Attending music gigs and festivals is an activity that many of us look forward to, especially during the summer months when there is a wealth of events to attend. For people who use wheelchairs or have restricted mobility, the chance to see their favourite artists perform can be a real highlight in a life full of challenges.

The right for disabled people to attend such events is stated in the Equality Act and enforced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Entertainment venues have to meet certain accessibility requirements to ensure that the events can be attended by wheelchair and power chair users, for example.  

However, recent experiences of disabled gig-goers reported by the BBC shows that the reality can sadly sometimes be different. The news organisation reports on the case of Nick Copson, who relies on a wheelchair after a car accident five years ago. 

Nick and his wife Nikki purchased tickets for an Ed Sheeran concert at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light gig last year. However, despite buying accessible tickets, they were told that the accessible viewing platform was full, and it operated on a first-come first-served basis. 

On other occasions, Nick has also found that there was no space available in the so-called ‘accessible area’, and has had to make do with a very poor view of the concert, despite paying for premium tickets. He and his wife have also experienced aggression from drunk gig-goers as they attempted to  leave concert venues. 

Nick told BBC News: “Prior to my accident I would never have understood what wheelchair users have to go through to attend a venue. It’s degrading on so many levels how I’ve been treated, just to enjoy something that you should be able to enjoy as a human being.”

The couple have since received apologies from the venues concerned, and have been offered refunds or complimentary tickets to other other events. However, Nick has said that disabled gig-goers need to be treated in a better and fairer way by concert organisers, who are required by law to make ‘reasonable adjustments.’

Meanwhile, Faith Martin, a disabled freelance music journalist, has told the BBC that she has resorted to limiting her water intake before festivals because of the lack of accessible toilets. Although festival organisers do provide disabled toilets, these are usually portaloos that are too small to fit in a wheelchair or a carer. 

Faith told BBC News: “I check the festival’s facilities before booking, but usually the accessible toilets by viewing platforms aren’t big enough, so I have to wait until I’m home or back at the hotel to use the bathroom. Camping just isn’t a realistic option. I focus on drinking enough the day before, as I know I probably won’t be able to risk it during a show.”

Faith says that the lack of adequate toilet facilities for disabled people at festivals limits her choice of events that she can attend, as is the case for many people in her position. While there is more effort at inclusivity, it is often a token gesture, and events that are advertised as accessible can still have seriously inadequate toilet facilities. 

Another disabled festival goer,Tracey Falcon, told the BBC that she recently got trapped in an accessible toilet at the Womad festival. 

Tracey said: “I was devastated to find that I could only just squeeze my wheelchair into the accessible loos provided, but then couldn’t turn to shut the door or transfer to the loo. I kept asking the accessibility stewards: ‘Am I being thick? How do other people manage?’ – they said they didn’t know, but tried to help as best they could.”

In response, Womad organiser Chris Smith told BBC News: “Womad disabled toilet provision exceeds legal requirements and are dispersed across the site to improve access. One of the challenges is that wheelchair design has improved considerably in recent years, which is a good thing, but accessible toilets have not yet evolved to reflect this.”

He added: “Where new products are becoming available the costs are currently prohibitive, particularly in the context of a green field family event with 40,000 people attending, spread over a large area for four days”.

One problem is that there are no regulations for how large a disabled toilet space should be, so they are often not designed to accommodate modern wheelchairs, which can be larger and bulkier than traditional designs. Disabled gig goers are calling for the regulations to be overhauled to provide clarity on the situation. 

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