RiDC research for Which? finds half of disabled consumers face access issues at live events

A scene at a concert the stage is lit up in the background with round light bulbs at the sides and top of stage there is a blurred performer on the stage and in the foreground the backs of people watching the stage  A person stands at the centre with their arms open facing the stage
3 Feb 2024

Disabled consumers experience poor accessibility when booking tickets and attending some live events, a Which? survey with the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RIDC)* has revealed.

Ticketing sites, venues and organisers all have a responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure people with disabilities can access their events, but some companies could be falling short of their responsibilities.

In this article, taken from the Which? website, they describe some of the issues disabled consumers face and how to take action if you experience discrimination when booking or attending an event.


Booking problems

Our survey found that half of those who had problems when booking tickets said the ticketing company didn’t offer accessible seats as an option. 

Many participants expressed frustration that they weren't able to book accessible seats online - resorting to calling phone lines with lengthy queues and odd opening hours.

‘I couldn’t book accessible tickets online. I had to phone the venue where I was on the phone for over 90 minutes waiting for a call handler to allow me to book my tickets,' recalled one music fan.

Another theatre-goer said, ‘It really frustrates me that so few venues and ticket companies allow you to book accessible tickets online. I struggle to use the telephone due to communication issues and need support, which isn’t always available.'

As a result, some participants told us how they've missed out on tickets for popular shows. Which? understands that when it comes to accessible tickets it's generally up to the venue where they are sold.

A lack of information about access at events or venues when booking tickets was also a widely reported problem. Two in five who had booking issues said they weren't given clear information about access at the venue (43.4%) or about accessible parking (40.6%).

‘It’s always difficult to find out how accessible a venue is,’ one survey participant said. ‘You need to search a few pages before you can find out this type of information. It’s the same with accessible parking. More often than not I end up phoning specific venues to get these details.’

Three in 10 who had problems at an event said they turned up to find there was no accessible parking available.


Carer and PA tickets

Venues often offer a complimentary carer or personal assistance (PA) ticket for those with access needs.

Many ask for evidence of eligibility, such as proof of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or a Nimbus Access Card, when booking PA seats. Many participants shared their frustrations with having to repeatedly provide documents when trying to book, especially with fast-selling tickets.

Siân Thomas told us about her experience of this when booking tickets online: ‘As with most websites, when I tried to book tickets I had to give a lot of documentation via email and speak to somebody over the phone to get a carer ticket and an accessible seat. It’s frustrating to have to keep sending documents to every individual venue.’

Another participant said, ‘I find a site-wide issue in terms of facilitating booking accessible and PA tickets. It doesn’t allow for it, so then I have to call, where you’re very often in an enormous queue of people, or the box office isn’t open and you miss out on tickets.'

Other venues, Siân told us, have allowed her to save her documents to an online account, helping to make the booking process faster in future. ‘Every year I update my documentation and that lasts all year for any tickets that I book with that venue going forward. It would greatly help if there was a way to upload documents to a profile or account for every venue.’


‘It kept booting me out’

Lexi Porter wanted to book an accessible ticket for Beyoncé’s tour with two other friends and their PAs. ‘I signed up for their disabled ticket membership and sent in proof of disability before the ticket went on sale,’ she explained.

But when Lexi went to secure the tickets on the day, she found there was no option to add on PA tickets when booking.

Others had a similar experience, with some posting on social media.

Another survey participant told us: ‘Every time I tried to book a PA ticket in the online presale for Beyoncé, it booted me out, meaning I had to go through the process again several times and didn’t get tickets that way. Thankfully a relative who has special online access was able to get wheelchair platform tickets for me.’

Lexi managed to buy the tickets in the end, but was disappointed that she had to book seats located separately from her friends. ‘I was only able to sit next to one friend, the other was several seats down,’ she recalled.


Trouble with Ticketmaster

Three in 10 who had problems booking tickets said their issue was with Ticketmaster.

Some told us how they've struggled to use the Ticketmaster website with their screen readers.

‘The website is horrendous to use. There are many pop-ups that block important information and are difficult to get rid of with motor issues. Screen readers don’t work,’ said one customer.

Another said, 'The website did not work well with my screen reading software, with one of the biggest problems being difficulties filling in forms. I had to ask for sighted assistance to complete the transaction.'

Ticketmaster told us it believes every fan should have equal access to events. It says it made all accessible tickets available to buy online in 2019. ‘We have a simple process where fans submit their specific requirements once and the information is then stored securely for all future purchases. The accessibility of our websites remains one of our top priorities - but we can always do better, and our work here never stops,’ it said.


Issues at events

Half of disabled people who attended a music, theatre, comedy or sports event in the past year had access issues at the venue. 

Two in five who had problems at a venue said there was poor access into the event.

A quarter of those with issues also said there were no accessible toilets, while one in five said the bars, food or merchandise stalls weren’t accessible.

‘When I arrived at the venue there was confusion about how I should enter and one member of staff was completely dismissive,’ said one survey participant. ‘Our seats had not been set aside which caused a long period of confusion to try and sort out. The disabled toilet was far away from seating and involved trying to get past the queue for the bar.’

Seats with poor views were also a problem. Three in 10 who had issues at their event said their accessible seats had an obstructed or poor view, while one quarter said the accessible seats were far away from the stage.

'The seats were a very long way from the stage, and with my reduced eyesight, I couldn't make out anything more than a few blobs moving about,' said one theatre-goer. 'I was actively excluded from the event which was discriminatory and humiliating.'


What does good access look like?

But not all event companies are guilty of poor access or customer service. We also heard from disabled consumers about their positive experiences at events, where access was approached proactively by venues and organisers.

‘I had an amazing experience at Alexandra Palace,’ one participant explained. ‘The staff were so helpful and clearly trained on how to help people with non-visible disabilities. Also, the disability viewing platform was close enough to the stage to have a good view, and was close to important things like the disabled loos.’

Another survey participant praised the staff at First Direct Arena in Leeds: ‘We were met by someone and shown to our seats, and she returned in the break to check we were OK.’

Online booking systems also made a big difference. ‘Some venues’ websites, such as the Roundhouse in London, allow for booking of wheelchair space tickets directly from the website,’ one person said.

Festival-goers offered their thoughts too. ‘Good panelling at festivals makes it so much easier to use a scooter. Some festivals also have dedicated raised platforms so disabled people are safe from pushing and can actually see the stage.’


How to take action

Under the Equality Act 2010, all event and ticketing companies must make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled consumers can buy tickets and attend events.

If you've had a bad experience at an event, your first step is to contact the event organisers.

Set out what happened, with any supporting evidence such as photos or videos, and take note of any members of staff involved. It’s useful to keep a copy of your complaint and the date you submitted it to them.

If you want your money back, make this clear in your complaint too.

You might also want to request your data from the company or event organiser. This can help you piece together what exactly has gone wrong. You can also ask the company to provide you with any data in relation to your complaint.

If the company or event organiser is part of a regulatory body, it's worth contacting them too. The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers represents most primary ticket sellers and can help resolve disputes between its members and ticket buyers.

If you find your complaint isn't dealt with adequately, you do have the option of taking legal action through a small claims court. This can be a complicated and costly process and we advise you seek legal advice if you want to go down this route. Which? offers a legal advice service if you're considering taking legal action. 

The time limit for bringing a claim is six months from the date of the unlawful act. A legal claim could result in a payout or a court order that demands the company changes its discriminatory policy.

*Which? surveyed 705 members of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers panel between October and November 2023.

This article was originally published on the Which? website here.