Organisers of a Janelle Monáe gig in Manchester have come under fire over accessibility provision after being accused of reneging on promises made to a disabled fan.
Virginie Assal, who has scoliosis, thought she had reserved “seating away from the crowd” when she purchased a ticket to see the R&B singer at Manchester International Festival (MIF) on July 4.
She was later told by a representative that the concert at the 8,450-capacity Castlefield Bowl has limited room for accessible seating. Assal has now been advised to arrive “as soon as doors open” – without guarantees – to ensure that she gets the seat that she booked.
Assal said, according to the BBC: “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.”
The woman said that during the booking process, organisers said it “was fine” for her to have a seat away from the crowd.
After looking at the festival’s website this week, she found that wheelchair-users were the only ones able to reserve a space, while seats for mobility impaired people could no longer be guaranteed.
The BBC reports MIF told Assal: “We will have an accessible seating area available for the performance. As we have limited capacity, we’d advise turning up early as the seating area will be first come first served.”
Assal responded: “So booking an accessible ticket doesn’t guarantee me to be in the accessible area? What time should I arrive?”
She was told the accessibility area has “unreserved seating” and is limited so she should arrive “as soon as doors open”.
When she asked what happened if more people needed seats than were available, MIF allegedly said “They won’t get a seat.”
“It made me upset,” Assal said. “How do I enjoy the concert now? I have scoliosis so my back isn’t straight. It means I can’t stand for a long time statically and I’m always worried in a crowd that I might get pushed and fall and really hurt myself.
“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.
“I don’t want to arrive early and get a seat and then find another disabled person has been turned away. I’d prefer them to have my seat.”
In a statement to the BBC, MIF said: “MIF does not manage or run the venue. We have made reasonable adjustments within the constraints of an outdoor standing event, with limited capacity space, to accommodate as many disabled people as possible.
“We are not offering a ‘first-come, first-served assistance policy’ as suggested, we offer the same opportunity to book tickets and select access preferences to everyone.”
MIF said it has 40 unreserved seats available for use in its access area at Castlefield Bowl.
Image: Andy Witchger