Metal Hurts: What It Can Be Like Going to Concerts with Disabilities
There are fewer things more exciting as a metal fan than setting out to catch a show. You’ve waited weeks or months for the day to arrive and now all you have to worry about is getting there and securing the ideal spot to take it all in. Yet for so many of us with disabilities, that last part can also be some of the hardest and most stressful aspects of the whole experience. With July being Disability Pride Month in the United States, and having just attended a show myself, I think it’s time we had an honest discussion about metal shows, the venues that host them, and the need for both to be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
For those who might not know, the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life. It also grants protections and equal opportunities for public accommodation, among other things.
So what does the ADA have to do with metal? An awful lot, if you’re a metalhead with a disability, and I am a metalhead with disabilities. To give context, I have chronic pain, anxiety and… well, what the internet terms “hot girl tummy issues.” I have seen doctors for all of these things, and I have been medicated for them at different points as well. I’m sharing so much because these are all what are called “invisible disabilities.” If you looked at me, you wouldn’t know that some days my chronic pain impacts my mobility. You wouldn’t know by looking at me what modifications I need. My disabilities also have great days and terrible days, with a lot of neutral days in between.
Disability is a spectrum, and this idea that all disabled people — whether with physical disabilities, different neurotypes, or mental health concerns — fit into one neat box as “disabled” often leads to confusion, and sometimes hostility.
Last night, I got to attend the Clutch show in Philly. As a disabled person, there was a lot that I had to take into account to prep myself and to think about. Currently, I have a new injury that’s impacting my pain levels in different ways than I am used to – I fell leaving a Hanson concert (yes, I know, I know. Inside you there are two wolves – one wants to bark at the moon and the other wants to Mmmbop), and really screwed up my knee. I had no idea how long I’d be able to stand, and because I’m usually able to stand, I didn’t even think to call the venue or speak to someone there.
To its credit, The Franklin Music Hall (the venue formerly known as the Electric Factory) has an accessibility section on its website and in the FAQ, asking people to inform security and you will be accommodated, which is awesome. There is also a small raised section on the floor with a ramp and seats at the venue – which is also cool. But for me, the types of seats being used in this section would set off my chronic pain in a different way – so I could either risk knee pain or back pain. What a fun choice! I did get lucky enough that there were stools for us to sit on in the balcony, which I knew had the potential to be painful for my knee, but I risked it. I was very glad that I wouldn’t have to stand the whole time.
One of my other big concerns for my particular brand of disabilities is making sure I ALWAYS know where the bathroom is, and hoping they are clean. Franklin Music Hall had really clean women’s bathrooms, and I could access ones on the second floor and didn’t have to worry about multiple trips up and down the stairs to get there. I have no idea what the first floor’s bathroom situation was, but considering it looked to be stairs only to the second floor, I am sure there was something down on the first floor.
Ok, you might be saying now, but why should I care about this one chick’s pain and bathroom problems as a metalhead? Fair!
So far I’m pointing out good things at this venue, and things that went well for me. But for others, I have seen stories of venues denying interpreters for Deaf concert-goers. There are horror stories about people having to leave wheelchairs in specific places, and then their equipment is damaged. These are things people have to take extra steps to set up, or worries that these concert goers have to think of that the regular, able-bodied, neurotypical metalhead may never have even considered.
I want to see Deathklok and BABYMETAL when they are touring – thank goodness they are coming somewhere that has actual seating options, not standing room general admission. But I’m also going to see another band this summer and I got lawn tickets, and I’m already thinking about a ton of different things: Will I be okay pain-wise to sit on my blanket the whole time? Since I don’t have the specific kind of chair they allow, do I pay the extra money to rent one of their chairs and risk it potentially causing more pain? This venue’s website lists accessible seating, but has no accessibility information on their website. Do I bother calling? Will anyone actually have the information I need?
And again, I’m someone with comparatively low accommodation needs. I don’t have to worry about mobility devices – yet. I don’t need an interpreter. For those that do, concerts may be too much of a hassle to even bother sometimes, which sucks.
The best parts of the metal community are when it is a community. There are so many heart warming moments of grizzled old heads making a tiny mosh pit for the kids attending their first shows, silly moments of everyone jamming out to the Vengaboys at festivals before the bands come on, the list goes on. So this Disability Pride Month, think about what others in the community are dealing with. Maybe someone upset about a sudden mosh pit springing up is truly concerned for their well-being. Maybe someone upset that they can’t see a show isn’t being granted accommodations, or the person hanging on the balcony or barricade needs to lean to help stay standing.
It’s all about perspective and as a metal community, we can always do more to help our brothers and sisters enjoy a great time out.