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Redefining Disabled Accessibility at Music Venues

Ever consider what it’s like to attend a live music concert as someone with a disability? If you’re not directly impacted chances are the answer is “no.”

I was recently forwarded a Huffington Post article “Disabled People Don’t Belong in Music Venues, Apparently” by Ace Ratcliff. It’s about the reality of a young music lover who has to prepare herself for a “fight” just to get out and see the live music she loves. “Music isn’t so easy to see live anymore,” Ace writes. “If I want to see live music, I have to suck it up and deal.”

Her struggle starts before she even goes to the concert as she tries to make arrangements ahead of time. And once she is at the event, getting inside and up to additional floors to a spot where her view is typically blocked is still an ordeal. To the point, at a recent event she attended, she was relegated to taking the freight elevator (from the alley). She was reluctant, but the employee that tried to encourage her ended up offending her by comparing her safety to the safety of the millions of dollars worth of equipment they transport during each event. “But I am not equipment. I am a person,” she responded.

Sadly, this is the norm rather than the exception.

We tend to forget that those with disabilities struggle with simple day-to-day activities, and making plans to enjoy something like a live concert can be a big production. Most big venues don’t do more than what is required by the ADA (Americans Disabilities Act). The law simply calls for businesses to be “physically accessible” but says nothing about the experience of the patron once inside.

As many of you know, The Kelsey Theater is owned by AJ Brockman and his family. AJ has SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), a progressive neuromuscular disease, and has been wheelchair-bound since age 2. And although his “disability” doesn’t define him, he feels a responsibility to educate the community and work on redefining what it means to be “accessible.”

“Obviously I consider myself a disability advocate, although I don't want to be ‘that guy,’ said AJ. “But I have been to a lot of other music venues as a patron where accessibility is horrible. At The Kelsey Theater and The Brewhouse, we handle it as a concierge service to ensure the comfortability of our venue. If someone with a disability arrives, we ask them where they would be most comfortable. Sometimes they don't like to be at the front so we don't have a designated area, but a security guard is assigned to them to help navigate the crowd. We also provide seats, even at a standing room only show, to those in need. These are all services other venues don't typically offer, but we at The Kelsey believe this should be the status quo.”

This article isn’t meant to berate other venues or businesses, but to bring attention to the need for the community to realize that being accessible to disabled patrons doesn’t stop at having the right ramp, an elevator or bathroom stalls. It continues once the person gains access. And although The Kelsey Theater goes above and beyond what the law requires, it’s also up to us as a community to stop and think about what we can do to make that person's experience just as normal as everyone else's.

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