You Rock and I Roll: A Wheelchair User’s Rock Show Experience
This is a rock show. The band is wildly popular. The venue is legendary, and I am a wheelchair user with a floor ticket.
This was the first time many fans had experienced live music in the post-pandemic world, and it was going to be epic. I was lucky to get any ticket at all.
There were no more designated "ADA" seats available, and in my experience, most venues don't allow wheelchair users on the floor due to concerns of lawsuits and safety. It was a music lover's miracle!
We headed for the straight for the stage to stake the closest claim possible. So did everyone else. Before long, the only view I had was of my fellow concert goer's butts.
I made peace with not seeing the band. At least I could hear them. I'd been enjoying their music for decades with only my ears, but then the house lights dimmed and those first powerful, beloved lyrics obliterated my resolve.
For a while, what I saw of the show came through the cell cameras of adjacent comrades when they raised their phones to take pictures.
My own seething was distracting. I'd paid the same for my ticket as everyone else around me, and I was not getting the same experience. I was once again settling for the crumbs of someone else's full participation. If that's not a metaphor for my life as a wheelchair user, I don't know what is.
Then, my chair was rolling, as though powered by my smoldering resentment for inequity. Behind me, people congratulated my husband on his perceived heroics as he followed. In front, they peeled themselves back to make room, yelling "WHEELCHAIR! MOVE! THERE'S A WHEELCHAIR BEHIND YOU!".
Those are things that absolutely make my skin crawl. Under other circumstances, I would have stopped to elaborate on how I had made my own decision and was moving under my own volition. My husband was only following. I would have vehemently pointed out that there was a PERSON in that wheelchair.
For a wheelchair user and social justice advocate, there’s a series of decisions to be made in a situation like this. Do I educate or participate? Do I sacrifice this experience to protest? What will I regret, or feel good about, when I leave this place? What is my responsibility to the disabled community? Is this barrier a result of negligence, ignorance or blatant discrimination? Ultimately I decided to take up the cause again tomorrow, I just wanted to hear the music.
* A version of this piece was published on Instagram by The We Spot in September 2021.