The UK’s Deaf and disabled need better accessibility to live events. Emma Hudson looks at whether access is truly being provided to these customers.
The latest report from Attitude is Everything (AiE) says that the UK music industry is losing 2.5 million ticket sales annually on gig revenue and failing its Deaf and disabled customers.
Comprehensive access for Deaf and disabled customers is still not provided across the live events industry. AiE says this amounts to a loss of £66 million in ticket sales – revenue that the live music industry desperately needs.
“Deaf and disabled people do generate an economic impact,” said AiE CEO Suzanne Bull. “There is an audience of customers that is growing [and] access improvements are easy to resolve and overcome.”
AiE works to improve Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music. The organisation released its biennial State of Access Report on earlier this year at London’s Roundhouse venue.
The report, based on findings from 228 mystery shoppers, revealed that during the ticket booking process, 95% of disabled gig and festival goers experienced issues, 88% felt discriminated against, 83% were put off buying tickets and 47% considered legal action.
Opening up greater access to online ticketing and booking for Deaf and disabled customers is the cornerstone to Attitude is Everything’s organisation.
“Booking is the starting point before you’ve even left your house,” said Bull. “If you can’t just click online and put in your access requirements and choose the seats you want like everyone else, you’re inevitably going to be on a premium phone line for two hours. There are a lot more hurdles to get over.”
A vast majority of disabled people – 75% – prefer to book their tickets online and are sadly being let down by the current system. Only two out of 10 venues offer online ticketing to disabled customers. Most accessible tickets are only available through in-house telephone booking lines, which often have limited opening hours. Extended waiting times often leads to customers losing out on tickets for popular gigs and festivals.
Bull told Access that there is an inadvertent unfairness in not providing online ticketing to these customers. “At the end of the day,” she said, “how festivals and venues have to look at it is they’re not offering an equal level of service [between non-disabled and disabled customers].”
The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) is working with AiE to facilitate a working party involving key ticketing agencies such as Ticketmaster, See Tickets, Ticketline and Eventim. The goal is to create a ticketing system that would make it easier for disabled customers to book online.
“STAR is very pleased to be working with Attitude is Everything as we look together at how the experience of buying tickets online can be improved for Deaf and disabled concert goers,” said Jonathan Brown, STAR’s secretary.
The State of Access 2014 report revealed that it wasn’t just the booking process that was letting down disabled customers. Just 44% of the surveyed venues had all three components of physical access: a step-free entrance, step-free access to all areas of the venue and a functional accessible toilet.
“The State of Access report is startling,” said Jon Drape, managing director of festival organisers Ground Control. “It’s a huge wake-up call to the industry. The UK festival and events industry might be the market leader for able-bodied people but it’s not a great environment for people with access requirements.
“It’s time the wider industry pulled their socks up,” he said.
The report confirmed that the size of venue correlated with accessible policies: 61% of large venues offered a free ticket to Deaf and disabled customers’ Personal Assistant, compared with just 38% of small venues. 89% of large venues had an accessible toilet, while only 62% of small venues had one.
While the report may appear damning of the industry, Bull and AiE maintain that a positive attitude is the only way to facilitate change. AiE’s stated ethos is to ‘positively encourage the music industry to improve their accessibility to Deaf and disabled customers, to go beyond the Equality Act and strive for best practice.’
“We’re not about naming and shaming,” said Bull. “The result of that would be that the Deaf and disabled customer suffers.”
AiE highlighted Reading Festival as a live event doing well in providing comprehensive access. The mystery shoppers approved of the festival’s many improvements. Reading’s 2013 festival introduced additional viewing platforms – complete with wheelchair charging points – including two platforms at both the Main Stage and the NME/BBC Radio 1 tent. There were interchangeable Personal Assistant lanyards, so that disabled customers could sit with different friends throughout the festival.
AiE also gave kudos to The Roundhouse in London. The venue was awarded the Gold level from AiE’s Charter of Best Practice at the State of the Access report presentation. There are over 70 venues and festivals signed up to the AiE Charter, a bespoke qualification that details the criteria for improvements and advises on how to achieve them.
Drape, who spoke at the State of Access report, has achieved a Bronze level with all of Ground Control’s festivals, which include Parklife, Live from Jodrell Bank, Kendal Calling and Festival No. 6. “Attitude really is everything,” he said. Ground Control hopes to move up to a Silver level in 2014.
Attitude is Everything has big plans themselves for 2014. Their report highlights three clear goals to move forward: to have clear access information available in advance of tickets going on sale, to make ticket buying options available to those offered to non-disabled customers and to create a system for a universal proof of disability.
The future looks bright for Deaf and disabled music lovers, and that’s something to celebrate, according to Bull. “The music industry looks to its peers,” she said. “They’re now asking [AiE], ‘Can you help us?’”
Luckily for disabled music and festival fans, Attitude is Everything is answering those calls and bringing better accessibility to all aspects of the industry.
This was first published in the April issue of Access All Areas. Any comments? Email Emma Hudson