Back with another accessibility review. This time O2 Institute in Birmingham, the main room that is. I know I’ve reviewed O2 Institute 2 in Birmingham before. But the main room is a separate room within the same building, and I had a VERY different experience, so I thought it warranted a separate review.
(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for other experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)
The ticket buying process was actually the same as for Institute 2 in that I bought a standard ticket and emailed to have it changed to a wheelchair access ticket with carer.
Again, since it’s in the same building as Institute 2, the travel was the same. It was just a 20-minute walk.
Experience & Seating
Ahh the actual venue experience, here’s where things get inaccessible. I must start this section by saying that this is actually my experience over several visits and shows. I will be mentioning the bands I saw but only to separate the different experience. My accessibility experiences are in no way the fault of the bands mentioned so please don’t direct any negativity.
Firstly, in mid-March of 2022, my friend asked if I wanted to see a band called White Lies. I’m always up for a random show so we went. Turned up to the show to be let in through the usual side door with ramp and then to a lift where an employee accompanied us up to the main room level and to our seats in the balcony area. About 10 or so minutes after we’d settled in, someone else from the venue (I think some kind of medic) came up and informed us that the lift had broken right after I’d used it. I panicked a fair bit but just decided we’d enjoy the show and come up with a plan afterwards to get me downstairs and home.
Once the show was over, a plan was made. I transferred into the evacuation chair (something that I’d only ever used for fire evacuations before) and was then taken downstairs and into a room to wait for my wheelchair. The plan for that was for me to turn it off and disengage the motors and for a team of people to then carry the wheelchair downstairs. Obviously, this made me nervous as I have no other form of transportation and would be essentially losing my legs if my chair was dropped and damaged. But at the same time, I didn’t know any other way to get my chair downstairs. My chair is also quite heavy, so it took 6 people to carry it down. But thankfully I was eventually reunited with my chair and was able to check it wasn’t damaged before heading home.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of my lift woes at this venue.
In mid-April 2022. I was able to find a last-minute ticket to The Reytons. My friend suggested the band were great so I double checked with the venue that they still had spaces in the wheelchair seating (I figured they’d mention if I couldn’t get into the gig because of lift issues). They said they had space and mentioned no other issues, so I took the last-minute ticket, had them convert it into a wheelchair space and carer and carried on about my day. However, issues began as soon as I turned up to the venue. A fellow wheelchair user and his two companions enquired whether it was The Reytons we were seeing, and when I confirmed it was, they informed me I wouldn’t be going as the lift was broken. I’m pretty sure it was just STILL broken from the White Lies gig where it had broken mid show. Having spoken to the venue staff, they confirmed the lift was broken. I asked if I could leave my wheelchair somewhere, use the evacuation chair to go up and down the stairs and then sit on a seat at the show. They said that wasn’t possible due to lack of staff for using the evacuation chair. The angels that they are, the two other attendees we’d met offered to carry me up there themselves so I could see the show, but that wasn’t allowed because health and safety (which I expected). With all options exhausted, I was left with nothing else but missing the show.
I must say the band were brilliant about the situation and so apologetic, organising a meet and greet before the show, merch and tickets to another show on the tour (which was Camden’s Electric Ballroom for me). The venue also offered me a free ticket to any other show at the venue that I wanted (where they had available wheelchair spaces). But nothing was or is ever going to fix the heartbreak of watching everyone walk into a show you have a ticket for but can’t attend. And knowing the only reason you cannot go is because of accessibility. Of course, I know that lifts break and that is just part of using mechanical equipment for accessibility. But the worst part was we didn’t even have to get to that point. The lift was very likely broken for a while, so they could have mentioned the broken lift when I called to enquire about wheelchair spaces earlier in the day. I didn’t HAVE to go through the gut wrench of watching everyone walk in like that.
I was grateful to hear that the lift was back to being operational as of 29th April 2022, and to be able to successfully attend two shows in that room (Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls in September and then Set It Off in November).
I think the takeaway from this review is this: Accessibility isn’t just about a one-time investment of having the right accessibility equipment to make sure everyone can access a performance. It’s also about making sure that equipment is working and functional and communicating as soon as you can when the equipment is NOT working, especially if you know you have people attending who would need that equipment to get to the show.
Please learn from this post and help me to avoid another gut-wrenching moment of realising I have to fight for even the simplest pleasure, such as attending a show.
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)
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It would be so lovely if architects could design venues where lifts are not necessary – how about the universal use of ramps? Or building everything at ground level? So sorry you got so much hassle. I get so angry that wheelchair users are dismissed so readily.
Oh I wish we could get rid of mechanical accessibility stuff (lifts, stairlifts etc) too. Mostly because if we rely on them for accessibility, breakdowns like these mean places become inaccessible. However, I don’t know how we’d be able to build a world without them in, because we’d have to rebuild nearly EVERYTHING at this point
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