Accessibility barriers cause people with disabilities to fight harder to attend concerts

Posted 1 year ago by Bianca Iovino
Belle Owen with
 friend, Emma, utilising accessible seating at a concert in America. [Source: supplied]
Belle Owen with friend, Emma, utilising accessible seating at a concert in America. [Source: supplied]

As musicians flock to Australia in droves to lap up the summer sun and festival season, people living with a disability who have accessibility needs continue to fight with ticket outlets and venues about the hassle of purchasing accessible tickets.

Disability advocates around the country have been calling out venues and ticketing sites like Ticketek and TicketMaster for having a nightmarish purchasing process, only to be placed in lacklustre seats in a venue’s accessibility section.

Advocate, Tracey Cook, voiced her frustration on social media last week, tagging Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Ticketek Australia and fellow advocate, Dylan Alcott, in a Tweet about the difficult process of purchasing accessible tickets at her local stadium venue to see pop icon, Pink, next February.

Ms Cook said both Ticketek and Pink were “discriminating against people with disabilities and won’t let people with disabilities choose where they want to buy and sit when buying tickets to concerts.”

“We also can’t buy tickets like the general public, so we miss out.

“After 24 hours of BS Ticketek [sad] said we can only get tickets in section 106. We aren’t allowed to get tickets in any other area.”

Ms Cook is not alone in her frustrations, as people living with disabilities around the country constantly battle for equal opportunity and accessibility to purchase concert tickets with ease like able-bodied people.

Belle Owen, music lover, concert connoisseur and Inclusion Specialist at the South Australian advocacy group, Purple Orange, is a short-statured woman and is too familiar with liaising with ticketing companies about disability inclusion.

Late last year, Ms Owen purchased tickets with her partner and best friend to see pop band The 1975 at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre when the show was moved to the Entertainment Centre Arena, a bigger but less accessible venue. 

Having had the plan to be able to sit with her group on the accessible platform in the Theatre, Ms Owen was then unsure of what seating would be arranged to accommodate her wheelchair in the more outdated Arena. 

After a long and confusing communication process with the Entertainment Centre and Ticketek, it was confirmed there would be an accessible area, but while Ms Owen and her partner were granted accessible seating, her friend wouldn’t be allowed to sit with them as originally planned.

“It was a month of stress we really didn’t need,” Ms Owen says.

“Everyone else has paid the same amount for their concert tickets and they don’t have to think about it again, whereas we put at least a day’s work into just chasing them up so the burden then falls again onto people with disabilities to consider their own accessibility and remind people that they are part of the group.

“Not only is this whole month-long circus chasing the ticket provider a burden on my friend, she now also can’t sit with me or even be near me, so that sucks.” 

The Entertainment Centre gained the ability to sell accessible tickets online for all shows in October 2022 via its ticketing agency and Adelaide Venue Management Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Anthony Kirchner, says often the needs of people with disabilities “vary significantly and require personalised attention and service to ensure expectations are met and special needs accommodated wherever possible”.

According to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre website, both venues offer wheelchair and mobility-restricted seating in both the Arena and the Theatre and the option to purchase seating for accompanying companions or carers through the Companion Card program.

Tcket buyers wanting to purchase accessible tickets are prompted to complete an Accessible Seating Booking Form, or book directly via a Ticketek Agency.

Mr Kirchner looked into Ms Owen’s case and says she and her friends had not been put out.

“Ms Owen and her carer (partner) were transferred into disabled seating as per their original booking,” he explains. 

“Following this, Ms Owen requested her friend be transferred to sit next to her and her carer in the designated disabled seating area. Note that this is NOT a service that an ‘able-bodied’ person has access to and to this end it is incorrect for anyone to suggest that Ms Owen has been disadvantaged,” he says.

“Upon the transfer of all tickets being completed, Ms Owen was contacted and advised that additional disabled seating had been opened-up for sale which would allow her friend to sit with her and her carer.

“As you may appreciate, it is not feasible when transferring a concert to accommodate such requests for all ticket holders given the logistical complexity.” 

Ms Owen declined to amend her ticket reservation again to avoid dragging her friend and partner back into discourse with the ticketing agency and accepted she would not be able to sit with her friend. 

When contacted by Talking Disability, Ticketek responded to questions about Ms Owen’s situation and recognised that the time to resolve her queries was “longer than ideal”.

“We believe that the situation you have raised with Ms Owen has now been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction,” a Ticketek spokesperson says.

“Ticketek is committed to making the purchase experience of people living with disabilities easier. To achieve this we are currently investing in a significant development project which will include the launch of a digital accessible ticketing platform that is intended to deliver an equitable, inclusive service for our customers. 

“We are also working closely with promoters and venues to facilitate the platform project and enhance the event experience.”

Having attended concerts all over the country and the world, Ms Owen says this accessibility problem is not isolated to South Australian venues and wants to see bigger venues and ticketing agencies do better for people with access needs.

“I have a sense of duty and obligation to try and change those systems or try and keep pushing back against them,” she explains.

“Venues aren’t considering the process that should be equitable for people with access needs and it continues to keep them out of those spaces. 

“I’ve been in systems where it can be and is done better so I’m not accepting of the argument of ‘it’s the way it’s always been done’.” 

Meanwhile the Adelaide Fringe, the biggest arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere and currently running until 19 March, is dedicated to providing access for all abilities, showing that accessibility can be done in a multitude of ways.

One Australian comedian, Tom Ballard, this week announced he would be adding an accessible show to his standup stint at this year’s Adelaide Fringe.

Mr Ballard is due to perform most of his show, It Is I, at the Rhino Room but due to the accessibility barrier of that venue, he has decided to perform one show at The Howling Owl for those who require wheelchair access.

In an announcement video he says while Rhino Room is a “great comedy club and venue” it is not a fully accessible wheelchair venue and that by putting on a separate show “everyone can come along and check it out and all laugh together”.

Mr Ballard is performing his accessible show at The Howling Owl, Saturday March 18 at 2pm. 

The Adelaide Fringe has a list of accessible shows in this year’s program.

Meanwhile, other national events, such as the Melbourne and Brisbane Comedy Festival which will be over the coming months have also listed accessible shows. 

Visit their websites for more details.