Disabled consumers are missing out on live events due to an accessibility lottery, Which? warns

Some venues and ticket sites could be in breach of discrimination law, Which? warns, as new research from the consumer champion and the Research Institute of Disabled Consumers finds half of disabled consumers face access issues at some live events. 

Which? and the Research Institute of Disabled Consumers surveyed a panel of 705 disabled consumers to uncover the issues they face when booking and attending live events. 

Half of disabled consumers surveyed who attended a live event in the last year – such as a music, theatre, comedy or sports event – said they faced issues when booking tickets (50%) and attending live events (54%).

Ticketing sites, venues and event organisers all have a responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to take reasonable steps to help people with disabilities access their events, but some companies could be falling short of their responsibilities.

Half (50%) of those who had problems when booking tickets said the ticketing company did not offer accessible seats as an option. Many participants expressed frustration that they were not able to book accessible seats online – instead having to ring phone lines with lengthy queues and unusual opening hours.

As a result, some participants said they have missed out on tickets for popular shows. One person said: “I needed to buy two wheelchair seats with two carers for a Foo Fighters concert and a Depeche Mode concert, but the website would only allow one ticket purchase at a time. This meant I missed out on both these concerts as there was no other way of booking.”

Venues often offer a complimentary carer or personal assistance (PA) ticket for those with access needs. To do this, many venues ask for evidence of eligibility, such as proof of Personal Independence Payment or a Nimbus Access Card, when booking PA seats. 

Although this sounds straightforward in theory, many participants told of their frustrations with having to repeatedly provide documents when trying to book sometimes fast-selling tickets.

Siân Thomas told Which? about her experience of this: “As with most websites, when I tried to book tickets I had to give a lot of documentation via email and speak to somebody over the phone to get a carer ticket and an accessible seat. It’s frustrating to have to keep sending documents to every individual venue.”

Lexi Porter wanted to book an accessible ticket for Beyoncé’s tour with two other friends and their PAs. “I signed up for their disabled ticket membership and sent in proof of disability before the ticket went on sale,” she explained.

But when Lexi went to secure the tickets on the day, she found there was no option to add on PA tickets when booking. Lexi eventually managed to buy the tickets, but was frustrated again when she had to book seats separately from her friends. “I was only able to sit next to one friend, the other was several seats down,” she recalled.

Three in 10 (30%) people who faced problems booking tickets said their issue was with Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster said they made all accessible tickets available to buy online in 2019 and have a simple process where fans submit their requirements once and the information is then stored securely for all future purchases.

A lack of information about access at events or venues when booking tickets was another widely reported problem. Two in five who had booking issues said they were not given clear information about access at the venue (43%) or about accessible parking (41%).

Poor access to the event was the most reported problem when attending events, experienced by two in five (40%) of those who had an issue at an event. A quarter (25%) of those with issues also said there were no accessible toilets, while one in five (21%) said the bars, food or merchandise stalls were not accessible.

Seats with poor views were also a problem. Three in 10 (31%) who had issues at their event said their accessible seats had an obstructed or poor view, while one quarter (25%) said the accessible seats were far away from the stage.

Which? also heard from disabled consumers about their positive experiences at events. One participant said: “I had an amazing experience at Alexandra Palace. The staff were so helpful and clearly trained on how to help people with non-visible disabilities. Also, the disability viewing platform was close enough to the stage to have a good view, and was close to important things like the disabled loos.”

It is clear that disabled consumers are facing an accessibility lottery when booking and attending live events. Any venues and ticket sellers that are falling short of their legal obligations need to up their game and ensure they are catering for all attendees’ needs.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: 

“It’s shocking that some venues and firms may be breaking the law and falling short of their responsibility to take reasonable steps to help disabled consumers access their events. 

“Disabled consumers shouldn’t face an accessibility lottery when going to see their favourite musician or go to the theatre. 

“Any venues and ticket organisers falling short need to up their game, improve their customer service and ensure they are taking everyone’s accessibility needs into account.”

Gordon McCullough, CEO of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers, said:

“Our research clearly highlights there is much to be improved in this area. Disabled people, like anyone else, want to be able to enjoy the unique experience of watching live theatre, concerts and other arts in person.

“Often, it need only be simple changes that could make a big difference to how accessible a live event is to someone. The first, big hurdle, is the awareness of the venue that there’s an issue and a desire to change it. We hope that with this research, many will be taking a closer look at their processes, software and training and making steps to improve. Thus ensuring that these special live events can be enjoyed by the whole population.”

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