Accessible live music: are venues doing enough for deaf children and young people?

Earlier this week I started my new role at the National Deaf Children’s Society as a Policy and Campaigns Officer. In particular, I’ll be working on all things digital, using social media, e-newsletters and more to engage individuals in campaigns concerning deaf children and young people.

HEADSHOT

Liam O’Dell, Policy and Campaigns Officer – Digital, National Deaf Children’s Society

Such a techy job is quite exciting for someone who loves finding out about the latest gadgets and sharing their thoughts on social media – especially about music.

A few times now I’ve been lucky enough to venture down to Glastonbury (both in the scorching sun and the mud), and it’s always been an incredible experience – not least because of its access provisions for deaf people like me.

In one of the many main tents dotted around the site is Deaf Zone. Pop in there and you’ll find out about free sign language lessons for attendees (the sign for ‘Glastonbury’ is the peace sign with both hands, shaking the two fingers from left to right).

What was also impressive was the number of signed and interpreted performances – and these weren’t just reserved for the main Pyramid stage. Events on smaller stages and non-music events were also interpreted to ensure deaf people were able to access as much of the festival as possible.

Recently, sign language interpreters at gigs and concerts have gone viral online – and rightly so – for their creative versions of popular songs (most notably by rap star Eminem). Yet, while some deaf people have had positive experiences, others haven’t been able to access the support they need.

I’ve had my fair share of loud, noisy and inaccessible gigs. A performance by the band Years and Years a few years ago was affected by poor sound levels which drowned out the singer’s voice. I could feel the bass from the stage, but I still felt that sense of isolation which happens when a situation isn’t accessible.

It’s why I’ve often found myself drawn towards the smaller, intimate concert venues – where you’re not too far away from the artist to lipread them or from the stage to hear the show. Swap this for arena shows and festivals, and the more likely I am to feel a little bit confused by it all, with only the big screens to help me understand what’s going on.

Musical events – both big and small – need to be accessible, but there’s also the need for information on booking and venue websites about what services organisations provide for deaf and disabled people. It’s right that this is being recognised with Attitude Is Everything’s Outstanding Attitude Awards, which celebrates those who work towards making live events accessible.

After all, there’s a lot which goes into ‘the perfect gig’, and it’s not just the artist or band which you are going to see. Venue staff who are deaf aware also add to the experience, as does a straightforward and clear ticketing process.

While only organisations can nominate in the Outstanding Attitude Awards, the 10 categories are a great way of opening up a discussion about accessible music. What experiences have you had when it comes to live concerts and festivals? Were they accessible, and which would you nominate?