A disabled woman, who booked an accessible ticket last year for Janelle Monáe’s performance at Manchester International Festival to ensure that she could sit down, has now been told that seating will be available on a “first come, first served” basis.
Virginie Assal has scoliosis, meaning that it is painful for her to stand for protracted amounts of time. This is the first time that a concert in the UK has been inaccessible for her.
When Assal contacted Manchester International Festival to query this, she was told by a representative that the concert at Castlefield Bowl has limited capacity for accessible seating. She was advised to arrive “as soon as doors open” to ensure that she had a seat, which would mean that other wheelchair users and disabled people would be unable to sit down.
Speaking to the BBC, Assal said, "I really need a seat because it means I'm in pain if I don't have one and I don't really want to burst into tears because of the pain, or sit on the floor because of the pain, or put myself in a vulnerable position."
Chris Fry, an equality and human rights lawyer, has specified that “first come, first served” policies could be in breach of the 2010 Equality Act. This specifies that it is the duty of the service provider to ensure that the venue is accessible, and to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to ensure that the experience of disabled people does not differ significantly from the experience of able-bodied people at the event.
By potentially excluding non-wheelchair users from accessing seating, this could classify as indirect discrimination and could therefore be in breach of the 2010 Equality Act.
MIF has made a statement to the BBC, clarifying that because they do not run the venue, they have been able to make “reasonable adjustments within the constraints of an outdoor standing event, with limited capacity space, to accommodate as many disabled people as possible.”
They further clarify that everyone has the opportunity to book accessibility tickets, and are not operating a “first come, first served” assistance policy.
There are 40 unreserved accessible seats available at Castlefield Bowl.
Jemima Skala is a freelance journalist, follow her on Twitter
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