AUTHOR: Half Access Board of Directors
TJ Hayes has been regularly attending shows in Chicago since 2015. Hayes, who has spina bifida myelomeningocele, checked in with Half Access to talk about their experiences with accessibility, where venues still have room to improve, and advocating for your right to accommodation.
TJ Hayes, center, with members of the band All Time Low.
Photograph by Ashley Osborn
When did you start going to shows? Was there any hesitancy because of your disability?
I went to concerts occasionally in elementary school and middle school, but did not start really going to them consistently until 2015. There definitely was a lot of hesitation and still is. I never knew what I was getting into. With limited info on venue websites, I never knew if I was gonna be able to get inside when I showed up.
Talk a bit about your disability (just what you’re comfortable sharing) and how it affects your experience attending shows.
I was born with a birth defect called spina bifida. There are a few different forms of it and I have the most severe form, spina bifida myelomeningocele, which has caused me to be completely paralyzed from the waist down. I also have mild scoliosis. It can make going to concerts incredibly difficult at times. The biggest issues for me are being able to even get inside the venue and then being able to see the stage. I am also quite short, due to my disability and the fact that I’m sitting, so if I am not right at barricade, or if the venue doesn’t have a good ADA section that is raised, I can’t see a thing.
Have your experiences with venues improved over time when it comes to ableism/inaccessibility, or have things mostly stayed the same?
Honestly, not really. I see a lot more people discussing the topic but no changes being made. The same venues that have always been great about it are still great, and the ones that have always been bad about it are still just as bad. Some of the most accessible venues are still so filled with ableism and just general rudeness and disrespect from staff towards the disabled community.
Have you ever felt discouraged from going to shows because of your disability? Have lack of accommodations ever stopped you from going to a certain venue altogether?
I have never necessarily felt discouraged from going to shows altogether because I have a disability, but there are multiple venues I avoid altogether due to the lack of accessibility. If I cannot find accessibility information online or cannot get in contact with the venue, I just won’t go, because I don’t want to chance showing up and not being able to get in.
What’s your experience been like using our database and submitting venues for it?
Both submitting venues and looking up venues has been real easy and simple. I absolutely love the amount of specific information on venues. There are a lot of simple things people don’t think about when it comes to accessibility, like bathrooms or seating at venues that are normally standing room only. It’s really good to know ahead of time exactly what I am going to be dealing with.
What’s been your best experience with accessibility?
My best experience with accessibility has been at Bottom Lounge in Chicago. I can’t really pinpoint one experience that was the best, because every single time I go to this venue the experience is perfect. The staff always go out of their way to make sure everyone is safe and okay, and though they don’t have a designated ADA section, in my experience, they will help accommodate in any way they can.
What’s been your worst experience with accessibility?
My worst experiences are always rude staff members who don’t even want to deal with people with disabilities or just see us as burdens or extra work. I have had staff members act upset because they had to take a few extra seconds so I could use the elevator at a venue or treat me as nothing more than “the wheelchair,” which is super bothersome. I have come to just avoid those venues altogether now, even if the building itself is completely accessible.
What can venues do to make your experience at shows as smooth and enjoyable as possible?
Listen to us. We are the experts on our own conditions and what we need. Also, be willing to make changes and not just have the attitude that this is how it’s always been. Remember that we are just as much people and paying customers as any other fan and deserve the same amount of respect. We aren’t asking for special treatment, just equal treatment.
Is there anything else disability/accessibility related that you’d like to talk about?
Just don’t be afraid to speak up and fight for the accommodations you need. Disabled fans have just as much of a right to access a show and have a good time as abled fans, and it’s okay to ask for those things.
Who have been your favorite artists lately?
I have been obsessed with Sharptooth recently, as well as Point North and Holding Absence.
What’s your dream show lineup?
Real Friends, Assuming We Survive, Movements, Belmont, and Point North.
Keep up with Half / Access by subscribing to our monthly newsletter!
Mariah Dean is a 21-year-old avid concert-goer from New Jersey. She graduated from Brookdale Community College in 2018 with an associates degree in audio production. Now, Dean is taking a year off to focus on her health, which has been on a steady decline for the past few years. When she’s not at a show, she’s talking to her plants over at @mafrigsgarden (Instagram). She loves video games, retail therapy, and yoga.read more
James Cassar is currently managing three bands (Barely Civil, bristletongue, and If Only, If Only) with his childhood friend Rachel Malvich as rumblepak. He is also helping out Take This to Heart Records with label management/A&R and will be launching another venture later this year. You can hear him on the podcast Stereo Confidential, which is the rebranded new home for the award-winning Modern Vinyl Podcast. He co-owns and formerly co-operated the record label Near Mint, and has written for Alternative Press, MTV, and more. He once bought business cards that called him “The Reigning King of DIY” but, truly, you can find him playing Yoshi’s Crafted World after he gets home to Philly from his job in Jersey, if he’s not answering emails.read more
Valerie Gritsch is the community manager for London-based indie label, Xtra Mile Recordings. As community manager, she handles all of their social media channels, in addition to managing their street team and other fan engagement efforts. A New York native, Gritsch is currently working towards her Masters degree at The Graduate Center, CUNY, where her research includes, but is not limited to, music fandom and celebrity studies. The subject of her thesis will focus on celebrity death and how fans create history. Gritsch—whose history of chronic nerve pain eventually led to fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis (commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome)—caught up with us to talk about her experience in the music industry and what adequate accommodations can and should look like.read more