Disabled-access ticket sales at gigs and festivals have increased by 70% in the last year, according to research from a charity that works to improve access to live music in the UK.
The figures cover festivals including Glastonbury, Download and Reading and Leeds plus venues such as the O2 and the Roundhouse in London and Manchester Academy.
Suzanne Bull, the founder and chief executive of Attitude Is Everything, said: “The disabled customer base has increased because venues and ticketing sites are improving. It’s like the line in the film Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come. Word-of-mouth reputation is very important in the disabled community.”
Recommendations in the charter include providing clear signage and appropriate lighting so that people can find their way around independently, publishing videos showing how accessible the venue or festival is so that fans can do their research before they arrive, and offering sign-language interpreters for deaf fans.
The charity said analysis of government data showed that of the 10 million disabled adults in the UK, almost four million attended at least one gig in 2013/14 – a figure that had doubled in six years. The numbers of non-disabled gig-goers over the same period remained relatively static.
Daniella Lipscombe, a regular gig-goer from Bristol who has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism, said: “I definitely see more disabled people in crowds now. Venues are improving, and once you know you can go to gigs and festivals, you want to go to even more.
“The attitude I’ve experienced in the past – that because I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t count as disabled – is changing. Venues are realising that it’s not about being completely physically accessible, it’s more about understanding that people have different needs. It’s often something as simple as putting better information on their website.”
Troi Lee, a dance music fan from London who organises Deaf Rave events, said: “People are still surprised to see deaf fans like me at gigs. But there’s much more awareness now. Going to gigs with sign-language interpreters and captioning is wonderful, but there’s still more to be done, especially with staff training, and better signage would really help.”
Alex Taylor, a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, said provision of free tickets to carers was another factor in improving access to gigs. “The cost was a real barrier,” he said. “Why should I pay double? The concessionary tickets make gig access more possible for me, as it means I don’t have to worry about things like going to the toilet unaided.”
Taylor works as a music journalist and goes to gigs every week. “Things have gradually been changing for the better in line with a general increase in disability awareness thanks to the Paralympics and people like Walter Jr from Breaking Bad. People are far more supportive and outraged when they hear about access problems now.”
In 2013 a report by the disability charity Trailblazers painted a grim picture of the gig experience for disabled people, arguing that poor booking systems and limited seating facilities left fans “isolated and humiliated”.
Festivals and venues that have improved access have seen the numbers of deaf and disabled people at their events grow. The Roundhouse doubled its sales of disabled-access tickets this year after making them available online.
Download festival provides terrain maps for wheelchair users with the exact distance between stages, and expanded the capacity of its disabled camping area from 450 to 1,500 this year. Sally Blake, senior disabled access co-ordinator for the music promoter Live Nation, said: “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of disabled fans at Download festival in particular. And that will only increase as more and more fans realise that they can go to music festivals now.”
However, Attitude Is Everything’s business and operations manager, Graham Griffiths, said the statistics represented the tip of the iceberg. A recent survey by the Music Venue Trust, which represents small venues around the UK, found that more than a third of the UK’s small venues offered no disabled access.
Dominique Czopor, director of the 300-capacity Boiler Room in Guildford, said: “Like most small venues we’re a sma
ll business, so without any access to government funding we just don’t have money to invest in making the venue more user-friendly. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t help in other ways. It’s about the attitude and staff training.
“While we can’t afford to put in a lower bar, that doesn’t mean our staff can’t come round to serve people. All venues need to realise that people with disabilities pay for tickets like any other gig-goer and they deserve to have just as good a time.”