Since then, Bass Concert Hall has been the site of many memorable events in my life. In 1996, my now ex-husband and I went to a Spanish guitar concert on gifted tickets from someone at the church I worked at. In 1998, we went to see an opera on gifted tickets from friends that were in the second to last row of the second balcony; we left after two hours because we were utterly bored and because my vertigo had become so horrific at that point. Feeling like Scarlett O'Hara, I vowed never to sit in the balconies there again! In 1999, my ex-husband walked across Bass’ stage to receive his doctorate, and I did the same in 2001. When our twins had weaned, we finally had a night out, going to see Les Miserables in 2002. We also saw Blues Clues Live with our kids. (Not exactly the best show I’ve ever seen, but our kids loved it.) In 2003, the last time I was at Bass Concert Hall, I was 37 weeks pregnant with my youngest when we went to see Dora the Explorer Live. As my 15 year old daughter and I sat within the walls of Bass Concert Hall last night waiting to hear Josh Groban sing, I was telling her the stories about all of those events as well as others in other theaters.
Since 2003, I have been terribly ill. For two years I was all but bedbound, and for six of those years I was homebound. I still am restricted by extreme fatigue, very high levels of pain and chemical sensitivities. This triumvirate has left me disabled and limited in where I can go and how long I can stay once I get there. Live theater productions have simply not been an option for me in a very long time. Only in the past few months have I reached a point where I can go to large gatherings such as a concert without getting very sick afterwards due to liver problems. However, my newest challenge in life is being able to gain access to buildings when my body is struggling to move. Despite the 25 year old Americans with Disability Act, many buildings still are not very accessible to the disabled.
Parking is a challenge for anyone on the UT campus. This is a fact of life that any Austinite knows well. When we arrived on campus a full hour before the concert, my daughter asked if there was a game at the stadium adjacent to the concert hall. I explained there is no way to hold stadium and concert hall events simultaneously at UT. There simply isn’t the parking. The chaos she was seeing was only for the concert hall. However, despite the fact that everyone deals with this situation, parking for the disabled is even more challenging when it comes to UT’s campus.
After I bought the tickets to see Josh Groban in concert, I looked into parking to see what disabled options there were. As I looked at the parking website, there were absolutely no instructions for people who are disabled as to what to do or where to park. When I looked at Bass Concert Hall’s website, there were no instructions there either even though one page claims to have “directions, parking, and accessibility info.” This is something that is free and easy to fix if one knows how to update a website. There’s really no excuse for a major venue not having instructions for disabled parking and assistance on a website.
I then called the 1-866 number for the parking website and got a customer service assistant who told me that I should buy a parking ticket in the San Jacinto garage. I asked him if he was in Austin, and he confirmed my guess that he was not. Anyone who knows anything about UT and/or disabilities would not have made that recommendation. Hence, I called Bass Concert Hall, and the woman there said that they tell people with disabilities to buy in the Dedman Drive lot (which is what I had planned to do but I was verifying my instinct). To my horror, the woman at Bass Concert Hall also confirmed there was very limited disabled parking and there was no way to buy or reserve disabled parking spots even with a state disabled parking permit. So while I had just spent $352 on two concert tickets, there was absolutely no guarantee that I would be able to get parking that would guarantee my ability to have access to the building. This seems outrageously wrong.
The day of the concert, I did almost nothing. I ran two loads of laundry so I would have clothes to wear. I ate food that didn’t require much preparation. I napped and otherwise stayed on the couch all day. This is what I have to do in order to have enough energy to attend an event like this. I stayed on the couch until 6:15 pm with my legs elevated and braced to reduce pain. I got ready to leave and departed the house at 6:30 pm. On the way there, we encountered not one but two accidents delaying our arrival time to 7:05 pm, almost a full hour before the concert. (And today, the day after, I don’t even have the energy to run a few loads of laundry. The couch is my best friend again for the entire day.)
When my daughter and I arrived at the Dedman Drive parking, there was only one disabled spot left and only about 10 spots total available in the vicinity of Bass Concert Hall; all were quickly filling. The non-disabled spots had orange cones in front of them to reserve them for concert permit holders, so one had to get out of the vehicle to move the cones to park in them, another layer of difficulty for a person with disabilities who may or may not have an able-bodied plus one in the car. I chose not to park in the sole remaining disabled spot but instead parked a short distance away because I was in good enough shape that I could walk it that night, plus I knew it would make our departure easier by parking in the correct direction facing to get off of the campus. However, that one remaining disabled spot was filled by the time we had walked past it after parking.
When we got to Bass Concert Hall itself, my daughter and I went to the restrooms where there was already a line out the door for the women’s. The men’s, of course, had no such queue. The women’s restroom is on the total opposite corner of the building from where our tickets were. In future, I will try to buy tickets on the other side of the building. There really is only one women’s restroom on the main floor, something I wish could have been remedied during renovations a few years ago, but space doesn't exist to put one elsewhere. I knew there was no way I was going to make it back to the restroom during the intermission because I couldn’t have stood in a line of the length that would have been there at intermission. It’s simply not physically possible for me.
My daughter and I headed toward our seats at 7:15 pm. The auditorium, however, was locked until 7:30 pm. There was nowhere left to sit at this point as the benches lining the hall were filled. I am not capable of standing for 15 minutes, so my daughter and I sat on a staircase in a way that I was able to put my legs at a comfortable angle. At 7:30, we were able to take our seats and remain comfortably there until after the show was over.
I have three major suggestions for Bass Concert Hall, The University of Texas at Austin, and the services they subcontract with in order to be more disability friendly for patrons of events.
- Put directions for patrons with disabilities on your website and/or include a phone number of a contact for those needing additional assistance.
- Allow patrons to designate themselves as disabled when they purchase tickets or create a system of allowing patrons with disabilities to identify themselves upon arrival. Those who have done so should be allowed to have priority seating for events before 7:30 just as those who are disabled get early boarding for planes. This solves the problem of there not being enough seating in the halls for those who are disabled yet who have to arrive an hour early in order to get parking for an event. There was also a woman in my aisle who arrived later who normally used a walker; it was very difficult for her climb over all the people already in the row. She could have benefitted from advance seating as well.
- Please designate the entire Dedman Drive lot immediately adjacent to Bass Concert Hall as disabled parking only until fifteen minutes before the event. Patrons should be required to have a state issued disabled parking permit or license plate to park in this area before that time. Tickets sold in advance for this area should require patrons to enter a disabled permit number or disabled license plate number. The current disabled parking available is severely insufficient for the number of patrons with disabilities (especially at events like last night’s which had a median age of about 50).
I have tickets to attend The Sound of Music at Bass Concert Hall in February with my daughter, and we are both excited about that. Last night’s experience will help me to have a better idea of what to do for attending this next event, but it would be nice if patrons with disabilities didn’t have to learn these lessons the hard way.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC