I’ve been in two minds over whether I should write a blog post about this. It’s undoubtedly the worst experience I’ve ever had at a gig – if you’ve read this blog, my bad experiences are vast and include having my tube pulled out. It wasn’t good. On the one hand I totally wanted to share what happened. I blog about live music and access and this was quite a significant event. On the other hand, I don’t want to become a serial complainer and I don’t want this blog to be an outlet for that. Also, being completely honest thinking about it is enough to induce tears and all I want to do is sit under a blanket, drink tea and feel bad for us.
However, I decided to write an email to Ally Pally. I gave them ample opportunity to fix this and they made it quite clear that they have no intention to do so. Therefore, in lieu of a blog, I’ll post that here instead.
To whom it may concern,
On 14th April 2018, I visited Alexandra Palace to watch two of my favourite bands – Dream Wife and The Vaccines. Having purchased an accessible ticket, I was led to believe that my access requirements would be met. My disability means that I cannot enter crowds due to a complex health condition. My condition means that my joints can become dislocated very easily when knocked (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) and I am also attached to a feeding pump via a tube in my stomach (Enteric Neuropathy, a form of Intestinal Failure). This has been pulled out in crowds before and is very vulnerable in busy areas. If my tube is pulled out, it requires surgery to be replaced. Whilst my condition means that I get tired and need to sit down for regular rest breaks, it does not restrict me from standing up or having a dance – I attend a lot of live music events and often use the viewing platform as a safe area to do so. My condition does not disable me from enjoying live music, but the policy that your staff implemented on the night of my visit did.
My party held two accessible tickets with personal assistants plus one standing.
On arriving at your venue, we presented our accessible tickets. The staff member scanned it and another staff member very politely searched my bag containing my medical equipment and cleared us to go through. We asked a member of staff on the door where the accessible provisions were and he looked at us blankly. I showed him our accessible tickets and he said ‘What is an accessible ticket? Do you mean you’re disabled?’ Two further staff members then asked us ‘Are you disabled?’
The first change that would improve the experience of your disabled customers is providing your staff with training on appropriate language to use when referring to people with disabilities. Please use ‘accessible ticket’ (not ‘disabled ticket’ since a ticket cannot be disabled) and never ask a person ‘are you disabled?’ Instead, ask them what their access requirements are so that you can best meet their needs.
At the information desk, the two accessible ticket holders and our personal assistants were given gold bands and told this would give them access to the viewing platform. We found the entrance to the viewing platform well signposted and after purchasing merchandise, headed towards the door. On presenting our bands, the staff member had not been informed about the gold bands and again we were asked ‘are you disabled?’ The staff at the bottom of the viewing platform were also unaware of the purpose of the gold bands.
We were the first people to arrive on the viewing platform and decided to sit on the back row so that we could get up and dance without obstructing anyone else’s view. At some venues, a white line is used at the back of the platform so that people who need to or wish to stand up can do so in a designated area without disturbing seated customers.
As Dream Wife were getting ready to come out we got up and stood at the back of the viewing platform. We were then approached by a member of staff who told us that the viewing platform was a sitting only area for safety reasons. Your venue is the first venue that I have come across that enforces this rule. I asked the staff member if there was a safe place that I could stand since the venue was very busy and he said only the crowd. At this point, I headed back to the info point and asked to see the policy and find out more information on the reasoning. Like the rest of the audience, I like to dance and have fun when I buy tickets to a gig – had I known that disabled people were not allowed to join in like everyone else, I would not have bought a ticket. The staff member on the information point informed me that the rules were down to individual staff members and that there was no policy as such. He told us that there was a white line at the bottom of the viewing platform and that I would be able to stand in there. He said that this area was only for accessible ticket holders, so it would not get too busy. This was completely acceptable, and we headed back. We enjoyed watching the first song that Dream Wife performed before we were approached again and told that we could not stand behind the line. By this point the crowd was far too busy for me to stand in and I had nowhere else to go.
I headed back to the info point and a supervisor was sent over to enquire about the policy that was being implemented. After speaking with staff, the supervisor told me that those were the rules and implied that it was my choice to be disabled. Disability is not one size fits all, and access requirements are diverse. Some people can stand through a whole event, some people can stand through part of an event. Some people use wheelchairs (less than 5% of disabled people). Some people have seizures or chronic pain or mental health conditions. Enforcing a sitting down policy, with no safe space to join in is discrimination against those who do not need to sit down. Your staff member said this: ‘Where you fall between sitting on the platform and standing in the crowd is entirely up to you.’ My disability is not a choice and it is your legal duty to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made so that people with all kinds of disabilities can access the events that you provide. You cannot pick and choose whose access requirements your venue meets.
The Equality Act (2010) protects me from unlawful discrimination as I have a physical impairment which has a long-term impact on my ability to carry out normal activities (such as attending concerts). The equality act describes discrimination as being treated unfairly because of something arising from a disability. If you cannot prove that enforcing a policy that requires me to sit down (whilst not enforcing this on able bodied members of your audience) does not achieve a legitimate aim of safety (as quoted by your staff) then you have unfairly and unlawfully discriminated against me.
Having no other option, we went to sit back on the viewing platform. Not long after sitting down again, we were approached by another staff member who asked me to step outside and speak to him. The staff member repeated the same things that had already been said and I found him to be patronising and intimidating. I told him that I didn’t want to complain, and I invited the opportunity to speak after the gig so that they could make the experience better for their disabled customers. I offered to inform him of policies that took place at other venues as this was certainly the only venue that I had experienced this sort of treatment. To this he very patronisingly replied ‘Right, I’ll take your word for that.’ It was not only the unfair policies that were being forced upon us but also the inappropriate and disrespectful way that we were spoken to.
At this point both my friends and I were very stressed and upset to the point that it induced some very uncomfortable ticcing fits in my friend who has Tourrette’s Syndrome. I saw only two songs that Dream Wife performed due to the disturbances by your staff members. I saw very little of The Vaccines as I spent most of the night in to the toilet vomiting, a symptom of my intestinal failure, exacerbated by stress.
The accessible toilet was operated by a radar key, held by a staff member on the audience side of the door. On the other side, key holders also included paramedics and those with backstage passes. This meant that whilst I was using the toilet, people were continuously opening the toilet door from the other side. This seriously compromised my privacy and dignity whilst I was unwell, and I suggest you implement a procedure to combat this. I was not the only disabled person who went through this as another customer came out and told me that they had the same happen to them.
Not only did the treatment completely ruin the enjoyment of the night for me and my friends, who had spent around £300 (each) on travel, accommodation and tickets to the gig, but it was also a distressing, unpleasant and traumatic night for us all.
I doubt that I will be returning to your venue, but before making a formal complaint, I would like to do what I can so that other people do not go through the same experience that we did. I do not want an apology, I would like to see change. Disabled people have the right to enjoy live music just like everyone else.
I’d be very grateful to speak with you and assist where I can to ensure that improvements are made.