What the Pandemic should teach us about accessibility

  I have been blessed in the last week to see live performances across three different cities and states. From a concert in an arena of 25,000 people in Columbus, Ohio, to an intimate club show in Atlanta, Georgia to beautiful ballet in Seattle, the words I heard echoed at each show was “Oh how I missed live music”  “It was so hard to not have live performances.” “This is where I feel sense of belonging.” People are drawn to live performances – we seek out music that makes us feel, dance that makes us want to move, and theater that makes us think. I can not agree more with these sentiments- there is a certain bonding that happens when you cry alongside others because you are moved by lyrics, by the raw emotion of the performer, or the depth of an actor. It makes you feel connected, and boy do we need that connection right now. There is a unique lesson that we are forgetting however, a lesson I’ve heard whispers of here and there, but one that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. And that lesson is that individuals with disabilities have ALMOST ALWAYS missed out on such experiences. While many individuals missed out over the last 18 months due to the Covid19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown of live events, individuals with mobility, visual, hearing and sensory disabilities have missed out on live events their whole lives. Disability access is an afterthought for most events; usually until a glaring issue comes to light. This week’s United Nations COP26 summit, which proved to not be wheelchair accessible, is a shocking, yet prime example. We all collectively need to apply what we experienced the last 18 months, and take a long, hard look at the fact that this lack of access to live events is a reality for 15% of the world’s population. Events need to be accessible and inclusive.  At the small club show I was lucky to attend this week, I was relieved to see multiple people with disabilities. In a general admission area that only fit 350 people, I saw three individuals with wheelchairs, one with a cane, and a Deaf individual – and who knows how many others like myself with hidden disabilities. All had access, and were given support both by the venue and the band’s security. So different from just a few years ago when I was temporarily in a wheelchair and was labeled “That ADA situation” by the security chief at a large concert arena.  The more support and access provided, the more individuals will feel safe in attending. Indeed, “build it and they will come.” It is not difficult to provide access when accessibility is an active part of event planning.  Venues, conferences, and events must assume that there will be individuals with disabilities attending, and must be inclusive in how they design access into, during and out of, the event. Sensory Access is an accessibility company, and as part of our services we offer accessibility event planning checklists for all types of events. We will never have the resources to reach out to every event as it is being planned and offer these planning tools. It is up to the event to reach out to the many accessibility facilitators out there and ask for support. Hire accessibility teams that are made up of disabled individuals – the very perspective you want to learn from. We are all here, ready to help.  Preferably, as you start the planning process, and not as an afterthought.  

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