When I first started going to shows, I was 15 and had no idea how general admission concerts worked. I’d show up and sometimes I’d be let in first because I’d have to go through a separate entrance without stairs, but once I got inside it wasn’t obvious as to where I should watch the show in my wheelchair without being crushed from pushing or squished by falling crowd-surfers. I did deal with being unsafe and uncomfortable in the front row for a lot of shows in order to see the stage, but as I learned the ropes I got to a point where I started to wonder why security wasn’t directing me to an ADA area or really anywhere besides the crowd. It was always the bands on stage who were concerned and found somewhere safer for me to be, so then I started getting comfortable with asking security at the beginning of the night if there was a safe spot with an unobstructed view that I could watch from. Most of the time their responses felt, and still do feel, like a scramble to understand my question because their answer is that there is no ADA area in the venue. Sometimes they walk me to the front row, other times they point to a small open area behind the crowd, but the most common result is being left with essentially no options unless a band asks the venue on my behalf.
Using a wheelchair at shows, it’s been apparent for a long time that many venues are not adequately accessible, but it took some really bad encounters with ableism to push me from wanting change, to creating something that will (hopefully) directly influence it. Half Access originally was going to be a place for me to document my experiences with inaccessibility, but very quickly transformed into being a database for accommodation information because it’s a needed resource for all music fans with disabilities. There are next-to-no venue websites that have all of the details that disabled music fans need before buying a ticket to a show. I want Half Access to provide as much information as possible, for people with all types of disabilities to feel comfortable and prepared when going to a venue for the first time, without having to reach out days in advance to research it.
The database will, first and foremost, be a resource for disabled music fans but it will also become a tool for anyone else willing to use it. Bands, promoters, booking agents and anyone else that would prefer to work with accessible spaces will be able to turn to Half Access to find one that works. A lot of artists say on stage that everyone is welcome and accepted at their shows, and while that may feel true for most fans, if the show isn’t at an accessible venue, then it hurts to hear as a disabled fan struggling to be safe and enjoy the show. Half Access can begin to bridge that gap and make it easier for those artists, and the industry folks they work with, to find inclusive spaces that live up to what they want to be true of their concerts.
Creating a general understanding of what an accessible venue looks like for people with disabilities is just the beginning of the overall goal to increase inclusivity in the music scene. There’s a lot more to come from Half Access over the next few months, and I have Sub City and Hopeless Records to thank for that, with the 2017 APMAs grant being the perfect way to get this project off the ground! Keep up with updates to come at halfaccess.org.