Disability expert says concerts want to offer better service, but often don’t know how Michael Lacasse, CBC News
Posted: Jul 18, 2023
Disabled music fans at Rock the Park say the accessible seating area of the popular four-day summer concert series in Harris Park was too small and so far away from the stage they could barely see.
The concert wrapped up over the weekend with shows from some of the biggest names in music, including Mumford and Sons, Cypress Hill, Ja Rule, Billy Talent and Alexisonfire.
“I was just thrilled to be there … but my experience as a disabled person was disappointing,” said Valerie Hembruff, who attended the concert on Friday, where ticket prices range from $107.35 for general admission and up to $178.54 for VIP.
Hembruff said she suffers from arthritis, fibromyalgia and a heart problem that makes it impossible for her to stand for long periods. On Friday, she found her way to the accessible seating area at the back of the park where she said some 15 chairs were set up.
She described the location as being so far away from the stage it was difficult to see what was going on.
“I would ask various employees that were working at the park where it was and they would kind of just point in a vague direction. So it was a little bit of a journey to even find the accessible seating,” said Hembruff.
CBC News asked music promoters Jones Entertainment Group but did not receive a response. Rock the Park’s website states that designated seating is available for all persons with disabilities in a raised location. It notes that it’s available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Londoner Sara McNeil, who suffers from chronic pain caused by a back injury that makes standing for extended periods agonizing, said her Rock the Park experience in 2022 kept her from buying tickets this year.
Like Hembruff, she said the accessible area was difficult to find and the view of the stage was poor.
“There were all these trucks and things around us. If you were sitting in certain seats you couldn’t see the stage at all,” said McNeil. “It was really pathetic the way the accessible seating area was sort of thrown in there as an afterthought.”
She said organizers also didn’t take into consideration the value of allowing a person with mobility issues to bring their own chair.
“I’m not saying it needs to be an easy chair with a back massager, but little plastic chairs for people who might have issues with mobility are not great,” said McNeil.
Fans can help music promoters
There are some music festivals in Canada that have made accessibility a priority, including some run for and by people with disabilities. They’ve taken into account seating, service dogs and power outlets for electric chairs.
While concert experiences can be frustrating, one London disability expert says there is a solution. It’s for people with disabilities to get involved.
“If you’re a disabled concert goer and you have good ideas on how to make this more accessible, I think it’s really important to get involved. Contact Rock the Park, offer to volunteer, get on the board” said Jeff Preston an associate professor of Disability Studies at King’s University College.
Preston added most organizations want to make their spaces more accessible, but it comes down to a lack of knowledge on how to properly accommodate disabled people. Sometimes, it’s a lack of funding that’s the problem.
Preston, who was not at Rock the Park, does agree that the experience there would not have been satisfying.
“When you’re all the way at the back, really far from the stage, it’s just not the same experience that everyone else is given,” said Preston.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike spent his early life in Northern Ontario and Quebec before making London his home. He is a graduate of Fanshawe’s Broadcast Journalism program and lives in the city with his family and three cats.