Last Friday, I went to a Toronto concert hall to hear David Sedaris read from his new book Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls — a book that apparently has nothing to do with diabetes, although owls do make a rather hilarious appearance. I had no idea what to expect. In fact, on some level I confused David Sedaris with Dan Savage – they are funny gay men who write and have the same initials. Natural mistake. A-hem. I have a couple of books written by the former, but haven't read them yet. That's going to change very soon. David Sedaris is my new favorite writer. When he read the essay linked to above, I discovered that in one respect, I'm very much like this very funny man. Because I spent a significant part of the past week trying to find out how to contact him so I can ask how much the pygmy cost. It's wrong, I know it is, but I still need to know. How is David Sedaris not on Twitter?
Anyway! This post is not about that. This post is about something else entirely.
Going to concerts and other events have the potential for a number of surprises. Some, such as the entertainment level of the performance, are general and apply to everyone in the audience. Others are unique to a few, namely the wheelchair seating.
As I may have mentioned once or twice on this blog, attitudes towards accessibility vary. Some resist progress to the bitter end, others only grudgingly adhere to standards and guidelines, yet others have a somewhat "creative" interpretation. And then there are the places that fully embrace people with disabilities as valued customers.
You can pick any number of situations to illustrate this point and I'll start with wheelchair seating. There are places that relegate those of us who use mobility aids to a particular area, congregating all the wheelchairs and scooters in one place, usually with fencing. Occasionally, I've felt like cattle. Places that choose this approach to wheelchair seating also tend to place it in one particular location, usually the cheaper seats a.k.a. nosebleed section. Because God forbid you'd give the disabled choices.
Other venues understand that wheelchair seating should be integrated among regular seats and in different locations (and price ranges) throughout the hall. The new Four Seasons Centre is wonderful for this. Unfortunately, tickets to see the Canadian Opera Company are entirely too dear for me these days. Didn't used to be quite so expensive, but I guess you have to pay for that beautiful new Four Seasons Centre somehow…
Last Friday, we went to the Sony Centre and they get it. Seats are integrated, in different areas/price ranges and when you have a wheelchair, an usher will very helpful. They'll insists on accompanying you from the entrance to your seat. And then introduce you to another usher in that section — last Friday, the owner of a magnificent beard — who will be happy to help you in any way you’d desire.
And that's another way you can tell how dedicated a particular venue is to being inclusive: the customer service. The best place I've ever been was Disneyland and that was 20 years ago. My sister and I went to Long Beach to visit a friend of mine for 10 days and had a blast. Naturally, we visited Disneyland and it was phenomenal. Many of the rides were doable by wheelchair (or fairly easy to use if you could get out of your chair) and every time we lined up, a friendly staff person would swoop down and get us right in via a side entrance. Leaving the very long lines to keep waiting. By the time we were ready to leave about four hours after we'd arrived, my friend was agog, mentioning that he'd never done Disneyland in less than a day.
I call it using and abusing the cripple factor.
Most of the time, the world is marvelously obtuse in designing everything for people who are very able-bodied. The odd time having a disability is actually an advantage, I'm gonna enjoy it!