What can artists do to make their gigs more accessible?
(Please note there will discussions of ableism and spiking in this article)
This guide has been written by Serena Jemmett (campaigner/activist in women’s rights and sexual violence, diagnosed with PTSD) with the consultancy of Jas Taylor, an independent disability access consultant, and Syd King, chair of UoM’s disabled society.
Whilst most accessibility requirements and needs are aimed at venues, artists and bands also have a role to play. What would take an hour for an artist/band can save each of their fans hassle and faff having to try to find accessibility information. And it’s very simple, so here’s how to do it.
Have requirements for venues/staff
Start by prioritising accessibility and inclusivity from the planning stages of any gig, concert or tour and when picking venues.
Choose a venue and security service who are trained. Not just ‘trained’ but trained in discretion (eg. ask Angela), victim focused, zero tolerance. What are the measures in place if someone gets spiked? A good place to look is Good Night Out Campaign, an organisation working to get anti-sexual harassment policies in venues. You might question if this is your responsibility to check, but ultimately, it’s your gig, you should want it to be safe for your (paying) fans.
Is it wheelchair accessible etc? Is there a ramp? Are there chairs? Are there gender-neutral toilets? Is there a BSL interpreter, or one available? Are there free carer/ personal assistant tickets/passes? There should be all of these. Does the venue have an access lead? It should, and you should let your fans know who they are – publicise the contact numbers/emails.
You want your gig to be fun and inclusive, so don’t let the venue make it the opposite. Use venues that show they care about minorities and safety and accessibility.
Attitude is Everything is a disability led charity making live music accessible. They have a venue led approach but say the biggest factor is artists only accepting or choosing venues based on if they meet the checklist requirements.
Put accessibility measures on the ticket website and any social media posts advertising the gig/concert
A simple swipe post on Instagram or twitter chain with the venue’s accessibility measures would firstly allow fans to see if they can attend, but also save them time having to find it on a complicated website. It would also open up your fan base to more diverse groups.
Including contact numbers/emails for the venue would be helpful so that any fan can ask the venue directly if they are accommodating of specific needs and requirements.
Does the venue provide drink covers, spiking test kits, a quiet safe space? These are things you should consider when choosing the venue in the first place, but make sure you are transparent with your fanbase and let them know what is on offer. Some people will feel more comfortable if they know these measures in place. Personally, I need to know that there is an outside, uncrowded space to escape to if the crowds get too much and I’m feeling triggered, anxious, and hyper alert from PTSD.
Another factor is ensuring your posters or social media posts are readable. Use sans-serif fonts, contrasting text colour and background (or outline the text) and don’t put emojis (or something) in-between words.
Know what to do if you witness an assault/harassment
Have measures in place. If you witness an incident are you going to stop and call them out right there and then? Are you going to finish the song and then speak to security and get them escorted out? Have a plan.
Are there other options/inclusion measures if a fan cannot attend a physical concert?
Is there potential to live stream the concert and so fans, for whatever reason, who cannot attend or don’t feel comfortable, can feel included and watch live music? Watching a live stream live music set is very different to a music video, so you should accommodate as much as possible. I was terrified to go into any crowded place since August… I first went to a gig again in December and have only gone clubbing once in the past six months. People have different triggers but it’s not difficult to cover the basic ones, even standing on a chair/bench at the side, away from people, means I’m less stressed or triggered as such.
Before covid, live-streaming was never an option, but it allows so many more fans to ‘attend’ a gig or concert, so I don’t see the downside.
Visual and audio disabilities may be more ‘hidden’ but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Does your set have flash warnings? Have you pre-shared your setlist and lyrics so fans can follow along? Have you listed when there will be loud noises, or specific noises, in advance for people with autism and sensory difficulties? Are some of your songs quite dark to the point you should include trigger warnings for some lyrics? This might seem excessive, but ultimately you should respect your fans to make them feel safe and included.
Book disabled artists as your support acts. Not only will it diversify your fans but also ensure the venue prioritises accessibility. Queer people, black and people of colour, women should all feel safe and welcome to attend. By having a representative support acts this will make them feel included.