IBD Accessibility

I waited to write this post because I was hoping something better would come from it. But it turns out MLSE is going to use this as a “coaching opportunity” so I’m going to use this as a “awareness opportunity.”

I purchased Eric Church tickets months ago, before my third and final surgery had been scheduled. Realizing that it was only weeks after I figured I should probably sell them. The event was at the ACC and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stomach a night downtown. But I REALLY wanted to go. And my recovery had been going so well, I figured I’d call MLSE and see what kind of accommodations they could give me.

They had an option on their website for “accessible seating,” so I filled out a request form, asking if I could trade 2 of the 4 tickets I purchased for an accessible area. I realize that my need for “accessibility” was likely not a common request so I also phoned someone to clarify. I spoke to someone in Fan Services, who was fantastic. I explained to her that although I my needs were not related to mobility, I was hoping I could exchange my tickets for seats somewhere with close, immediate access to a washroom. I didn’t want to have to walk far to a female washroom, and I definitely didn’t want to have to wait in a long line. She suggested a section that was close to a female washroom AND a family/accessible washroom in case the first had a long line. Great. She took down my information so on the night of the event they knew I’d be coming, and it could be an easy switch. She was awesome and made me feel so much better about going.

Once I got there, it was a different story. I was told that although they were expecting me, the section the first girl had told me to request was sold out, and I was probably better to just sit in my purchased seats, unless I wanted seats “rear view” to the stage, or in the 600s. I explained to them that had I known this particular section was sold out, I wouldn’t have come to the event. I began to panic and left to go to my regular seats. But confused and upset I thought, “No, I’m not accepting this answer,” so I went back to Fan Services.

I spoke to a manager there and asked her to clarify what happened between the conversation I had on the phone 4 days ago, and now. Basically (as I learned later the next day when I phoned to speak to someone else) there is a disconnect between Fan Services at the ACC and Ticketmaster. The accessible seating is available for purchase for anyone needing it (typically those in a wheelchair or who are unable to walk up stairs). If those seats are not sold the day before the event, Ticketmaster sells them to the general public. Even though I had called and requested to exchange my seats 4 days in advance, Fan Services cannot guarantee they will not be sold, and does not reserve them. Also, this conversation was the exact opposite of my phone conversation. They made me feel stupid, belittled me and often referred to me as “able bodied.” They referenced people in wheel chairs and it was clear that mobility accessibility was a priority, and not my unconventional needs. The service was unfriendly, unaccommodating and overall upsetting. If only they new how “ABLE” my body was….

Noticing my frustration, they had someone do a run around to find another solution. I ended up being placed in a different accessible seating area close to both a female washroom and a family washroom. They alluded to what a “favour” they were doing for me because this section was sold out but I’m luckily being squeezed in. Let me tell you what this “sold out” section looked like….

There was one guy with a cane, who indeed needed the accessible area. But then 4 (FOUR!) of his buddies. They purchased their tickets last minute, when they were being offered to the general public. As the night went on they became drunker and drunker, and invited friends who were also at the event into our section, people from the rows and seats around us, and before I knew it the accessible area had turned into a frat party. They were slipping in spilled beer, shirts were being taken off, numerous girls coming to party and I actually felt like I was intruding to their private box, which they constantly referred to this area as. The usher was either not there at the entrance or not checking tickets and whoever wanted to join us could……But thank you Fan Services for doing me this favour. As someone recovering from surgery I really wanted to be at a frat party.

That’s beside the point though. Obviously several times I needed to use the washroom throughout the night. Every time I went, the line up to the women’s washroom was out the door, and stretched down the hall way. I also made a point to go during a song, and not at busy times like before, or during intermission. In a panic I went to the close family washroom. Obviously since the female washroom’s line was so long, women had just started lining up there. Either way I had to wait and was sent into a bit of a panic. Luckily I was okay. Since my surgery I’ve gained better control over my urgency, but had this been during a flare up when I was sick…we’d be leaving after an accident. The whole thing ended up being pointless.

If you know me, I don’t let things like this slide though. I looked at MLSE website to view their policies and noted that under their Accessibility section it read:

“In accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), Air Canada Centre is committed to working to improve access and opportunities for people with disabilities by identifying, removing and preventing barriers that might interfere with their ability to make full use of our facility.”

Unfortunately for me, the ACC failed that night. Although I identified my barriers FOR them, the effort to remove or prevent these barriers (close proximity and a large line up) was minimal, and ineffective.

I phoned Fan Services the next day to offer my feedback and provide some insight. The woman I spoke to was lovely and she listened with intent and an open-mind. She was receptive and apologetic and I really am appreciative to her.

My main issue, aside from the attitude and poor customer service, including the lack of security at the frat house, was the integrity of the word “accessible.” For me, although perhaps unconventional, it does not refer to mobility at all. I need ACCESS (immediate, or at least quick) to a washroom. I explained to her that I although I was fortunate in not having an accident, that might not always be the case. 2 years ago, I would have shit myself. Legit. I also explained that I am aware they might not receive these kinds of requests often, but I cannot possibly be the only one who would benefit from some sort of accessible washroom, without a line. I cannot possibly be the only one at the event with Crohn’s, colitis or continence issues. I very well may consider not attending events if I am not well and cannot get to a washroom quickly, which is sad. I shouldn’t have to miss out on life because drunk cowgirls need to pee.

So here was my suggestion to them: Perhaps offer a washroom that only specific people have ACCESS to. Perhaps a security guard to unlock, a pass card, or a separate back way admission. Somewhere we can go, without having to wait 10-15 minutes for a stall. Although the ACC said those family washroom are “accessible,” they only meant in terms or wheel chair or walker access, and again, were not considering the idea that my disability was not physically visible. Open your minds.

She took my feedback and discussed with her team. She loved the suggestions for how to improve their accessibility and addressed this as perhaps a future possibility. When she followed up with me, I’ll admit I thought she may offer some sort of compensation, or in the very least a refund for my tickets to a concert that I didn’t particularly enjoy because I was rattled. But no. They are going to use this as a “coaching opportunity,” and that was that.

So here is my plea. Don’t stand by organizations that are behind the times. It is 2017 and MLSE should recognize the diversity in accessible needs. But people need to speak up, and advocate. They only time we’re going to see change is when we point out the necessity for it. I’m only one person but if more and more people start asking for unconventional requests, we may actually see progress. Don’t be afraid or intimidated to at least ask and then provide that feedback. I may be on the mend but I know so many people may benefit from an accessible washroom so let’s start asking for it. Until then…..wear a diaper I guess.