Wheeling to a live gig

Gary Barling
It can be hard for people who use wheelchairs to see music concerts. Some places do not have ramps, lifts or accessible toilets. Small pubs can be great because you can get close to the band. At some buildings you can use the goods lift or get in through the building next door. But it is often hard to see at a larger venue when other people are standing up or wheelchair spaces are a long way from the stage. Many buildings now have toilets that people in a wheelchair can use. But you should check with the venue before you leave home.
Posted by: 
Gary Barling on 19/08/2011
A close-up of someone playing an electric guitar on stage with a drummer in the background
close up of someone playing electric guitar + drummer

Some smaller pubs are fantastic

Like most social activities, live music shows should be as open to people with physical disabilities as everyone else. But I notice few other punters in wheelchairs at gigs, apart from the larger venues. For wheelchair users there are certainly additional factors that can influence enjoyment of a show, or your attendance at all.

Of course the place must be on the ground floor or have a lift. In these days of occupational health and safety and fire regulations, you've got buckley's chance that people will help you up two flights of stairs.

Some smaller clubs drop at this first hurdle, but surprisingly more upstairs rooms are now reachable through goods elevators or an adjoining building. Examples include The Prince Bandroom in St Kilda, The Hi Fi Bar on Swanston Street in the city, and Melbourne’s Regent Theatre on Collins Street. But your access requirements often should be prearranged with the venue.

Smaller pubs

Some of the smaller pubs are fantastic places to see more obscure and older bands. Places like the East Brunswick Club and Northcote Social Club stand out. The acts attract more laid-back audiences and allow you to get closer to the action. It is great if you have low vision.

I recently saw The Church and arrived late when the crowd was already near capacity. People obliged by letting me through to the front of the room. But an hour earlier, I had fierce negotiations with pavement. Perhaps the forehead bandage and already growing black eye scared people away.

Medium-sized venues

Medium-sized venues such as The Forum Theatre on Flinders Street, St Kilda landmark The Palais Theatre, and Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl are variable in quality.

It’s mainly because such halls or amphitheatres contain larger, more animated, standing crowds. In a wheelchair you tend to strike a “personal invisibility” problem more often. Exuberant fans stand in front of you or lean over you talking, like you are their coffee table. Because of excellent wheelchair seating positions, the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall is one of my favourites.

Large venues

The likes of Pearl Jam and Pink are not going to be playing in smaller places. In large venues like Etihad Stadium at the Docklands, the MCG, or even Rod Laver arena, wheelchair allocated seating is invariably a long way back. In particular, Etihad and the MCG don't have the best view, but neither does half the audience. Presumably, this is a precaution because wheelchair users are known to storm and trash stages.

Festivals like The Big Day Out should not be dismissed. You have big general admission crowds, often inappropriate terrain and unreliable weather. But if you are keen, and provided you understand and accept the limitations beforehand, they still could be worth attending.

Accessible toilets

Increasingly, venues undergoing renovations are being fitted with wheelchair accessible toilets. Toilets, taken for granted by everyone else, are the bane of most wheelchair user's community access. Some smaller rooms and most mid-sized and large venues have appropriate facilities. Many smaller pubs unfortunately lack them.

Your attendance often requires either ensuring you don't have the need, or great improvisation. The Corner Hotel in Richmond, for example, has some fine artists. But it has awful toilets. Like everyone else, even if you don't intend to visit the restroom, you like to know that it's there.

A crucial point is to phone to check out venues and check special pre-arrangements required before the show. Unless you know the place well you should presume nothing.

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