I don’t want to bury the lead here so I’d like to open this article by telling you that I am disabled and I have been since at least 2012. I use a cane, a walker, and sometimes a wheelchair to help mitigate symptoms of my chronic pain. The accessible parking permit in the photo above is mine.
A positive thing that has happened as a result of my becoming disabled is that I have become acutely aware of accessibility issues. I’m happy to report that you (yes you) can make a difference in making the world a more accessible place for disabled people everywhere. These tips apply to anyone who organizes public events regularly.
1. Phone/visit venues in advance to find out if a space is wheelchair accessible.
If you have the choice, it’s always nice to pick a venue that can accommodate the most people. People who use other mobility aides (canes, crutches, walkers), the chronically ill, and the elderly also benefit from wheelchair accessible spaces. When checking out a space, things to look for include steps outside the space, within the space, and to the bathrooms in the space. Check if doors have accessible switches or if they can be opened easily. Check if the bathroom has an accessible stall (ie. can accommodate a wheelchair user and contains a guardrail). Check if the space has seating and what kind (for example, if a venue only has backless chairs, I can’t visit it). Check out parking, elevators, and anything else you can think of.
2. List accessibility features in your event listings.
Even if you choose a space that is up a flight of stairs, list the accessibility features anyway. For one it helps disabled people rule your event out when planning an outing and can save them from making a bunch of calls to venues, and two, a person may be able to climb a flight of stairs but still need to know about the type of seating a venue has (like I would!)
3. Make sure all the text from your event poster is typed elsewhere on the page.
A lot of visually impaired people use screen reading software to browse the internet. If you post an image on your website that contains all the information about your event but you don’t type it in the body of the post, a person using a screen reader will miss that information.
4. If you make a call out for artist submissions or applications (festivals, workshops, educational events) make it easy for artists to request accommodations for their disabilities.
This isn’t all about disabled audience members, sometimes artists need accommodations too. A lot of bigger organizations simply include an optional accommodations request form with their application, but smaller festivals, workshops, and educational events can be caught by surprise when a disabled artist needs accommodations in order to attend their event. If you run one of these smaller organizations, be prepared and make it easy to opt-in. I guarantee that if your application process doesn’t have an easy way to disclose disability status then there are disabled artists who aren’t even bothering to apply.
5. Forward this article to your musician friends and get the conversation started.
Above all else, remember that a little awareness goes a long way and a lot of enthusiastic musicians and music-lovers are being kept from fully participating by things that are really easy to fix.
Of course, I’m not infallible and I’m still learning and implementing these changes myself. If you know of anything I’ve left out, please leave it in the comments and I’ll update this article with your suggestions.