color photograph of Beyoncé on stage in a gold and black sparkling body suit. she is squatting slightly and sings into a microphone
Beyoncé Renaissance World Tour at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on June 1, 2023. (Photo by Raph_PH via Wikimedia Commons License

This has been the year of me attending concerts of artists that defined the soundtrack of my life: Janet Jackson and Beyoncé. Both of these women are icons in my book, and based on the number of fans in attendance yelling their names and singing their hearts out to each song performed at their respective tour stops, I am not alone in making that assertion. 

As a wheelchair user, concert-going is a fairly new experience for me. I attended my first major concert in 2019, and after having such a great time I had hoped to do more. However, COVID-19 started a year later, and that dashed my plans for a bit. Since artists have now returned to touring after lockdowns and the end of COVID mitigation policies, I want to go out to events while being mindful that the pandemic is still raging and cases are surging again.  

President Joe Biden ended the COVID-19 national emergency in April, and government pandemic funding for testing sites and masking policies has since ended, leaving us all vulnerable, especially disabled people. Attending large concerts, festivals, and other crowd-yielding events presents significant risks. I wear an N95 mask everywhere I go, including concert outings, and I have undertaken a COVID protocol to mitigate the risk of contracting the virus. Being safe is always my priority, whether it’s from a virus or ensuring I am in environments where I won’t be hurt physically.  

But outside of COVID, there is another factor I have to consider as a disabled person going to these events: accessibility.  

Accessibility is always at the forefront for me no matter where I am—doing errands, shopping with friends, and now going to concerts. As disabled people have shared before, large events, concerts, and festivals haven’t been the most welcoming to us when it comes to planning these events. From where planners designate accessible seating to having ASL interpreters present, there is a lot of discourse about how concerts and venues used for them haven’t done enough to ensure that disabled concertgoers have just as incredible an experience as their non-disabled peers without dealing with inaccessible incidences. I have been in some binds when it comes to figuring out accessibility in public spaces, but my Renaissance experience is probably one of the worst I have encountered as a disabled wheelchair user.  

Despite my best efforts to plan for the concert, I, unfortunately, did not escape inaccessibility’s fingertips. I am still processing what took place, and writing this article is one way of bringing it to the attention of those planning these kinds of events. I want my recounting to be used as a proactive tool to reduce something like this from happening to other disabled concertgoers as tours continue.  

For both the Beyoncé and Jackson concerts, I took the time to research the respective venues to gauge the location of accessibility seating so that I could buy tickets that I thought would be satisfactory as a wheelchair user. As I later learned, retaining accessible seating is meaningless when venues and the staff hired to coordinate the logistics of the event are ineffective at showtime. For the Renaissance concert held in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field, especially, I experienced how this gap is present.  

I had field seating because there was an entire row of accessible seats for a section in front of the stage. When I received information about parking leading up to the concert, I saw there were instructions for those of us with field seating and separate instructions for attendees with disabilities. These instructions noted different parking arrangements for each circumstance, which presented an issue for concertgoers like me, who had field seating and were disabled. My friends and I made the additional effort to call Lincoln Financial Field operators to get further clarification on where to park, and they helped direct me to which lot would be better for my particular situation. 

Armed with this information, I was confident about everything until we got there. Parking was still confusing and frustrating and differed from the instructions we learned on our call. The staff who handled the event parking had no idea about where we should park. It took about 10-15 minutes for someone to give us an answer for where to do drop-off, and it wasn’t in the lot area we were originally told to use.  

Once I was dropped off and found the line to enter the stadium, we waited outside for more than an hour. The long wait wasn’t the irritating part; it was learning that those of us with field seating were in the wrong line. Despite there being staff present the entire time, it took an hour for a separate coordinator to announce that those with field seating needed to go around the building to enter. Heading to the correct entrance for field seating wasn’t much of a trek (or roll), but it was frustrating to have been unnecessarily outside for that long. Once we were in the appropriate area for our assigned seating, the line moved swiftly—it was a 10-minute wait, at most.  

The staff inside the stadium was more knowledgeable about disability accessibility and providing assistance to get onto the field for seating. This part of the experience was the most sound interaction I had with staff at the event—people knew what to do and made sure that the correct arrangements were made to assist. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the members of this new staff were also disabled—an important note I wanted to highlight.  

However, once they assisted me to the seating area, the seating arrangement was different from what was outlined when I bought my ticket. My row was no longer the first row of that section—it was moved back to the fourth row, and it was not accessible seating. Field seats were just folding chairs zip-tied to each other. The on-field staff came across as if my wheelchair was an inconvenience to the seating arrangement. They asked me if I wanted to sit in the folding chair and not my wheelchair so that it wouldn’t “be in the way.” I stated no because I had paid for accessible seating, which would have accounted for wheelchairs and other mobility aids to be used. The staff looked annoyed with my response and cut the zip-tie to the folding chair that would have been my assigned seat.  

Seeing this seating arrangement, I realized that once the concert started, everyone would be standing up, and this new row seating—which was different from what I had signed up for when I purchased my ticket—might not work fully for me.  

Once the concert began, I realized that though I could see some of the stage and screens, it wouldn’t be ideal for me to be in my purchased seat. So, I moved to the ADA platform area, which was farther back than my original seat and had its own problems. 

First, the platform wasn’t high enough to see the stage in good view if you’re small like me sitting down. I don’t know why the stadium organizers hadn’t raised it higher to at least be able to view the stage more easily.  

However, the height of the platform wasn’t even the main issue—the view from the ADA platform was obstructed by scaffolding, which held a member of the recording crew. This obstruction meant that I could only see the left side of the screen and part of the middle—the right side was obstructed from view.  

Photo courtesy of Vilissa Thompson

Each inaccessible moment was so disorienting that it took me a while to regain my focus on the concert. The entire experience left me perplexed, especially the blockage in front of the ADA platform. It felt like a total dismissal of the experiences of people who may need that platform. Who made the call to set up the concert filming in front of the platform, and who thought having the platform in that area was a wise idea? It felt like an afterthought in so many ways—the differing parking instructions, no one knowing what to do for a disabled person with certain seating arrangements, the disorderly nature of the line, and the inaccessible seating for the supposedly accessible area for disabled people to use. 

Though I loved seeing and attending my first Beyoncé concert—seeing the outfits, singing the songs, and being in pure awe of her musicianship—the inaccessibility of the event still weighs heavily on my mind. No one, regardless of where they are seated in a venue, should encounter so many inaccessible blocks for a moment that they paid for and should be fun. Tackling inaccessibility shouldn’t be a lasting memory for such outings. Yet they are for many of us disabled concertgoers who wished that those responsible for the logistics of these massive crowd-gathering events took our needs and presence as seriously as they do our non-disabled concert-going peers.  

I hope that artists and the companies they work with take note of how a lack of forethought can make or break an outing experience for us. As we swing back into events while a pandemic still roars on, it is something we cannot dismiss or downplay.  

Disabled people who attend these events deserve better, and the strategies to improve these events do exist—event planners should use them in full. In fact, I would love to consult with artists and companies on this matter because it is evident that disabled insight is missing—hire us to provide such support and service. 

Vilissa Thompson, LMSW, is a contributing writer covering gender justice at Prism. A macro social worker from South Carolina, she is an expert in discussing the issues that matter to her as a Black disabled...