Since acquiring my awesome wheelchair I have been rediscovering my love of going to concerts, gigs, the theatre, etc. Imagine my excitement when I found out that if you are a wheelchair user you can often get a companion ticket for free. What fun. I can go out with a friend (or even my husband!) and we only pay for one ticket. Plus it means the poor sod who comes with me and has to push me up slopes or buy me a drink (carrying drinks when in a wheelchair is actually virtually impossible) or get my random medical equipment out of my backpack (chairbackpack?) is compensated in some way!
I was looking forward to entering this wonderful new world of discounted fun.
Booking tickets! On my.... How can it be so tricky?!
Case Study Number 1 - Portsmouth Guildhall
I want to go and see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at The Portsmouth Guildhall with my family plus a friend and her two kids. That means 3 adults and 4 kids. One of the adults just happens to be a wheelchair user. Now I can transfer out of my chair into a seat on the end of a row, but I prefer not to since my chair is pretty darn comfy. And I don't want to have to keep standing up to let other people in / out of the row.
The only spaces where I can sit in my wheelchair at the event are on the right hand side of the stalls. This is fine. But, I can only have one seat next to me "for my companion". The other five people in the party will be several seats away. Good excuse to let my friend look after my kids for the evening, but not really the point! It seems there is a "disabled block of seats" (poor seats) that only those requiring accessible seating and their single companion can use. Brilliant. So if I wanted to go out with my family to any event at the Guildhall I would sit with my husband whilst my kids sat somewhere else?
Case Study Number 2 - 02 Academy Bournemouth
I'd like to go an see the Barenaked Ladies (they are a band of fully clothed men) with a couple of friends. I could just buy three tickets but I prefer to check out the accessibility first and see if there are areas for wheelchair users so I can actually see what is going on rather than just look at people's backsides for the night.
I e-mail the venue asking about accessibility and companion tickets and get a very polite reply asking for "proof of my disability". Hmm. Now I understand some people may take advantage of the free companion ticket thing, but should I really have to tell some random stranger why I need a wheelchair?
Anyway, I send proof. And nothing. Several days pass. I send a follow up e-mail. Nothing. I shall have to phone. Sigh. Really can't be bothered with chasing this. I just buy three tickets online and be done with it. I shall wing it on the night.
So, what have I learnt in my joyous attempts to buy tickets.
1) People with disabilities generally can't book things online. You have to phone and explain.
2) Everything takes longer. Rather than just bringing up the Ticketmaster app on my phone and spending money and I have to put aside an hour or so to research the venue, phone them up, explain my requirements, wait while "the computer says no", wait while they talk to their manager, wait for them to call me back, etc. etc.
3) With just a little bit of thought, things could be so much better. For example, "Hmm, I wonder if a wheelchair user might want to go to a concert with their family? We should make sure that is possible by allocating family seating in the accessible area."