toileting with hoist and changing bench for disabled people.
There is absolutely no excuse for event organisers not to provide Changing Places facilities like Mobiloo.
Restricted viewing for wheelchair users at drive-in events
Live Nation will be hosting the series of drive-in events in locations such as Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and more. The events will hold up to 300 cars and each group of people from the same car will have their own designated space.
Event-goers will only be able to stand outside their vehicle or sit in fold-out chairs in their allocated space to adhere to the Governments current social distancing rules.
Going to the gender-neutral toilets will be the only permitted time away from your vehicle.
Again, having been at two drive-in movie events, I know how difficult it can be to see the screen/stage. Many wheelchair users including myself have wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV) that allow us to remain in our wheelchairs during car journeys.
We are usually sat in our wheelchairs in the back of the vehicle which is slightly higher up and with a more restricted view out the windshield than the rest of the passengers. Newer WAVs have the upfront option, but these aren’t as common yet.
Wheelchair accessibility issues at drive-in events
When I arrived at my first drive-in movie experience and parked up in our space, I quickly realised I couldn’t see the screen. My partner and sister struggled to lift me out of my wheelchair and into the drivers seat as the front passenger seat also had a restricted view.
It was difficult to do, but because it was my favourite movie (Grease) and we had travelled a long way to the event, they didn’t want me to miss out on seeing the movie.
Luckily my nephew was with us and was able to sit in my wheelchair because he was small enough to see the screen. This was far from ideal and I even injured my knee whilst being transferred into the driver’s seat.
Allan also sat in my wheelchair and played with my nephew in the back of the WAV. Grease wasn’t really their cup of tea so they were happy to play and draw.
I tried to be more prepared for my second drive-in movie experience and transferred into the front passenger seat before leaving my house. My WAV only has two passenger seats (one in the front and one in the back).
Since I was taking up the front passenger seat, there weren’t enough seats for everyone else so we had to take my sister’s car.
This wasn’t ideal either as I had to leave my power wheelchair at home and take my spare (uncomfortable and ill-fitted) manual wheelchair with me just in case I needed to leave the car for any reason.
It’s difficult to lift me plus I wasn’t comfortable and I need the support of my power wheelchair so I won’t be sitting in the front passenger seat again.
Of course, there will be the option to exit the vehicle for a clearer view of the stage at these upcoming drive-in gigs, as long as we remain in our own allocated spaces, but only if the weather is good.
Otherwise, we are likely to have a non-existent view of the stage while remaining in our vehicles if we don’t want to be rained on. Umbrellas will not be permitted at these events.
Accessibility and inclusion cannot be forgotten
So although drive-in events are a great alternative while indoor events remain closed, there are accessibility issues and restrictions for disabled people.
I feel it’s important to raise awareness of accessibility for everyone, especially as lockdown restrictions are eased. If we don’t, I worry that once again, disabled people will be forgotten and remain isolated at home whilst the rest of the world moves on.
I really don’t want the amazing progress that has been made for better accessibility and inclusion to be forgotten and undone.
It’s vital that event organisers consider and implement accessibility as a priority for greater inclusion and safety for all.
What accessibility issues do you foresee at drive-in events?