Rocking out at Red Rocks

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on January 08, 2018 # Advocacy and Policy

My favorite hobby is listening to music. From the early days of childhood when Walkman’s were the hot Christmas commodity, my brothers and I would listen on our headphones to the jams of Led Zeppelin, the Who, Men at Work and even the band Kiss while on family road trips. Being the youngest of five kids, sitting in between my two cooler, older brothers listening to their music was such a thrill and I strived to be "as cool as they were" by soaking in their music knowledge – 80s hair bands and all.

As I got older, I became even more passionate about music, especially live music, and therefore I've attended numerous live concerts all over the country, even traveling to other states to see some of my loves like Neil Young, Dave Matthews and U2. Luckily, I live near one of the most unusual and unique outdoor music venues in the country – Red Rocks Amphitheater in Golden, Colorado. A natural red rock surrounded venue 100% run by the city of Denver – the sound amplification amongst this outdoors natural setting is unlike any other. I have spent many a summer night boogieing down, stars overhead, cold beer in hand embracing La Dolce Vita of summer Colorado living.

And then three years ago, one faulty pool dive and one spinal cord injury later left me in a power wheelchair, making my access to live music, especially at Red Rocks, a bit challenged. I learned quickly the venue has only two sections that physically allow for wheelchair seating – the front row and the back row all the way up in a very windy and cold row 70. Spinal cord peeps don't like the cold – we can't tolerate it – and so row 70 is not a viable option unless one wants to bundle up like an arctic monkey. No question the front row is the ideal area to enjoy a concert. The problem is nonhandicapped individuals would purchase front row tickets – specified for handicap patrons – and resell them on third-party sites at astronomical markups for their own personal financial gain.

An Investigation eventually revealed that people from as far away as London and Amsterdam, a nondisabled group in Denver and in Indiana had collectively purchased over one third of all first row accessible tickets over a two-year period. Further, there was no protection against nonhuman computer operated websites, i.e. computer bots, that buy and sell front row seats on their own ticketing sites, again at astronomical markups, to able-bodied patrons who are unaware of the original purpose of the seat. Staff on-site at Red Rocks would not check that the person who purchased the tickets was the same person who used the tickets – which were specified for people who use wheelchairs – and further acknowledged the illegality of asking folks about the specifics of their disability. As a result, music- loving wheelchair folks lose access to summertime shows and in their place sit able-bodied individuals whom inadvertently purchased expensive disability specified tickets. It's been a mess, for many years.

After numerous years of complaints by a group of advocacy individuals, finally, in 2017 a group of 20 of us – all wheelchair users and music aficionados –collectively banded together in a class action lawsuit demanding the city of Denver make the appropriate policy change in their ticketing processes to improve access to live music shows. With the help from Amy Robertson from the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Kevin Williams from the Colorado Cross–Disability Coalition and Alison Butler and Jennifer Purrington of Disability Law Colorado, I can proudly announce that we, as a group, finally found a solution that works for both sides allowing wheelchair users and others in the disability community to have equal rights to tickets and appropriate seating. Not only are ticket holders in row one required to confirm their need for accessible seating during the online purchasing process, they must also show identification and further arrive together with all parties in the purchased ticket group. Digital flash seats will be the primary mode of ticket delivery and special wristbands will be provided at the front row by amphitheater security… No more fraudulent purchases, no more computer bots and no more non handicapped patrons sitting in our seats.

A huge win for all of us here in Denver, this experience has reminded me that it truly does take a village of strong voices to band together and collectively make positive policy change no matter what the issue is. Let us all never give up on our advocacy efforts and remember that anything is possible, even boogieing down in your wheelchair in the front row at Red Rocks this summer, beer in hand…