When tickets went on sale for Taylor Swift‘s record-breaking Eras Tour, fans compared the ticket-buying process to the Hunger Games. For some fans with disabilities, however, it was closer to Mission Impossible.
Many concert venues feature sections for people who have disabilities. Often referred to as the “handicapped section,” a term the ADA National Network considers outdated, these accessible areas are reserved for attendees with disabilities and mobility/limb differences, including people who use wheelchairs, walkers, service animals, canes and other medical devices, both seen and unseen.
The Americans With Disabilities Act requires venues provide a minimum of 1 percent ADA-compliant, accessible seating. Per the U.S. Department of Justice, these sections are typically set in locations that are accessible for people who can’t easily access stairs, and may provide more space than the average seating or standing area to accommodate medical and/or mobility devices.
In addition, some venues offer areas for people with specific needs for invisible conditions, such as sensory-friendly areas for attendees with autism, seating located close to bathroom facilities for people who have Crohn’s disease or seating near an ASL interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing fans.
When purchasing tickets for accessible seating areas online, concertgoers are sometimes asked to acknowledge a click-through statement confirming they have a disability. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a ticket-buyer isn’t asked to acknowledge a statement regarding disability and/or accessibility needs, while some venues require ticket-buyers to call their venue’s box office ahead of time or sign physical documents.
Swift’s Eras Tour, for which only a reported .005 percent of tickets were ADA-compliant, required only the click-through disability acknowledgment for some dates. Unfortunately, this became an issue for many fans who required access to ADA-compliant, accessible seating so they could attend Swift’s tour.
Over the past few weeks, viral videos shared on social media from Swift’s tour have exposed alleged abuses of many venues’ ADA-compliant seating areas and policies.
While it’s important to note that there are many invisible disabilities, some of which require accessible seating, many people without disabilities came forward online to share that they were sold tickets for the ADA section without being disclosed to beforehand that the tickets were for accessible seating. When they contacted their venue or ticketing agency to exchange their ADA seating tickets for non-accessible tickets, they were turned away.
In some cases, resellers snatched up accessible seats to make a profit, while some concertgoers intentionally purchased tickets for ADA seating at resale despite not having a disability, simply because tickets for Swift’s 2023 tour were so difficult to get.
It’s highly unlikely Swift herself is aware that ADA-compliant tickets were sold without proper disclosure for her tour. It’s also unlikely she’s aware of the lack of accessible seating for her fans with disabilities. In fact, Swift’s tour is hardly the first time music fans with disabilities have been failed by music venues.
In 2012, a Justin Bieber fan who is disabled said she was discriminated against when she was denied the opportunity for a meet and greet with the pop star after Vancouver’s Rogers Arena told her she could not sit in the $500 VIP section, which she was willing to buy tickets for. According to CTV News, “staff at the Will Call box said fans in wheelchairs were not able to purchase the VIP floor tickets because of safety concerns.”
In 2016, a woman who uses a wheelchair faced challenges trying to exchange her non-accessible Adele tour tickets for wheelchair-accessible tickets at the same arena as Bieber’s concert. The following year, U.K.-based Adele fans with disabilities claimed they did not receive the same message as able-bodied fans about tickets already being sold-out while trying to get accessible tickets for the singer’s tour, resulting in wasted time and frustration.
In 2022, Garth Brooks fans with physical mobility limitations were heartbroken by Missouri venue Thunder Ridge Arena’s reported ADA parking-related failures, which resulted in some concertgoers being unable to reach the venue in time for the concert due to inaccessible parking and wheelchair-unfriendly paths comprised of “clumpy mulch.” Fans with disabilities have also complained about ADA-related venue and ticketing issues for tours from artists including Ariana Grande, BTS and My Chemical Romance.
According to the CDC, 26 percent of U.S. citizens have a disability, which means the .005 percent of accessible seating tickets made available for Swift’s tour just doesn’t cut it. Venues have a legal duty to accommodate patrons who require accessibility, but recent tours reveal many venues simply aren’t doing enough to make space, both figuratively and literally, for disabled music fans.
The onus to ensure fans with disabilities aren’t sidelined when it comes to live music shouldn’t squarely be on those fans. Artists, their teams and production, ticketing agencies and venues should all work together to advocate for and accommodate all fans — not just those who are able-bodied — to have safe, fair, equitable and comfortable access to live music performances.
Music is universal. It should be universally accessible, too.
If you’re interested in learning more about music venue accessibility, check out Half/Access. To learn how a company puts on a proper ADA-accessible concert, event or festival, check out Ten Fifty Entertainment.