July is Disability Pride Month! To celebrate, I decided to write about accessibility best practices for the events that the No Stunts community plans and attends. In writing this article, I am not limiting the scope to accessibility for those with physical limitations, though that is certainly part of the conversation. In equity and inclusion work, the picture of what is equitable goes far beyond what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers (more on that in another paragraph). In this article I will focus on the accessibility of Pride events and concerts, as well as an overview of what to consider for general accessibility in other endeavours you may be involved in. This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list, more a suggestion to be intentional in the spaces you create and visit. Look for who isn’t welcome and why, and do what you can do to fix that. I often say that you don’t need permission to be kind; don’t wait for someone else to make a space accessible. We all have the ability to improve access in many small ways, and I will outline many of them for your consideration. It’s been said by many people across generations, but if we ensure access to the most vulnerable, to the most disenfranchised people, it ensures access for everyone.
The definition of disability varies widely, and often depends on the context in which it is being used. For example, the World Health Organisation defines disability using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health as such: “Disability results from the interaction between individuals with a health condition, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and depression, with personal and environmental factors including negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social support.” Whereas the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) defines disability as, “those who have long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” These are just two examples of how disability has been defined, and you will likely find slight variations from any organisation you query. However, it’s important to remember that historically, those with disabilities have been removed from the conversation and being intentional with your sources is crucial in disability advocacy and accessibility.
If you are someone who works in the United States, you are likely familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Other countries have similar legislation, and many have more comprehensive guidelines than what the ADA covers. In brief, the ADA, “is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” While the passing of the ADA in 1990 was a landmark, there is still a significant amount of work to be done to both improve the ADA and to increase compliance with its statutes. For further information about the ADA and those advocating for Americans with Disabilities, I recommend reaching out to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD – linked in sources).
Equity work is a process and not an event, so while we celebrate milestones like the passage of the ADA, I want to be mindful of the room for improvement and not limit ourselves to what is required by law. Because of this, I will cover topics not included in the ADA and provide recommendations based on current research, as well as a handful of ideas provided by individuals with disabilities (myself included). Additionally, what will work as an accommodation for one person or one disability will not work for another, and blanket recommendations should be understood as incomplete because each individual will know what is best for their specific needs. When in doubt, ask!
Pride is an important event for many readers of No Stunts, but almost universally, Pride celebrations have issues with accessibility. It’s now July, and in many places Pride events are most common in June and will have passed. Consider these accessibility concerns as you think back on past Pride events you’ve attended, those you may attend outside of June, those for next year, and for other similar events like parades or festivals that happen throughout the year. While I focus on Pride events in this section, many of the access concerns are applicable more broadly.
There are literally thousands of threads, articles, and online conversations about this exact concern every year, and I have linked several in the sources for you to read if you’d like further elaboration. The access issues experienced at Pride are most often centred around physical barriers (especially for wheelchair users), lack of options for sober individuals, lack of safety for many distinct groups (trans individuals, people of colour, etc), and lack of support for neurodivergent attendees. Again, this is only a small subsection of the accessibility issues that are most often encountered at Pride celebrations. If individuals with disabilities literally cannot attend or participate in a Pride celebration because of lack of accommodations, how can we expect to have a full representation of the community? According to Respectability.org, approximately a third of the LGBTQIA+ community identifies as having a disability, so making Pride events inaccessible immediately limits or prohibits the attendance of one third of the community. That’s completely unacceptable for a community that literally prides itself on inclusivity and acceptance. We need to do better, for ourselves and for the entire community.
The other issue encountered with Pride events is that it’s often hard to find clear information about accessibility for those who need it. Either organisers are hard to reach or the websites/social media for the events do not clearly list accessibility features or accommodations that will be available. As Pride events vary widely in their accommodations and accessibility, what follows is part recommendation for attendees and part information for able-bodied and neurotypical people to better understand just how many obstacles are in place for the members of the queer community with disabilities.
Many of the Pride parade routes and outdoor venues do not take into account the physical needs of people who use wheelchairs or who otherwise have difficulty navigating cramped, overpopulated, and often in need of maintenance outdoor spaces (uneven roads, broken pavement, etc.). If you are attending a Pride event and have concerns about wheelchair use, I highly recommend reaching out to the organisation in charge of the event well in advance, either for yourself or a member of your group. Additionally, have a back up plan in place so that no one becomes stranded or trampled in the event that promised accommodations are not available. If you are in attendance and see someone using a wheelchair, do not begin moving or steering that person’s wheelchair without their explicit request. It is an extension of their body, and should be respected as part of their bodily autonomy. If you see a crowd blocking a ramp or other accessible feature, asking them to make space for someone using a wheelchair or other mobility advice is one way you can help without taking away the independence of the individual. Please review some of the sources listed to hear from wheelchair users about their experiences.
Pride events can be overwhelming for neurotypical attendees, and even more so for neurodivergent individuals. There’s an overwhelm of sounds, smells, colours, and touch. Some neurodivergent people are sensory sensitive while some are sensory seeking, and all have a right to attend Pride events in a safe and affirming way. For those who are neurodivergent, I recommend bringing ear plugs or headphones, wearing your “safe” clothes, bringing your fidgets (as long as they follow event rules), and planning ahead for food and drinks, especially water. Not all Pride events will provide these things, and there are often long lines to access vendors which can provide its own obstacle. There will not always be warnings about sensory triggers, so bring what you can to help yourself stim, self soothe, or process if you are triggered. Attend with a group, and make sure you all have an agreed plan for if you need a quiet space. If you need a break, make sure everyone in the group knows where to find you in case you get separated. I also recommend letting at least one person who is not at the event know that you will be attending, especially someone you may be able to contact if you need to leave before the rest of your group.
Some Pride events will provide ASL (or BSL or similar) interpreter services for individuals with hearing impairments, but if you use these services, it’s usually recommended to contact the organisers ahead of time. Sometimes interpreters are only available at the “main stage” or specific parts of the events offered. Closed captioning is often unavailable at Pride events, though occasionally it will be available in the same spaces as an ASL/BSL interpreter. Requesting closed captions ahead of time is not a guarantee that it will be available, but more likely to be provided if multiple people request it. It is incredibly rare for there to be Spanish or other language interpreters present, but you can definitely ask! The more people make these organisations aware of the need, the more likely they are to address it for future events. Signage is also a frequent issue at Pride events, with no clear area markers for those who are hearing impaired or otherwise use signage to safely navigate a space. If there is signage in place, do your part as an ally by respecting the signage and not blocking clearly marked walkways, event spaces, etc. for convenience. This will also make the event safer for everyone as emergency staff can more easily navigate in case they are called.
For those who are blind or visually impaired, Pride can be a nightmare to navigate. Braille signage is usually nonexistent at Pride events, and the level of noise makes it difficult to use auditory cues in almost all cases. I highly recommend attending with a small group when possible because there is often zero support or accommodations for these needs. Service dogs should be permitted at all events, but as you’ll read in some testimonials, this has been an issue in the past for individuals who tried to attend with their guide dog. If you are blind or are attending with a blind individual I recommend preparing as if you will receive no assistance or accommodation from the event staff. If you are attending Pride and want to work as an ally to these individuals, ask them what they need and follow their lead. Do not guide them or touch them without being asked. It’s fine to offer assistance if you see that someone may be lost or struggling with the difficulty of navigating these events, but amplify their voice and their needs rather than what you assume they need.
A potentially surprising accessibility concern for Pride events is the availability and use of restrooms. If it is an outdoor venue, there are often temporary toilets provided. These toilets are commonly an issue because of their lack of ADA accommodations and because they are often gendered. If these events are indoors (including Drag performances, club nights, etc), the restrooms will more often comply with ADA requirements, but are even less likely to be gender neutral/all gender restrooms. If you or someone you know has safety concerns regarding a gendered restroom space, go in pairs or small groups (I recommend this for all attendees for safety, but even more so for trans and gender nonconforming individuals). If you are with someone who needs help using the restroom due to a physical disability, ask them what they prefer as far as your help. Again, do not assume what help they need but offer the level of assistance you are comfortable with; Respect your own physical boundaries as well as those of the person requesting assistance.
Another sub-population of the queer community to accommodate is the chronically ill or otherwise immunocompromised community. According to KFF, almost half of the LGBTQIA+ community “report that they have an ongoing health condition that requires regular monitoring, medical care, or medication, a higher share than for non-LGBTQ people (40%).” I’d also like to mention the history of the queer community and HIV/AIDS, a chronic, immunocompromising illness that was formative of so much of the current queer rights movement. In respect to our elders who lived through the AIDS epidemic, and those in our community who are immunocompromised and/or chronically ill, there are accommodations we need to make at Pride events to ensure a safe and welcoming space for these individuals. If you are attending an indoor event, wear an N95 or better respirator to protect yourself and other attendees. The COVID-19 pandemic made us all aware of best practices with medical masks and facial coverings, and this can continue even as there are fewer formal requirements for masking in public spaces. If you are at an outdoor event and able to mask, I also recommend doing so. Masks are more available and cheaper than they have been due to their public prevalence, and it’s easy to keep a few extra in your bag in case you or your friends need to mask up for Pride events. Many disability rights advocates are asking for us all to mask so that these spaces remain available to them. And they remind us that COVID-19 is a debilitating illness, with long COVID sufferers some of the newest members of the disability community. When in doubt: wear a mask and wash your hands!
With all of these accessibility concerns I’ve listed above: if they do not apply to you, try to become an advocate to make Pride events accessible to the entire queer community, not just the able-bodied, cisgender, neurotypical members of the community. Too often, Pride events only celebrate a very narrow definition of queerness. It’s up to all of us to expand access for those who need it. You never know when that person will be you! Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do as an ally is to ask the question: who isn’t welcome here and how do we change that? Listen to those who live with the disability or who are otherwise affected by access issues. Let them be your guide as you push for progress at Pride and similar events.
In contrast to Pride events, concerts will usually have much clearer accommodation information, but the specific accommodations can vary widely by venue due to local laws and requirements. Most venues will have a dedicated webpage to their accommodations that is available to all who plan to visit their location (though sometimes this webpage is difficult to find or navigate). I’ve listed a few in the sources so you can compare. However, even with accommodations listed online, it can be difficult to access them for those who need them. This could either be because they are promised but not available, there is unnecessary paperwork involved, or the process to request accommodations is nearly impossible to complete (especially for someone who has a disability that counteracts the process, i.e. must be requested by phone call but the person has a hearing impairment). And importantly, it can be difficult to locate available accommodations ahead of time, meaning if the attendee has not been to the venue in the past they may have no idea if their needed accommodations will be available at the time the ticket is purchased. This could be a costly financial decision that should not have to be made without the appropriate context and information available to all ticket holders.
Most larger venues will have accessible seating for those who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids, as well as space for companions. However, individuals have noted that while this may be true, the available options haven’t always been thought out completely. For example, at some venues they have an elevator but no clear signage to locate it. There are usually designated parking spots for wheelchair users, but sometimes there is an issue with public transportation. If a wheelchair user arrives by bus it may not drop them off at the front door, yet another access issue for that individual that should be handled by the venue but has only been partially executed. Staff members need to be trained properly so these sorts of decisions are made with and for those who need the accommodation, otherwise it becomes functionally useless for the individual with the disability.
Concert venues also generally have services available for both hearing and visually impaired individuals, but the degree and type of accommodation will vary by venue. It’s best to check with event staff both before the concert and upon arrival. And on a related note, there should be a dedicated sign-in area for those with accessibility needs, and there should be staff available to help you find your way around if you do need help. Independence should be the goal, that is to say that those with a disability should not have to rely on event staff. But they should be available to guide and help attendees with disabilities if needed. The deaf community has been advocating for better resources at concerts for decades, and some progress has started to be seen. There are often ASL interpreters available (though they must be requested ahead of time almost always), and some venues have started to provide special devices that amplify the vibrations of the music for those who are hard of hearing or deaf. If an artist provides a setlist ahead of time, the lyrics can be provided both to the attendee and the interpreter (if present), and venues should always request this from a visiting artist to ensure its availability.
An area where many concert venues need to improve is in their accessibility for neurodivergent individuals, including attendees who are autistic. There need to be quiet spaces available at the very least, and a few venues have started to keep a sort of sensory sensitive pack on hand with ear plugs, headphones, fidget toys, etc. A recommendation that I’ve read from multiple individuals is to dedicate one of the VIP boxes or areas to this, and enclose it in a way that still allows the attendee to view the show but with some sound protection and even dimmed lighting. This sort of feature could take many forms, but would also need to allow free range of motion for stimming, rocking, pacing, rolling, and other physical movements that autistic people naturally make, but are difficult in the crowded floor of a concert. If you are autistic and attending a concert, I recommend bringing your own ear plugs (and research indicates that all attendees should wear ear plugs for protection), fidget toys (as allowed by venue safety policies), comfort items, and a friend or supportive person who can either help you get to a quiet area if needed or who will know your plan if you decide to leave on your own. You shouldn’t feel forced to suffer through overstimulation to enjoy the concert, and in general, venues are getting better at recognising neurodivergent needs. However, there is still a lot of work to be done and I encourage neurotypical people to educate themselves on these needs, listen to neurodivergent individuals about what they look for in a venue, and amplify those voices in the hopes of increasing access for these individuals.
Many shows have started to move away from strobe lights in favour of moving lights for those with epilepsy or other seizure conditions. If shows are going to feature strobe lights or other photoreactive elements, these must be heavily advertised beforehand. According to the Epilepsy Society, about 3% of people with epilepsy are photoreactive, and they should not be put in danger to attend a concert, especially with other options available to enhance the visual experience of the show. A warning should be provided on the website for the venue, for the show itself, and also on highly visible signage at the venue upon arrival.
One final note on the accessibility of concerts that is less about the venue: ticketing and websites. Websites need to be compatible with screen readers and feature text that is accessible for those with dyslexia and similar conditions (a website with a list of suggested fonts is in the sources). Venue and ticketing websites also need to have translation built in for those who have a different primary language. Many fans will travel internationally to attend shows and they deserve the same access to information as native speakers. And with tickets, allowing them to be swapped or resold is an accessibility issue, and one that makes the process of ticket purchasing better for everyone, not just the disability community. Some disabilities will affect the individual very differently and fluctuate day to day, or even by the hour; what may have been physically possible for a person on Tuesday may be impossible by their concert on Thursday night. Being able to swap tickets or change from a pit ticket to a seated ticket should be an available option for disability accommodations. Having flexibility with tickets provides opportunities for all attendees of the concerts. WIn contrast to Pride events as discussed above, concerts are financially driven for each venue. The customer can put pressure on the venue to improve because the customer is the one paying for the ticket to attend. A venue is more likely to increase accessibility if paying customers are continually requesting/demanding change. Use the power you have as a consumer to advocate for yourself and for other necessary accommodations. Concerts will be more enjoyable for everyone with the necessary accommodations readily available.
General Best Practices
In this section I want to mention general accessibility, both for those with disabilities and to make events more equitable in a broader sense. These considerations can apply to events you host, attend, or just getting together with your community in whatever form that takes. Look for equitable approaches in your work, your social life, and your family because it’s not up to “those in power” to make these changes. We each play a role in what we prioritise and where we put our attention. If we normalise accessibility and equity at all levels, we create a kinder world, one that benefits everyone.
Financial equity is one of the most commonly forgotten pieces of the conversation. For example, when you plan drinks or coffee or activities for your friends, how often do you consider which of your friends can afford to attend? Being up front with associated costs for an event is important so that everyone can make their own well-informed decision regarding their own finances. If you plan an event that’s going to cost financially, see if there are ways to keep the cost down so that as many people as possible are able to participate. This also includes the cost of gas or transportation, the cost of food, the amount of time away that someone may need to pay for childcare. Try to consider all of these aspects both for yourself and others. Creative solutions or suggestions for cost savings can make a world of difference, especially for someone who feels left out of the social circle because of their personal financial situation.
Briefly mentioned above, childcare is another accessibility hurdle to consider. Especially in the United States, childcare can be prohibitively expensive and not everyone has family or close friends they are able to rely on to provide childcare at no or low cost. If an event does not allow children ( a wedding, a day trip to the museum, etc) make sure this is clear from the beginning. If there is a way that someone could bring their children along, make sure they are welcomed and not just tolerated. Children are people, too, but they’re often left out of the conversation and are an afterthought in many places. Allowing children to attend is one option to make activities more accessible for parents, but it’s not the only option. If multiple people need childcare to be able to attend, see about a group option that may save on cost, or talk with the parent(s) about how they can be included in a way that doesn’t mean either missing out completely or leaving their kid(s) behind.
Transportation is not easily accessible or straightforward for everyone, and there are many reasons that transportation may be an issue when it comes to having an accessible event. Not everyone can afford their own car, and if they can it may be an older vehicle. Someone may have anxiety and not be able to drive on highways. Not all cities or rural areas have public transportation options available. If there are public transportation options, list the closest bus/train stop to the location, organise a carpool, look into rideshare availability and pricing, and make sure to consider those who are in a wheelchair or have other needed accommodations that must be factored in. You don’t need to make transportation decisions for others, but listing the available options and if they are or are not accessible to the disability community can go a long way in helping people feel comfortable and providing opportunities for them to be in attendance.
Consider the time required for an activity and event and share that information clearly from the beginning. If it’s expected that someone arrives an hour before the event starts, they need to know that before they RSVP. Time is our most limited resource, and the only thing we cannot have back once it’s gone. Be respectful of the time you expect and of your own time, and be honest about expectations on someone’s time. If you say something will take two hours, make sure you keep it as close to that two hours as you can. And as an attendee, if you need to arrive early, leave early, leave late, etc., communicate this to the host or staff because their time is equally as important and they may have conflicting plans.
Privacy is part of the equity and accessibility conversation in a way that’s often overlooked, and I will provide a few examples to help explain what I mean. Someone may have a dangerous individual in their life who will track their location through any means necessary. If you post a picture of a friend or coworker without permission and it gives away their location, you could be putting them in danger. Another example is for those with neurodivergent traits. Often on social media, people will share videos of neurodivergent individuals stimming and then share it as content for others to joke at or comment on. This is ableist and done without the individual’s consent. When taking photos and videos in public, best practice is to ask permission when possible, and to blur identifying features of individuals and locations. I always ask permission before posting pictures with anyone, and wait to post until after we have left a location. This helps keep myself and my community safe from those who may wish us harm, and respects the privacy and consent of all involved.
If food will be provided at an event, make it clear what dietary guidelines it will be in line with. Some religious traditions have dietary guidelines, including halal (Islam), kosher (Judaism), and lent (Catholicism). There’s also the needs of those who are gluten free/celiac, vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, etc. Providing a list of ingredients is usually the safest way to ensure that all who may partake can be sure they will not either violate their religious beliefs or make themselves physically ill due to an intolerance or allergy. It may not be possible to cater to all dietary restrictions, so being clear about what is in the food and how it was prepared is the best practice for accessibility.
Sobriety is another consideration when making plans for your community. Many people choose to be sober for religious, dietary, addiction recovery, or other reasons, and their personal reason for sobriety is none of your business. If you know someone is sober, consider this when planning and if you are aware there will be potential triggers, make sure that is known. Do not single people out, as their sobriety is theirs to share if and when they choose. It’s easy to respect this by being aware of the environments you choose and the events you attend, especially if someone has shared that they are sober. Sobriety is more than just alcohol, and if you’d like more information on how to respect and support your sober community members, I have a link in the sources.
To keep events and spaces accessible for neurodivergent people there are many things to consider. Is there a safe, quiet, private space for those who need it? How educated are you on neurodivergent needs and traits to be able to encounter and assist a present need with respect and intent? Have you provided all information clearly beforehand, such as the availability of food and water, the schedule/itinerary, the other people in attendance (or number of people/size of crowd), and anything else they may need to prepare for so they can make a well-informed decision? Being aware of what could trigger sensory overload leading to either a meltdown or shutdown will change how you see public spaces. Understand that sensory overload is physical pain to an autistic person, and their reaction to a stimulus (a touch, sound, taste, etc) is not an invitation for judgement or condescension. I have a link to the Autism Self Advocacy Network in the sources if you’d like to learn more. They are an organisation “run by and for autistic people”, in contrast to some of the other well known autism organisations. Promote the work and initiatives of autistic people, not those of their allistic counterparts, and include neurodivergent people in your spaces.
Restrooms are a frequent topic of conversation, and often a “battleground” for the rights of specific, targeted groups of people. It’s not long ago that restrooms were separated on the basis of race in the United States, a reminder that the basic right to relieve oneself has been manipulated or withheld by those in power. Providing accessible restrooms to all is an acknowledgement of the dignity of the person, allowing privacy and space to do one of the most common human functions: use the toilet. Restrooms should be clear of obstacles, have adequate room to manoeuvre a wheelchair or stroller, have proper lighting that is steady while not too bright or too dim, have proper privacy screening, have changing tables in all public restrooms, and have regular maintenance for proper hygiene. Where applicable, provide menstruation products in all restrooms. Gender neutral restrooms should be available in all public spaces, and all restrooms should be outfitted for proper disability accommodations. Sinks and toilets should be provided at multiple heights in public spaces to accommodate children, shorter people, and those who use wheelchairs. Consider sustainability where possible, with low flow toilets and sinks. Ensure all restrooms have clear, adequate signage that includes Braille and, if possible, multiple languages. The path to the restroom must also be clear, because if a patron or attendee cannot reach the restroom, all other considerations are made moot.
I have covered accessibility for those with physical disabilities in previous sections, but this is a summary for you to consider whenever possible in your daily life: Look for accommodations and accessibility when you are planning an event. Patronise places and companies that prioritise creating an accessible environment, both physically with things like adequate signage, ramps, handrails, etc., and through proper training for their staff. When creating written materials, use fonts that are dyslexia friendly, provide the information in multiple languages (or have translations available upon request), and if it’s digital, ensure it’s screen reader accessible for those with visual impairments. To be an ally to the hard of hearing community, spend some time learning ASL and get to know the Deaf community. There are many Deaf advocates who are happy to share their experiences and to talk about the changes needed to make public spaces safer and more accessible. For multiple accessibility needs, make sure walkways are even and clear of obstacles, with proper hand rails and lighting (this will also make the space safer for everyone). When possible, wear a face mask to protect yourself and the medically vulnerable people in the community. This is common practice in some cultures, but not everywhere (yet). Especially in enclosed and crowded spaces, this will help prevent the spread of disease and make spaces more accessible for the immunocompromised individuals who need or want to access that space.
In conclusion, these best practices are a suggestion guide and not fully comprehensive. Please peruse the sources listed below and do your own research beyond the limitations of this article. Remember to focus your self-education on the materials provided by those in the disability community, those with autism, and others who are members of the community you wish to educate yourself on rather than the work of other allies. And thank you for reading this far! There is so much work to be done to make Pride events, concerts, and public spaces more accessible and equitable for all, and every person helping to make that a reality will get us there sooner.
Bridget Dedelow, LMHC-A
General Best Practices: