In this era of Wikipedia and NSA spying it is increasingly easy to find any information you need via Internet searches and social media, and yet it is still very difficult for disabled people to find out the information they need about venues where they want to see live music performed.
I first encountered this problem a few years back after becoming a wheelchair user myself, trying to get my life back to some kind of normality. I desperately wanted to go and see live music again but it quickly became apparent that it was very hard to find out if a venue was accessible or not, there didn't seem to be much information on most venues websites that gave the details I needed.
Would there be step free access? Is there a viewing platform? Are there accessible toilets? And perhaps most importantly; can I get to the bar easily!?
In most cases it meant a lengthy phone call to the box office and then waiting for them to find someone who knew the right information. I personally find this frustrating when all this information could be just put up on the venue's website.
It's a shame because in most cases small and medium sized venues do go to great lengths to help disabled gig-goers get the same amazing live music experience as everyone else. Admittedly, there are a lot of these venues that have pretty poor access and facilities, but even when this is the case they often make up for it with an accommodating attitude, the venue staff going out of their way to help.
I recently went to see a gig at my local venue (and in my opinion, one of the best venues in the UK) Rock City in Nottingham. I hadn't been to the venue since becoming a wheelchair user and I remembered that there was a lot of stairs.
So I went straight on to their website to look for information. They had quite possibly the most detailed venue information section I had ever come across, including local hotels, job opportunities, mobile phone policy and a run down on the glorious history of the venue. But was there any information for disabled audiences? A simple 'no' was the answer. So I went through the usual routine of emailing them then a follow up phone call which still left me a little in the dark and somewhat nervous about going to the gig.
On the night of the gig I turned up at the main entrance and was told that door staff would meet me at the back of the venue to get me in through the load in area where they would carry me up the small amount of steps before the rest of the audience was allowed in. This was a bit awkward, but I did get in safely and was given plenty of time to select a good spot to watch the band from.
It turned out that there was a raised area next to the bar that they could cordon off so I wouldn't get mobbed by the rest of the audience, and staff were on hand if I needed help during the gig. So this specific venue had a good procedure for access and even a safe viewing platform as well as staff to help you get around. But why wasn't this information on their website? It would have certainly made me less anxious on the run-up to the gig, and at one point I considered not going.
In comparison, the larger arena venues have a lot more information and facilities for disabled audiences, but arena gigs are awful - you lose the intimacy with the band and the sound quality is usually rubbish. It is so important that we support our local venues, but until they provide good information and further improve their access and facilities they are losing out on the growing number of disabled audiences, and an extra source of revenue.
This is why Attitude Is Everything, an organization that champions the rights of deaf and disabled audiences, works with local venues and festivals to deal with these issues. They also organise a night called Club Attitude, which is a perfect example of how things should be.
So I say to all those local venues that we love; please keep up the good work in improving standards for disabled audiences, but don't let yourselves down with something like venue information, which is so easy to provide and yet is so crucial to our needs.