What scares me at concerts?Crowds Stairs Injuries Standing Falling
What motivated me to go to the Justin Bieber concert? These girls We had a chance to get prerelease tickets through American Express. My aunt was visiting at the time. We could give our girls a night to remember. Let's go for it!
The adventure started then because I saw they had Accessible Seating. Perfect, I thought. It took me an hour or two on the phone, but we straightened out the seating and we had our tickets! I'm not kidding about the time it took to get the tickets, though. Serious hold-times and checking over details. I started asking for Accessible Seating and finally gave up and used the word I dislike the most: handicapped seating because that made more sense to whoever was on the phone. Big effort there, but it was worth it to know that I wouldn't be walking those long stairs without handrails.
Having a disability requires bravery. And traveling, and going to events, pull on those Brave Boots and forge a path because the way isn't always easy. And this concert... Phew, this set a few new records for challenges. I knew why we stay home. I felt awkward and difficult. I wanted to crawl into a hole at a few low points of the evening.
But once we were found our seats (what a quest!)) and the bass started thumping and the crowd moved like an ocean with shared happy energy, I knew the bravery was worth the troubles. I need to get out of my comfort zone more, not less. And I need to speak up so we can make it easier for others with challenges. Because adventures can be awesome. They can inspire us. They remind us the world is a big, wonder-filled place.
So here is my dream experience for concerts and events. I hope the word can get out so venues can make lovely paths instead of Sleeping Beauty Castles of Thorns that make us want to run away.
Give extra time: Let people with accessibility challenges arrive a little earlier. I know lines form at the parking lot, but perhaps a separate Gate 4 or similar for anyone with Disability Parking. Clearly marked entrances: Post on the Accesible Parking signs- This way for Accessible Entrance with an arrow. This eliminates wandering around looking for someone, anyone to ask where to go for access into the building. Waiting in the long line is a logistical nightmare, not to mention the jostling crowd to get through the doors. Separate, safe entrance: Once arriving at the entrance, even if it's the main entrance, have an area corded off so the crowd isn't bumping into wheelchairs or people with balance challenges. Early entrance: Allow ten minutes lead time between letting people in with disabilities and the general house. This gives time for people with disabilities to find their seats before the rush of a crowd. Now, settling into accessible seating, chatting with family and friends, we watch the crowds arrive and enjoy the show. Dreamy, right? I know it sounds a little privileged- wouldn't everyone like to get inside earlier? Maybe, maybe not. But these little tricks can make the difference between me attending an event or staying home. Not because the logistics are inconvenient, but because they can be downright dangerous for me. One bump or fall and I have an injury that takes months to heal. Trust me, I would love the traditional experience, with lines and chatting and people-watching and meeting other fans. I would love that. But it's not my path. At least, not safely.
So that's my dream. Now, here's what actually happened at the Oracle Arena on Saturday night for the Justin Bieber concert. I know that people try to do the right thing and there were a number of logistical challenges. At the same time, the disability experience was not good. It was scary.
So we arrive and there aren't any signs directing us where to go. We can't find a person to ask. The crowds are big already, even though we arrived right when the parking lot opened. I had my wheelchair (thank goodness) but I felt bad for my aunt having to push me back and forth while we looked for someone to ask. "Maybe we just join the line," my cousin suggested. But the line already wrapped around the building and I could just imagine navigating through the crowd once we got through the doors.
"There should be an entrance," I said. I knew this from the handful of other concerts that I had attended. I could just see us waiting in that long line just to find stairs at the end. "Let's ask Customer Service."
The window was open, but no one was around. After standing for a good five minutes or more, we ducked over to a Will Call window. She directed us to a line next to the Warrior Store. Okay, we went on a search.
Fans crowded around a hall with VIP flags. A few were in tears. They had seen Justin!We watched for a moment and noticed another girl in a wheelchair in the area. We found they had been directed to this area. We saw the Warrior Store.
This was the entrance for the people who had paid a premium ticket price for a photo-greeting with Justin. Rumor had it that Justin might appear here. When we first joined the other girl, the crowd wasn't that big. But then Scooter came into the hallway (Justin's friend) and the crowd surged forward. I was beside a rickety plastic table that had probably been set up hours before to check names of VIPs. Now it became a hazard as people climbed on it for a possible glimpse. Mothers lifted their children to stand on it. I couldn't back away because the crowd pressed in around us. If this table collapsed, it would collapse on me.
I put on my Brave Boots and asked them to please get down. No, really, you need to get down, which earned me a ton of dirty looks. I could care less about a glimpse of Justin Bieber. I think he is a nice guy and he makes my daughter happy, but I do not want to put myself in harm's way to see him in a dark hallway. But by this point, we were trapped. The crowd was too thick. And people kept stepping over my feet to try and get closer, bumping the wheelchair each time. Most apologized, but, still, I was glad that it wasn't months ago when my foot hurt with every nudge. I would have been miserable!
Finally, they announced Justin would not be appearing and the crowd eased back. Workers took away the table. They also picked up the VIP flags and almost whacked us with the poles as they turned to walk away. The fans were intense, but also nice, and they made room for the wheelchairs to come to the front. At that point, an over-stressed security guard told us that we were on the wrong side. We needed to be on the other end of the hallway if we wanted to get in to the show. That would have been nice to know from the beginning. Could we go in front of the barricade to get to the other side?
No. In fact, no one will get in at all if people don't listen. Doesn't matter to me.
And I know he was stressed. I know managing that crowd wasn't fun. But I wanted to crawl away at that point. A lady beside us said this was ridiculous and she would be talking to someone about it. I'm not sure what she meant, but it was comforting. I felt like such a bother. And the girl behind me in her wheelchair had just had surgery. I could see the stress as the crowd jostled the back of her chair as they hurried past.
Another worker came down the hall they discussed the situation. Finally, they did let us in and go around the barricade to the other side where they could start checking tickets. At this time, we met a lovely young girl in a stroller with her parents. Both of them wore bright pink shirts with purple Bieber decorations. She happened to have prosthetic legs and no hands. She had the best smile. We waited together in line as the workers sorted out logistics.
Her dad pointed out to her that I travelled on wheels, too. I said I liked her sparkly shoes. At least twice, someone approached their family with instructions for the stroller. "You can't keep that," they said. And the dad would pull her pants over her ankle to show the prosthetics. "It's her wheelchair today. She can't walk far and we figured it would be easier than the big wheelchair." The managers would begrudgingly accept the story until another worker came with the same issue. I felt terrible for her, having to show her disability over and over to prove she needed her tools. I was angry.
Our line manager instructed us to go down a ramp, to the left, and up a floor on the elevator, then ask the usher for more instructions. But wait here. Wait.
Like we were going to take off sprinting for the lobby.
Their headphones crackled. "House is open," he said. "House is open. Go, go, go!"
We went. We were obviously in the way. We rushed down the ramp but the crowd caught up to us at the elevator so it was tricky to get on board. We showed our tickets and the elevator manager said, "These are not upstairs. Who told you upstairs?"
But he wasn't too sure so we went up and out. Already the crowds made moving difficult. The wheelchair is a scary way to go through a crowd. I just see all the heels that are about to get run over. And I'm not in control so I worry about crashing into people. I wanted another hole. Again. I felt like a huge bother.
We found an usher who said, "No, you are downstairs."
Back to the elevator, back through crowds, back down to another usher who pointed us in the right direction. We went up two long ramps and finally found a very kind usher who helped us to our seats. We had a great view with plenty of room for the wheelchair. Finally, I wasn't a bother. I was a hero for making it possible for us to sit in this great spot. We did get drinks, but I didn't dare go find t-shirts or anything else because I didn't want to deal with crowds. My anxieties eased and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening with family. I share my story because I hope to make it easier next time. And I hope to encourage others to get out there and have adventures. And I hope to change the world so I can experience more fun with less anxiety. I will be sending this as a letter to Oracle Arena with hopes that they can cordon off an accessible entrance, and allow people with disabilities a little extra time to find their seats. Small changes can make a huge difference.
And for the Justin Bieber crew, if you could encourage systems that are more inclusive for guest with disabilities, that would be awesome. You could suggest that venues to make a clear entrance that is not mixed into the VIP entrance.
This was a long post, phew! Thanks for staying with me. Overall, the concert was fun and wild and loud and spectacular. We loved the show!
I just want to share our stories. The triumphs and the challenges. So we can keep moving forward. As Justin's tour is aptly named, Believe.
Wishing you an easy adventure :)