The adventures of a disabled gig-goer (Part 1)
Please allow me to introduce myself: I’m a man of little wealth and dubious taste. I have been a regular, some would say obsessive, gig-goer for more years than I care to remember. I have been to festivals, stadiums, the back room of the Kebab & Calculator. You name it, I have probably been there.
In all those years one thing that never once entered my thoughts was, how accessible is this venue for the disabled? Think about it for a minute. Can you remember if your favourite venue has wheelchair access? Are there any steps to the toilet? Could you see the stage if you were in a wheelchair? Simple questions that you probably can’t answer - and ones I certainly didn’t know and had no real reason to, at least not until just over a year ago when I had to endure the rather unpleasant amputation of my right leg below the knee.
The realisation soon set in that I was unlikely to be jumping round in the mosh pit at a Goldblade gig anymore but there was no way such a mere flesh wound would stop me from attending gigs in the future. My first tentative effort - I was going to say steps but trundle would be more appropriate - was to see Shearwater at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds a few weeks after my amputation. An email to the manager of the venue was met very pleasantly and upon arrival I was slotted into a prime position. There was a ramp for entry and everyone there was brilliant. The toilet was a little tricky to get in and out of but some careful steering saw me through that. (Word of warning here for wheelchair users: make sure you have gloves. Whatever is on the floor of a gents toilet will end up on the wheels of your chair. A grim truth soon learned.)
From that rather nerve-wracking first post-op gig, I went to numerous shows while in a wheelchair and was met with nothing but a genuine desire to help me get as good an experience as any other gig-goer. Eventually I was given a rather fancy prosthetic leg and am now no longer reliant on a wheelchair but still have special requirements because standing all night is not an option. My change of circumstances has not affected the reaction of venue staff who are still only too keen to help.
One year on and my gig going is on the increase and my original nervousness has been replaced by the excitement I always felt when going to gigs. I am, I suppose, lucky in that I am not confined to a wheelchair anymore but, even if you are, that should not stop you getting out there and seeing your favourite bands wherever you fancy.
(Part 2 will follow and will give my thoughts on the facilities and helpfulness at the various venues I have been to in the past year).