We've got wheels

 

Going to a gig can be a tricky affair if you’re in a wheelchair or using crutches – restricted views, no bathroom and sometimes a flight of stairs, writes LOUISE BRUTON

FOR MOST PEOPLE, it’s the gig that brings you to your music venue, but I have to choose my gigs depending on the venue because I am a crutches/wheelchair user. Sure, I can see whatever big act is playing in the fully accessible, modern-to-the-seams venues like the O2 or Grand Canal Theatre, but the smaller acts, those brinking on success, won’t be gracing the larger stages any time soon. This is a pity, as the Irish music scene is currently septic with great acts.

Accessibility consists of how many stairs there are in a venue, whether they have an accessible bathroom and if there’s somewhere to sit with an alright view. Most of this comes under the Building Regulations Act 2010, where new buildings or large-scale renovations must include access for all.

Many venues tick the boxes but do not go further than the token requirements. The wheelchair area often has a restricted view or limits you to having one mate with you, even if you’re with a gaggle of mates.

The accessible bathrooms, which can be deemed inaccessible if the key is kept behind the bar, sometimes aren’t big enough to fit wheelchairs, which is ridiculous. A lot of the time, they will have no mirrors, locks or light switches at the right level. The worst case scenario is that a venue has no accessible bathroom and you are sent to another bar or hotel to use their facilities.

At festivals and outdoor concerts, the raised viewing platforms are either placed too far away from the stage or too close. There is no choice, regardless of levels of enthusiasm for the show or your age. That’s grand – it’s what makes us different, isn’t it?

Tickets for the designated accessible area must be bought through Ticketmaster’s hotline, rather than online.

Paddy Doyle is a wheelchair user and a Bruce Springsteen fan. When he tried to buy tickets for The Boss’s outdoor RDS gig in July, he encountered some issues with the system. On the morning that tickets went on sale, there were none left for the [accessible] area, meaning he could not go to the concert at all. “They did not say how many tickets were available for the space where people with disabilities have to sit. I suggested that I’d get a ticket for anywhere in the grounds but was told firmly that if I did that I would not be allowed into the concert.

“It is a problem every time I try to book a ticket. I fail to see why a disabled person cannot just book a ticket online. Having to ring a ‘special number’ is just plain daft in my opinion.”

Fergus O’Farrell of the Irish band Interference uses a wheelchair and with the help of friends and venue staff, playing gigs is rarely a problem for him. “Fortunately, a few of the lads in the band are strong so they’d give me piggy backs and that sort of thing. The older bars, one wouldn’t expect them to have lifts so that was something you took on the chin.”

O’Farrell knows the ins and outs of venues across the country, and it’s the basic things that make for a hassle-free night.

“It makes such a difference when you go to a venue and you know that you can pee. I’ve been in some places where they have wheelchair bathrooms but they are so small that you can’t close the door. The door opens inwards and you can’t close the door. It’s frustrating but it’s definitely improving.”

One in 10 Irish people has a disability, be it lifelong, temporary or sudden, minor or serious. If they don’t want to strain themselves at a gig, they have to take the limited space for wheelchair users, catching glimpses of the gig through the forest of bodies, or stay at home. It is difficult to keep everyone happy at a gig. You will always find yourself behind the tallest man in Ireland or by the girls who’d rather chat than listen to the music – these are the things that can’t be helped.

But when it comes to making live music available for everyone, things can be improved, and it starts with a change of attitude.

THE MUSICIANS

RICHIE EGAN, JAPE“It’s totally outrageous and I feel quite guilty because I’ve never really thought about this before. Everybody should be able to go to gigs. Music is the best thing in the world. If it’s the case that venues haven’t done it because they’re slow, then that’s fair enough...but if they continually don’t do anything when they’re asked to, then that’s not on.”

COLIN, BOUTS“When I attended Hard Working Class Heroes last year, I saw the same girl in a wheelchair in the Button Factory all weekend. Clearly, the other venues just weren’t up to scratch and had to be avoided by her. It’s a shame they can’t install basic facilities for people in wheelchairs. It’s embarrassing and I hope action is taken to fix this mess with venues.”

ROY, SQUAREHEAD“For those of us lucky enough to be able hear music, access to venues should be available to everyone. I’ve attended gigs on crutches before and the attending part was never fun. Anything possible to make accessing the arts easier for everyone should be done.”

LAND LOVERS“It’s not on, especially in venues that are successful businesses, that corners are cut and excuses are made when it comes to providing adequate facilities for all.”

RORY, AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR“Before I did the band full time, I used to work as a personal assistant for wheelchair-bound students in Queen’s University in Belfast. I became really close with the guys I worked with and got an insight into the frustration and ridiculousness of a lack of accessibility in so many areas we take for granted. Going to see a show is meant to be a way of letting go of stresses. It’s crazy that some “venues” in this day and age can make trying to see some music a headache for some people.”

OISÍN, LAFARO“I’m an occupational therapist currently on a career break to play with LaFaro so this issue is what I do/did all day long. I find this insane that some of the larger venues can get away with this due to the amount of disability access legislation there is. Venues probably only see the disability, not the individual who loves music just as much as the next punter. Unfortunately, the only way to enforce access building regulations is via the count, like most things regarding equality, we have to fight for it.”

ANNIE, TIERANNIESAUR“I’m surprised and a little embarrassed that it’s never been much of an issue before now for local musicians, punk rockers or general trouble makers. I suppose if you’re not directly affected it’s not something that will cross most people’s minds and that’s why something like this campaign is so vital. I’ll certainly be much more cogniscent of related issues from now on and I promise to questions venues on their accessibility.”

BARRY, ALARMIST“When it’s pointed out, you immediately realise how much people take for granted being able to get from A to B within a venue. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it doesn’t often enter the average gig-goer’s mind, it’s easy for venues to sweep the issue aside. Whether this is intentional or not, it’s pretty unfair that fans can’t go to gigs for the most basic reason of inaccessibility.”

THE REGULATIONS

The Building Regulations Act 2010; Technical Guidance Document M - Access and Use: Any new buildings or existing properties carrying out large-scale renovations or extensions must apply for a Disability Access Certificate and planning permission. New buildings or extensions ...should be designed so that they are easy for people to use and to reflect the fact that all people experience changes in their abilities as they progress through the different stages of life. With existing buildings, the onus is on the owner of the property to make life easier for those with long-term, temporary or sudden disabilities.

THE CAMPAIGN

When a change of life circumstances crept up on me earlier this year, I started a campaign to improve accessibility through my blog notverywise.blogspot.com to make gig-going a little easier for me. Since November, the feedback has been overwhelming and has proved that there is a huge desire in society to make way for everyone, and who better to support a movement like this than musicians and their fans? And, honestly, if we can get Jedward to the Eurovision, I’m pretty sure we can achieve this.

THE VENUES

WHELAN’S

The back venue is accessible but the upstairs venue is not. While they have a wheelchair bathroom, the key is kept behind the bar. The staff are incredibly helpful and they say Whelan’s will be making changes in 2012 to improve accessibility.

TRIPOD/CRAWDADDY

This venue is totally accessible thanks to their lift and accommodating staff. Their wheelchair bathroom is a tight squeeze for larger wheelchairs and requires some stealthy parallel parking and reversing.

THE OLYMPIA

For standing shows, there is space for four wheelchairs in total, two at the front and two at the back. For seated shows, chairs at the back can be removed by request

THE BUTTON FACTORY

This venue, bar the upstairs smoking area, is fully accessible with a wheelchair bathroom by the bar.

VICAR STREET

The ground level is fully accessible and has a wheelchair bathroom.

THE ACADEMY

The Academy ticks all of the boxes for accessibility.

THE VILLAGE

The main bar is accessible with a wheelchair bathroom but the music venue is up two flights of stairs.

THE WORKMAN’S CLUB

The ground-level music venue is step-free but you are sent next door to the Clarence Hotel for their swanky accessible bathroom.

TWISTED PEPPER/BERNARD SHAW

These Bodytonic venues do not have wheelchair bathrooms and are not fully accessible but they say they are hoping to change that this year.

THE GRAND SOCIAL

Their upstairs music venue is inaccessible. They have a wheelchair bathroom on the ground level and the staff, particularly the bouncers, are very helpful.

THE SUGAR CLUB

Not only is there a wheelchair bathroom but they also provide table service for those that can’t go upstairs to the bar.